Kabul Fever

Instead, she set up shot in a private guesthouse. Reporting in Kabul, said Ms. Warner, went relatively smoothly. She landed interviews with General David McKiernan and with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Later, however, when she prepared to venture out of the capital to do a story about a U.S. heroin-eradication program in the violent Helmand Province south of Kabul, things went haywire.

On the morning Ms. Warner was to leave, the State Department called and said they had a credible threat of a suicide bomber in the region. The trip was postponed. The next day, she was cleared to go. But again, her flight was delayed because the pilots were worried about having to spend too much time sitting on the runway in an area rife with unpredictable attacks.  

By the time Ms. Warner arrived in the province, it was too late in the day to go out with the eradication team. She settled for an interview with a local U.S.-backed governor in the area. Even then, her private-security team remained nervous.

“They carried major weapons and had a whole procedure about what to do if there were attacks on the car,” said Ms. Warner. “It was much more heavy than we had in Kabul. They were very cautious. We couldn’t just get out and stroll down the street and talk to people.”

 

…AND A DIFFERENT NEWS BUSINESS

If the conflict is different from the one that began just six years ago in Iraq, so is the news. In that short period, technology has caught up, and the economy of the news organization has sputtered.

Ultimately, whether U.S. broadcast executives end up forming a partnership in Kabul, the bureaus they set up there are unlikely to look much like the bureaus of the recent past.

“In the traditional bureau model, you’d have a reporter who would have a producer who would have a camera person,” said CNN’s Mr. Maddox. “Then you need a driver. Then you would need someone to administrate all the costs, and then you hire a bureau chief. And suddenly you have six people in a long-term property commitment, when really all you wanted was a reporter somewhere.”

Those days, said Mr. Maddox, may be done. “It used to be that you couldn’t really operate a bureau without an engineer because of the equipment that was needed,” said Mr. Maddox. “We can now set up a bureau with the amount of equipment that you can carry in a backpack.”

He said that the lessons of Baghdad—that is, how relatively small, relatively inexpensive bureaus could evolve over time in a deteriorating security situation into massively expensive and perilous operations—would not be lost on executives trying to figure out their strategy in Afghanistan.

“I think there is an anxiety among many people who are going there: What can we do to avoid getting bogged down like we did in Baghdad?” said Mr. Maddox. “What happens if the temperature in Afghanistan goes up again? I think everyone now is going into the relationship with Afghanistan with a view to how they can eventually get out of it.”

fgillette@observer.com