The Media Today

The journalists leaving Afghanistan, and those who haven’t made it out

August 20, 2021

On Monday, the day after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, the publishers of the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal sent a letter to Joe Biden. They requested safe passage out of Kabul for Afghan colleagues and family members who were trapped there, “their lives in peril”; 204 of them were stranded on the civilian side of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Fred Ryan, the publisher of the Post, followed up with an email to Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser. On Tuesday, thirteen Washington Post employees and family members—twelve Afghans and one American—lifted off from the airport on a US military flight. By late Wednesday, the Times confirmed that 128 Afghan colleagues and family members had flown out to safety, too. Yesterday, the Journal said that more Afghan journalists were “on their way to safe passage” and promised details soon. The papers’ efforts have been time- and resource-intensive, requiring close contact with the Biden administration, as well as the government of Qatar and others on the world stage. (Per the Times, Hillary Clinton offered up a few seats on a charter flight that, in the end, were not taken.) “You’d have a plan at night,” Michael Slackman, an assistant managing editor at the Times, said, “and two hours later the circumstances on the ground would have shifted.”

US news organizations have had lots of people to evacuate in recent days. In a remarkable display of solidarity, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a Times correspondent and former Marine, flew back into Kabul after having left, in order to extract Afghan journalists, coordinating with them from the US side of the airport as they tried to get there; Mujib Mashal, another foreign correspondent, helped out, too. Yesterday, CNN’s Oliver Darcy confirmed that the Post, the Journal, CBS News, and NBC News have removed all of their reporters from the country; the Post is now relying on stringers. The Times still has “reporters and photographers in country and abroad,” but did not specify whether these people are freelancers or staff correspondents.

Related: A dark time for Afghanistan’s journalists

Still, some foreign correspondents for major US outlets remain in Kabul. Taliban officials have granted them permission to report relatively unencumbered—as NBC’s Richard Engel and others have pointed out, it’s been in the Taliban’s interests to show the world their victory. But in the past two days or so, the risks have become more acute. On Wednesday, CNN’s Clarissa Ward, who has been reporting from the streets in full-length Islamic dress, was confronted by a Taliban fighter with a whip and an AK47. The fighter followed Ward and her team, and at one point charged past them with his gun’s safety off; soon, two other fighters ran at Ward’s producer with their rifle butts raised. They relented only when they found out that Ward had permission to be there. “It’s the Taliban, it’s not like you’re dealing with a force where there’s recourse,” Ward said afterward. “It was mayhem.” Yesterday, when Marcus Yam, of the LA Times, was covering a protest with another foreign reporter, two Taliban militants beat them up. One of the assailants, upon realizing where Yam and his colleague worked, promised, bizarrely, to punish whoever hit them—even though it was him—then brought them each cool water and a Monster energy drink, and called their driver. A third militant demanded a selfie with the journalists before they departed.

Many more Afghans—reporters, interpreters, and others who have worked for international outlets—remain in the country, often not of their own volition. In recent days, some evidence has emerged that the Taliban is starting to target journalists who have worked with foreign media and, as the BBC reported yesterday, hunt for all those they believe “collaborated” with the former government and its NATO allies. Wesley Morgan, an American freelancer, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that militants raided the home of a journalist and interpreter with whom he’d worked, only to find that the man had already gone into hiding.

Some reporters for US outlets have been trying (without much success) to help evacuate relatives of their Afghan colleagues and others with whom they are close. After David Rohde, a former Times correspondent who now works for The New Yorker, wrote a story about his struggle to assist the family of Tahir Luddin—a US-based Afghan journalist who once helped Rohde escape Taliban captivity—the US embassy sent Luddin’s wife and children a pass for a military flight. They navigated a Taliban checkpoint and made it to the airport, but were not able to board, and went back home. Kiana Hayeri, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who has worked for the Times and National Geographic and was evacuated the day Kabul fell, has been trying to help someone she met while reporting a story inside a women’s prison, and with whom Hayeri later worked on an audiobook; the woman’s children are also in danger. The family managed to get a ticket out but, as of yesterday, they were unable to enter the airport; eventually, they headed home.

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News organizations outside the US have also been trying to extract their Afghan colleagues from the country. A coalition of media companies in the UK urged their government to evacuate Afghan journalists and their families; prior to the fall of Kabul, British officials said they would consider providing visas, but as of Wednesday, according to The Guardian, no one had been evacuated. On Sunday, German news organizations appealed to their government with a similar request; on Tuesday, Deutsche Welle reiterated the urgency of the matter after learning that Taliban militants had searched the homes of three of its Afghan staffers. Yesterday, Deutsche Welle said that the Taliban had gone door-to-door looking for one of its editors. That editor has been living safely in Germany. But the Taliban killed one of his relatives and seriously wounded another. The rest of his family is on the run.

Below, more on Afghanistan:

Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, Facebook debuted an app that allows workers in different places to hold immersive virtual meetings within the “metaverse.” Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, demonstrated the app to Gayle King, of CBS, in what he described as his first interview in VR. Also yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission filed a detailed antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, after a judge ruled that a prior effort was lacking in evidence. “The FTC has filed suit against Facebook again, (and the White House is still talking to them about anti-vaxx misinformation), but the two interviews Mark Zuckerberg has given are about the Metaverse and VR conference rooms?” Sheera Frenkel, a Times reporter and the co-author of a recent book about Facebook, tweeted. “Got it. Cool.”
  • National coverage of Biden’s infrastructure plan has often focused on Beltway horse-trading and struggled to show how its provisions would affect communities on the ground. But this week, the Post sent reporters to profile ten sites—in Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, California, Oregon, Louisiana, and Texas—that illustrate America’s infrastructure needs, and how they might be met. In many places, the Post told the story “through the experiences of individuals who greatly understand the impact this infrastructure work could have.”
  • Yesterday, the Asbury Park Press, the Courier News, and the Home News Tribune—three Gannett-owned newspapers in New Jersey—announced that they are unionizing with the NewsGuild. Gannett declined to recognize the union voluntarily, forcing it to go to a ballot. Also yesterday, staffers at Washingtonian, where management similarly declined to recognize an organizing effort, won their union vote.
  • Recently, the Times published a profile of William Laurence, a mid-century science reporter at the paper who received payoffs from the agencies he covered. The profile characterized Laurence’s conflicts as part of a bygone age for journalism—but the truth, Tim Schwab reports for CJR, is that “the Times, like many news outlets, still struggles to manage journalists who have financial relationships with the subjects of their reporting.”
  • Nell Gluckman reports, for the Chronicle of Higher Education, that administrators at Tarleton State University, part of the Texas A&M system, told a student publication to take down old articles detailing allegations of sexual harassment against a professor  after he made a legal threat. A former journalism instructor at Tarleton said that, though universities often bully campus publications, she’d never before seen one “try to erase history.”
  • Last month, News Corp shuttered Knewz, a widely-derided aggregator that it launched last year. But the site, the Daily Beast reports, could soon make a comeback. News Corp agreed to sell Knewz to Dylan Howard, the disgraced former editor of the National Enquirer, who is himself attempting a return to media relevance. (For more from CJR, read Simon VZ Wood on Howard and Lauren Harris on a polka band also called The Knewz.)
  • For Public Books, Lauren Klein and Sandeep Soni lay out their work tracing how “white supremacy” and other terms became “central to contemporary conversations about racial justice.” Klein and Soni conducted computational research on a range of nineteenth-century newspapers, including abolitionist titles, to explore “how certain political concepts evolve as they move from the margin to the mainstream.”
  • And Glen Ford, a longtime socialist journalist, has died. He was seventy-one. Ford “offered his audience a progressive perspective across a wide array of issues, including welfare rights, foreign policy, and police misconduct,” Clay Risen writes, for the Times. “He took particular aim at the nexus of the mainstream news media and what he called the Black ‘misleadership’ class,” which, Ford argued, marginalized poor Black people.

Related: The Taliban spin machine

Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.