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Spiked! But it was true

Bernard Edinger's note with that arresting headline (there are some great back stories to spiked copy) reminded me of my favourite article that never saw the light of day. I was in Kabul in September 1986, a rare foreign journalist roaming around a city at war. Every day at the Kabul Hotel in the centre of town, an old woman in shabby clothes sat outside the entrance and made shooting gestures at passing taxis.

When I asked the hotel's friendly telephone operator about her, he told me she was the head of a provincial "defence of the revolution" committee and Najibullah, the communist leader, had just named her a member of his rubber-stamp parliament. He gladly brought her into his office and began translating her story for me.

She pulled out her defence committee card, her ID as an MP, a document welcoming her to parliament signed by Najibullah and a copy of the party newspaper with a front-page picture of her swearing in. She told me she wanted to continue as a defence activist but didn't have a gun, so she shouted out the local equivalent of "pow pow" every time a taxi went by. When the operator told her I was American, she gestured as if she was turning a Kalashnikov on me too.

Why "shoot" at taxis, I asked. Back home in her province, she said, friends had warned her that the Mujahideen in Kabul (where she'd never been) rode in taxis when they went to bomb some building. After she left, the operator said she was a crazy provincial but he thought she was a colourful character.

I thought so too and wrote up the encounter as a sidebar showing the strange things one could encounter in the embattled city. When I flew back to New Delhi and finally got to read what had gone out on the wire, I couldn't find this story. All I could get out of Hong Kong was that it had been spiked.

Several years later, someone who was on the desk that night revealed there had been a discussion among the subs about whether I'd been indulging in some of Afghanistan's finest drugs. There was a collective (insert favourite expletive) desk decision that this story couldn't be true. Maybe it was drugs, maybe it was fatigue, but I was not to be trusted on this one, they solemnly decided. So that's why my article was spiked (insert another favourite expletive). ■