Graham Bowley Updates Us on Sahar Gul. I Throw Up Again.

Graham Bowley Updates Us on Sahar Gul. I Throw Up Again.

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Some of you may recall that I had written a piece about Graham Bowley and his delightful foray into sensitive, caring journalism. And a follow up. And, well, I wasn’t exactly alone in my thoughts on the piece. Not by a long shot.

In putting together this post, I re-read his initial piece on Sahar Gul, and you know, this time around I didn’t have the same reaction. In fact, I saw his piece for what it truly was: a reporter stepping outside the journalistic bounds of pure objectivity and just looking out for the interests of a young Afghan girl.

All of the above would be true if I’d been struck repeatedly in the head with a ball peen hammer.

From his original story, this is how his “interview” went down:

“No one can see Sahar Gul,” he said. “Too many people have come to see her. She has psychological problems. She is hitting herself. “

I told him that we didn’t want to talk to Sahar Gul if it would upset her. We just wanted to tell her story, and we had a signed permission letter from the Public Health Ministry.

When I arrived back at the Times’s bureau, I found that the Associated Press had also visited the hospital — and had more luck interviewing Sahar Gul.

When I was reporting for the business desk, being doggedly persistent — and even pushy — to get access to a protected source was a feature of normal life. But I am new to reporting in Afghanistan, and I have found myself treading lightly around a culture to which I’m not yet accustomed. But I realized that despite the delicacy of the situation, I should have pushed past ‘no.’ Her story was too important.

The next day, Sunday, we returned to Wazir Akbhar Khan. And this time, I wouldn’t be turned away.

Sayad Hassan, a white-bearded man who was in charge of the nurses, led us up the tiled stairwell to Sahar Gul’s room.

I found a small girl, cringing beneath a comforter. Her face was cut and scratched, her left eye bruised and half closed. Her forearm was withered and thin. Her hair was a dark tangle beneath a brown headscarf.

Mr. Bowley has since posted a “follow up.” I use “quotes” here “sarcastically” because this is as much as a “follow up” as Paula Deen’s cooking is “good for you.”

Some readers might remember the last time I visited Sahar Gul, when I managed to get past the bureaucracy of the hospital in Kabul where she was being treated and her relatives, doctors and supporters welcomed me to her bedside.

Look, I am not a journalist, which means apparently I am a moron. Because his first story said nothing about being welcomed to her bedside.

His first story was a riveting tale of a reporter who’d been scooped by another news organization, and his efforts to get that “story” against all odds. The story had been done. His own paper agrees that that story had been done. Otherwise, his piece on Sahar Gul gets covered on the regular news site, not on the blog. But he persisted.

Now, a few weeks later, he’s being welcomed with open arms? Here’s where that particular revision of the facts is a little off: his “follow up” isn’t with the family, but with a representative of the Women’s Ministry.

Readers have asked for an update on her health. One of the reporters here in the Kabul bureau of the New York Times, Jawad Sukhanyar, got in touch with Rahima Zarifi, the Women’s Ministry representative from the Baghlan Province, who has been visiting her regularly.

Ms. Zarifi said that Sahar Gul is still in the government–run Wazir Akhbar Khan Hospital in Kabul.

She assured us that Sahar’s condition was better but that she would be staying in the hospital where the Ministry of Public Health has allocated her food — just over two pounds of meat and fruits each day – and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the human rights commission can get readier access to her.

First off…super glad she’s doing better. No snark, no nada. That being said: maybe her family’s different, but in dealing with oh, I don’t know, humans here in Afghanistan, if I’ve made that much of a connection with a family that I’m being welcomed into the hospital room of their traumatized relative, I’m pretty sure I can pick up a phone and call them.

Now, if I’m a self-centered narcissistic reporter who’s hell bent on just getting my story regardless, well, then I might have a tougher time getting in touch with them directly. And I might then have to go to a ministry rep.

Fortunately, Graham Bowley is a warm, compassionate human being who probably just lost their number.

Author’s Note

Here’s the Public Editor’s response to my email about Mr. Bowley’s first article: 

Thanks for your message about Graham Bowley’s coverage of Sahar Gul, the young Afghan girl. I am concerned about the girl’s privacy as well and have raised the question with the Foreign Desk. I do concur that news organizations should be careful to respect the privacy of crime victims. This is a case where, I believe, the benefits of doing a story were outweighed by the potential harm to the girl.

So that’s fun. Based on what I read over at Wronging Rights, that’s what they’re sending out to all the kids.