Although I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m., I knew I was fortunate to have my job as the entertainment co-anchor for the morning show Good Day New York. Still, when I was sent out to interview pumpkin growers and third-rate magicians, I bristled at the lightweight assignments. I had asked to do more serious journalism but was told that my beat was to be "lite" and "perky."
Which was why I was organizing a man-on-the-street shoot to ask New Yorkers what they thought about Mayor Giuliani's divorce at the same moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Initial reports pointed to the PLO, but I suspected this could have something to do with Osama bin Laden. I jumped on the Internet and contacted several sources I'd met in Afghanistan in 1985, when, as a freelancer for TV Guide, I covered the Soviet occupation. My sources believed this horror was indeed the work of Al Qaeda. I relayed this information to the news director at my station, Fox 5, which airs Good Day, telling him about my previous experience inside Afghanistan. I could help with this developing story, I offered. He politely took my e-mail printouts and said, "We'll see."
In the days that followed the attack, a "lite" and "perky" beat no longer existed. My man-on-the-street interviews became heartbreaking encounters with victims' families. I was hoping to continue in this more substantive direction, but the executive producer of Good Day told me that I'd been hired to make people laugh. Going against this directive could jeopardize my employment. No laughing matter. But it was becoming painfully clear to me that I needed to follow my heart.
I decided the only way that was going to happen was if I somehow got myself back to Afghanistan. I went to the Pakistani consulate and got a visa. Two of my connections from my 1985 trip—General Abdul Rahim Wardak, former chief of staff of the Afghan military; and the mujahideen commander, Abdul Haq—were once again joining forces with the United States, this time to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Wardak promised me an exclusive interview, and Abdul Haq's people promised me any assistance I might need.
I decided to meet with the general manager of Fox. He understood my desire to go but said he would never forgive himself if anything happened to me. "I'm touched," I said with a knowing smile. "What's the real reason?" Without missing a beat, he smiled back and said, "Money." Soon after, Fox hired Geraldo Rivera; I guess the budget for Afghanistan coverage went into his bank account.