As part of the My Life As series from the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University, journalist, and editor David Rohde came to discuss his experience of being captured by the Taliban to students, professors, and members of the community.
In Rohde’s talk, he discussed his life as an international reporter and the experience of being held, hostage.
Rohde had just started getting his feet wet in international reporting in 1989 when he went to teach English in Lithuania. A coup occurred while he was there and because of his location he had the opportunity to cover it for papers as big as The New York Times.
Later on, Rohde joined an international program at The Christian Science Monitor. At the age of 27, he traveled to Bosnia. At first, Rohde described himself as being cautious and following other journalists. Rohde covered mass executions and followed tips to the locations of the killings, but during this time was arrested for ten days.
He calls his reporting of the mass killings his best work since he was able to reveal such tragedies.
“Risk is worth taking,” Rohde argued during the talk.
Years later, Rohde covered Afghanistan for six years. While working for The New York Times, Rohde noticed all his colleagues interviewing Taliban commanders, something he had never done. On January 10th, Rohde, a newlywed at the time, arrived outside of Kabul with two Afghan colleges to have an interview with a Taliban commander. The interview never happened. Instead, two men with assault rifles took Rohde and his two colleagues on a lengthy trip to Pakistan by car and foot, where the three would be detained for more than seven months.
During those months, Rohde and his colleagues were forced to watch videos with guards consisting of killings and suicide bombings. The guards also enjoyed war-related American movies and video games, but had negative views of the country, believing Americans were weak, obsessed with worldly pleasures, and afraid of death. Rohde called the guards “brainwashed.”
After the seven months and ten days, Rohde and one of his Afghan colleagues, Tahir Luddin, escaped. The two were able to make it to a Pakistan naval base where Rohde, who by then had a fully grown beard, was finally able to call his wife.
Rohde noted that Luddin, a Muslim, saved both of their lives and that Islam was not the problem when it came to issues like the Taliban.
Rohde returned home to New York and wrapped up his last international story.
The journalist now has a wife, children, editing job at The New Yorker, written several books, and received awards for his bravery.
Following Rohde’s talk was an interview with Steven Reiner, a journalism professor, and an open question forum for students and members of the community.
Rohde also answered a question about his own religion, explaining that while being held captive he would pray and pace back and forth as a coping mechanism.
Journalism student Maria Cestoro learned about international reporting through this lecture.
“I learned different subjects of journalism, different aspects of it,” Cestoro said. “See, there’s [sic] the safer jobs and safer positions and then you have journalists who are recognized for going to different countries and doing stuff like he [Rohde] did and getting captured and taking the risk that he took.”
After Reiner’s interview with Rohde, the students were able to ask questions themselves.
One question pertained to aspects of good journalism. Rohde believes the most important qualities of a journalist are honesty, bravery, and willingness to learn and to try new things.
“The most important thing to me was letting the students and the public know that journalists are willing to risk their lives to bring important stories right to them,” Howard Schneider, the School of Journalism Dean stated. “And how important journalism is in keeping us a kind of open and free society.”
Rohde was amazed at the volume of people who came to hear his story firsthand.
“It’s wonderful, it’s inspiring; I’m shocked at the number of people who are here,” Rohde remarked.