It was 2014. Hamid Karzai, then winding down as president of Afghanistan, wanted a high-level New York Times editor to take part in an interview with Times reporter Matt Rosenberg. Assistant Managing Editor Rebecca Corbett ’74, P’09 was nominated.
The night before Corbett was to fly out, the Times published a story by Rosenberg about a soft coup being discussed by some of Karzai’s subordinates. “Karzai was furious,” Corbett recalled in an email detailing the trip. “It was pretty clear the interview would be off. The bigger question was what would happen to Matt.”
The Times decided it would be a good idea to have a high-ranking editor in Kabul no matter what.
During Corbett’s 16-hour flight to Afghanistan, Karzai alternated between threatening to kick Rosenberg out of the country and threatening to hold him there. “Usually angry governments throw correspondents out, not make them stay,” Corbett noted.
She had dinner that night with Times Kabul Bureau Chief Rod Nordland and diplomats, who were adamant that the reporter should leave Afghanistan while he still could. Corbett spent hours on the phone with Times lawyers and editors discussing how to extricate Rosenberg if Karzai chose to detain him. Suddenly, Afghan security officials informed Corbett and Nordland that Rosenberg had to be gone within a day.
“The next morning, Matt and I did a long-planned interview with two Afghans about alleged misconduct by Navy SEALs for an investigative project that he was working on with my team in New York, met with a government minister, and then Matt had to pack his worldly goods and go to the airport, along with our security chief and others, who were worried about some last-minute arrest. He departed safely.”
Corbett stayed on, though.
“Rod and I interviewed Ashraf Ghani, now the president,” Corbett recounted. “I attended a dinner of prominent Afghan women with some female journalists, went to the top of Swimming Pool Hill, where the Taliban executed people in yes, a swimming pool. But it was all pretty anti-climactic compared to Matt’s ouster.”
Corbett’s memory of the action-packed, high-stakes trip? “A fascinating trip,” she wrote with typical understatement.