In First Speech Since Escape, New York Times Reporter Details Life as Taliban Captive at ICFJ 25th Anniversary Dinner
By Jerri Eddings
Washington, DC -- New York Times reporter David Rohde said that he was “extraordinarily lucky” to have escaped the Taliban after seven months of captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that other hostages have not been so lucky.
David Rohde, in his first public appearance since his capture, gives a moving keynote address where he details his account of what happened when he was captured by the Taliban. At an awards dinner on November 12 marking the 25th anniversary of the International Center for Journalists, Rohde spoke publicly for the first time about his capture and imprisonment and the desperate escape attempt last June.
He said he thought they would be stopped, but he would not be killed. Their captors had made it clear that the first to die would be his two Afghan colleagues, a journalist and a driver taken hostage with him. “Their hatred of Afghanis and Pakistanis who work with us is much deeper than their hatred of Americans,” he said.
Rohde said these local journalists are the ones “who make a difference in these countries, that guarantee stability – not foreign correspondents.” But he said both continue to pay a price for their work. “There are still journalists, local and foreign, being held in the tribal areas. We were extraordinarily lucky to escape. Others will not be so lucky.”
Rohde’s remarks about the important role local journalists play in war-torn and developing countries were echoed by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, who ICFJ recognized for 40 years of outstanding investigative reporting that included exposing the Vietnam-era My Lai massacre by U.S. forces and the Abu Ghraib prison abuses in Iraq in 2005.
Hersh received the Founders Award, named for the three men whose vision shaped ICFJ and its mission to
Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, who presented the award, called Hersh “one of the best journalists in our country at finding hidden stories.” Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his reports on the My Lai massacre.
Seymour Hersh delivered a candid acceptance speech, praising the work of international reporters who risk their lives to tell the truth. ICFJ announced a new award in honor of Hersh: the Seymour Hersh Investigative Journalism Award. In 2010, a Knight Fellow will create investigative teams at news organizations in the Middle East. ICFJ and its partner, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), will choose the best investigative story produced by an Arab journalist to receive the award.
Hersh praised the work of two remarkable journalists who also were recognized by ICFJ – recipients of the 2009 Knight International Journalism Awards. Each year, ICFJ honors international media professionals who have taken bold steps to keep citizens informed despite great obstacles. This year’s winners are Cao Junwu, a Chinese journalist who produced gripping coverage of the Sichuan earthquake and enterprise pieces on China’s computer game industry, and Chouchou Namegabe, a self-taught radio journalist who has helped bring global attention to brutal violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in videotaped remarks, congratulated the award winners and saluted ICFJ on its 25th anniversary. She said, “Too often the most grave injustices and most urgent humanitarian crises happen out of sight. Well, tonight's award winners have helped to shine a spotlight on situations that demand action from all of us. And in doing so, they have helped to make our world a better, safer and more equitable place.”
Cao, a reporter for Southern Weekend, was not present to accept the award. In a statement read by Tom Curley, Associated Press President and CEO and a member of ICFJ’s board of directors, Cao thanked ICFJ “for casting your gaze on China, an ancient country that is now embarking on a journey of modernization.”
Chouchou Namegabe receives the 2009 Knight International Journalism Award from Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation She thanked the International Center for Journalists for helping journalists around the world report the truth. “This help means so much, especially for women in conflict zones like eastern Congo,” she said.
Namegabe received her award from Eric Newton, vice president for the journalism program at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Newton called her “a truly remarkable reporter.”
The audience of about 450 media luminaries, business leaders and diplomats gave Namegabe a standing ovation.
ICFJ also honored George Stephanopoulos of ABC News for helping to highlight the work of international journalists. Stephanopoulos, master of ceremonies for the evening, asked Rohde in an on-stage interview what prompted him and his colleagues to attempt their escape. Rohde said they had come to truly hate their captors because they lied and were corrupt. He said his colleague, Afghan journalist Tahir Luddin, was “the true Islamist. He told the truth.”
Rohde was part of the Times reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was his second Pulitzer. He also won the prize for international reporting in 1996, when he was honored for uncovering the massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war for The Christian Science Monitor.
Another highlight of the evening was an auction featuring photos donated by renowned photojournalists in honor of ICFJ’s 25th anniversary. The photos captured pivotal historic events of the past quarter-century including the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2003, and Michelle and Barack Obama on stage at last year’s Democratic National Convention.