“I thought it was bad in Saigon. This is even worse,” says three-time Pulitzer nominee Ronald Yates, who witnessed the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.
Yates has also reported firsthand from Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation, and for three and a half years, he did military intelligence work with the U.S. Army Security Agency.
Correction: In an earlier version of this episode, an incorrect number is referenced as the amount of U.S. military equipment left behind in Afghanistan. The correct number is an estimated $28 billion. $85 billion is the estimated total cost of the United States training and equipping the Afghan army.
Mr. Jan Jekielek: This is American Thought Leaders, and I’m Jan Jekielek. Ron Yates, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Mr. Ron Yates: Well, thank you, Jan. I’m glad to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s an incredible amount of reporting that’s being done, and a whole lot of punditry being done about Afghanistan at the moment. There’s all this talk, of course, of how this was kind of a botched exit.
There’s these comparisons to Saigon in 1975. And actually, let me talk a little bit about the reporting. I’m seeing all sorts of media that I’m just not used to, doing very good reporting lately—doing what seems to be really good reporting.
And that’s very interesting, and we’re gonna cover that, given your hat, as you know, having been the Dean of Journalism at University of Illinois. Before we go there, you were actually in Saigon with the Chicago Tribune in 1975. Let’s talk about this—these comparisons that are being made between what happened in Saigon in ’75 and today in Kabul.
Mr. Yates: In Saigon, just like in Kabul now, we had 24 hours, the last day between April 29th and April 30th. During the evacuation, it was quite chaotic. Evacuation points were difficult to find. We didn’t know how we were gonna get out. There were a lot of, you know, fear and loathing people.
The embassy was surrounded by thousands of Vietnamese trying to get into the embassy, trying to climb over the embassy wall, sort of what you’re seeing now, outside the air base where all these people, terrified Afghans, especially those who might’ve worked for the Americans, are trying to get into the air base, and they’re being beaten back by the Taliban, in many cases.
So in that respect, there are a lot of similarities. The difference, I think, frankly, is that during the fall of Saigon, the U.S. Marines were there, not a large number, not like you have now—6,000 or so in Kabul. Probably three to 400 Marines were on the ground to help with the evacuation.
And they were driving around the city in these big Marine, olive drab buses, looking for us. And sometimes they found us and sometimes they didn’t. But when they did, we were taken out to Tan Son Nhut where we were taken out on these CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters.
But what’s interesting is, in Kabul now, those American troops are not allowed to go out into the streets of Kabul and find Americans and bring them back to the airfield. And I think that that’s really quite weird/ I think that they’re not allowed to do that, where the French and the British are doing it, bringing in this smaller number of people. Don’t know why that’s happening.
Mr. Jekielek: And one of the things that kind of jumps out to me is that these are very, very different fighting forces, right? The Vietnamese were an actual military of sorts, whereas the Taliban aren’t. Again I’m not an expert on these, but you were, I think in the late ’80s, reporting in Afghanistan with the Mujahideen versus the Soviet Union and so forth. So you have some sense of how that works.
Mr. Yates: Well, you know, the difference is this. The NVA, the North Vietnamese Army, which is what, they invaded South Vietnam after the, right around the beginning of March. Then around March 15th Ban Me Thuot, which was in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, that fell.
And so from that point on until the time of the evacuation, that was like 55 days before the fall of the entire country and Saigon. The military, the NVA was a very disciplined, very well ordered and very professional army with a very specific kind of command control. And the different units, they were very well coordinated.
The Taliban, on the other hand, are a loose network of warlords and their private armies that are kinda glued together. And you may have a couple of people at the top, but I don’t know how much power those people at the top have, because it seems to be [that] all the decisions are made by a committee of these warlords.
And if somebody doesn’t like it, one warlord doesn’t like what’s happening, he may pull back, pull out. We just don’t know. This is not the same kind of a military.
And so what’s really puzzling to me is how quickly then, Afghanistan fell, the government fell, given that they were not faced with a very professional army, like the South Vietnamese were, when the North Vietnamese army came down. It’s quite different. So it’s very puzzling to me how that could have happened so quickly.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me a little bit more about the exit strategy from Saigon.
Mr. Yates: The big difference is this, Jan. Between the fall of Ban Me Thuot, which I mentioned before, and the end of the evacuation, the beginning of the evacuation, the U.S. Embassy and the Americans who were on the ground in Vietnam made a concerted effort to get out a lot of the Vietnamese who had worked for them.
And as a matter of fact, probably between the, about a month before the place fell, I would say by April, from March 30th until about April 20th or so, they were able to get out 35,000 or so Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans.
That seems like a very large number, and it is. However, there were another 100 or so thousand who didn’t get out, who had also worked with the Americans. So while they got out 35,000, and on the last day, another 5,000 were taken out, in addition to the 2,200 or so Americans that were lifted out of there, they managed to get a lot of people out. So, I thought the organization was much better in that respect.
In Kabul, Afghanistan now, it’s an absolute disaster. It’s an unmitigated disaster. Why hadn’t they been, they had months to do this.
I mean, the Biden administration has been in power for seven months. And so why couldn’t they have begun this process three or four months ago, slowly taking out these Afghans who were gonna be, probably targeted by the Taliban after they took over? They haven’t done this. They didn’t do anything, nothing.
And now you have all these people on the ground in Afghanistan, and god knows what’s gonna happen to them. I suspect a lot of them will be executed, in the worst case, and maybe if not that, then they’ll be thrown in some kind of prison or whatever, or they’ll be tortured. It’ll be awful.
And I don’t know— why we allowed this to happen. It’s really disgusting, frankly. And it really bothers me a lot, ’cause I thought it was bad in Saigon. This is even worse.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the reasons why folks are so into making the Saigon comparison, I think, is because of this iconic photo of a helicopter picking up Americans. I believe it’s from the embassy in Saigon. And similarly in Kabul.
Mr. Yates: Well actually, Jan, that photograph, which is an iconic photograph of what happened on the last day, was not at the embassy. That was an apartment building about two blocks from the embassy.
Some Americans lived in that building, and they were being evacuated by those, I think those were Air America choppers that were landing there, Hueys. And the Vietnamese saw that. And so they went rushing over there to try to get into those choppers.
So it was not the embassy. Everybody thinks it is, but it wasn’t. That was not the top of the roof of the embassy, but it’s still an iconic photograph.
And it says a lot about what happened on the last day, the panic, the chaos, the fear, the terror, frankly, of what’s gonna happen to people. Unlike, I don’t know when the North Vietnamese came into Saigon. They didn’t arrest people. They didn’t summarily execute people.
I think that that’s kind of the fear that we’re seeing in Kabul now, ’cause the Taliban are notorious for executing people—just like the Khmer Rouge were in Cambodia. In fact, they would kill journalists, and many journalists who went into Cambodia and were captured by the Khmer Rouge never came out again. So the Taliban has that same feeling.
As a matter of fact, the Taliban once had a $50,000 bounty on the heads of the foreign journalists. If an Afghan would kill them, the Taliban would give them $50,000. That was early on in the conflict.
I’m not sure if they’re still in existence, but that’s enough to make a foreign correspondent think twice about going into that country. I didn’t have that sense in Saigon, though, that the North Vietnamese were not going to do anything like that, I don’t believe.
And by the way, under terms of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were allowed to have a presence in Saigon at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. They had a little area there. It was called Camp Davis.
And in that area called Camp Davis, they would have these briefings every Saturday. We could go out and interview the NVA and the Viet Cong and ask them what they were gonna do.
I remember going out about two weeks before the whole place fell. I said, it was a colonel and I, Colonel Ba. I remember his name. And he said, “Look.” I said, “What happens if we decide to stay behind when you enter the city? We know you’re not very far away.”
And he said, “Ah, don’t worry. You just stay in, where are you?” I said I was staying at the Continental Palace Hotel. And he said, “Okay, well just stay there. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. We’re not gonna do anything to journalists or whatever.”
And so I felt very good about that. And when I called the Tribune to tell them I wanted to stay behind, they wouldn’t let me do it. They had seen what had happened in Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge. They didn’t want to take a chance, and they didn’t want to be responsible for me being thrown into some kind of a gulag or whatever, or worse.
So they said, “No, we want you out. It’s a dismissible offense if you stay.” They threatened me, so I left like everybody else, like a lot of people. Some people did stay behind.
Mr. Jekielek: So Ron, what else are you seeing?
Mr. Yates: Well, right now, clearly we’re seeing a lot of, for a better word, prevarication happening. I think there’s a lot of lying going on in Washington about what’s going on right now in Afghanistan. And in that respect, that’s similar to what happened in Saigon.
For example, in Saigon there were, about a week or about two weeks before the whole place fell, the embassy was putting out statements to the Vietnamese press, and the ambassador even went on television, Vietnamese television, and he said, “I want to make it very clear that Americans are not leaving you. We are not going to leave you. We are still here. We are not leaving.” Of course that was backed up by the press releases they were giving to the Vietnamese press.
Well, that was all a big lie. Yes, they were planning on leaving. They were already taking out thousands of Vietnamese and, secretly. They had moved everybody out of the embassy, pretty much, all the most important people.
The people who were not really that important, secretaries and whatever, they were all gone. They were taking ’em out secretly and moving ’em at night and whatever out to the airport, out to the air base. So that was not being truthful to the Vietnamese people. They didn’t want them to panic, see. They were trying to keep them calm.
Well, what’s happening in Afghanistan now is that they’re saying, “Oh, well, everybody’s fine. People are coming into the airport. We’re taking out five or six or eight or 9,000 people a day.”
Well, I don’t believe that. People can’t get into the airport. The Taliban have checkpoints all over the city. And people who are trying to get in are being beaten, and I don’t know what Americans, how many Americans are still on the ground. We don’t know that. We should know. We should have a good idea, how many Americans are still on the ground in Afghanistan, in Kabul.
And don’t forget, Americans might be in Kandahar. They might be in other places all around the country. How are they gonna get out? You know, they shut down Bagram Air Base, which was a huge mistake. That should be open, and they could have secured that air base very simply, but now it’s gone now.
And the other thing, you know, that’s really bothersome, the fact that they’re not even mentioning this very often, is the fact that when we left Vietnam. That was sort of just after 1973, the troops left, the American troops. And of course we’ve maintained our diplomatic presence there, and we had some people on the ground who were like, still kinda like in an advisor role or whatever.
But nevertheless, when we left, we didn’t leave airplanes, 200 airplanes, Black Hawk helicopters, or Huey helicopters and tanks; all these weapons and night vision gear and all this, like they are in Afghanistan. Can you imagine American military equipment that’s gonna be sold, including drones, that’s gonna be given to the Chinese so they can reverse engineer it? Our tanks, all these things, it’s horrible.
How could the DOD, the Department of Defense, allow that to happen? They had months to get that stuff out, or they could have destroyed it, but no, they didn’t.
Normally what you do when an army retreats, they destroy anything that the enemy can use. We didn’t even do that. It [is] just sitting there, for their taking. And so now we have all this stuff.
To me, it’s beyond belief that this has been, that that’s allowed to happen, that the military allowed this to happen to the Department of Defense. Somebody was asleep at the switch. And boy, I don’t know. I think some heads should roll for what’s happening right now in Afghanistan.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned that the Taliban will likely be selling all this equipment to China for reverse engineering, and so forth. Why are you thinking about China here?
Mr. Yates: So I’m sure the Chinese will want to have these, this equipment to reverse engineer it, and to examine the kind of technology that our military has been using there that they could adapt or perhaps replicate. And the Chinese are very good at doing that.
That’s one area that, they made a big miscalculation, the Department of Defense, realizing that’s exactly what the Taliban were gonna do. They’re not gonna just let it sit there. They’ll either sell it, they’ll give it to the Russians, or they’ll give it to the Chinese.
I guess I think about China a lot now in the context of what’s happening with COVID, and where we know it originated, which is in some laboratory in Wuhan, China. You go back to 1989 and Tiananmen Square, where I was, in May and June of 1989, and I saw what the Chinese government, the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, can do.
I was in the square that night. I saw the tanks coming in. I saw thousands of people being murdered by the Chinese army. They brought this army in from the border of Vietnam. They were a combat ready unit because the local unit around Beijing wouldn’t do it. They knew they wouldn’t go into the square and commit this kind of atrocity that was committed. So they had to bring a unit from far away in, ’cause they had no ties to those people, to those students or whatever.
And it wasn’t just students who were killed. There were a lot of other people killed, especially outside the square who were trying to keep the army from coming in, but I saw what they did and it was absolutely atrocious.
So nothing surprises me about the Chinese. If they can do that to their own children, their own people, they can certainly do it to the rest of the world by spreading a very infectious virus, that’s a killer, not only of people, but of economies.
You know, this is a pretty interesting organization, the CCP. They have an agenda, and we know what their agenda is. So they want to, I mean, look what’s going to happen in Afghanistan. They’re gonna replace us in Afghanistan. They’re gonna go in there to get all these minerals.
We have all these minerals, cobalt and uranium and copper, and all this stuff that they need. There’s none of that stuff in China. They need to get it from somewhere. And they’re gonna take it out of Afghanistan.
No doubt in my mind. Whether or not though, the Afghans are gonna allow that to happen, because don’t forget, the Chinese are murdering leaders, and they’re Muslims. So I wonder how the Taliban’s gonna, how they’re going to deal with that issue. Because that’s something that’s gonna be very bothersome to them, I would suspect.
Mr. Jekielek: You have some firsthand experience with, I read an article of yours. I think it was from 1987, reporting on these Mujahideen warriors. And so give me a bit of a sense of that.
Mr. Yates: Well, when I went in, I went into Peshawar, which is right on the Khyber Pass. It’s in Pakistan, but it’s right on the border. And I met with a Mujahideen warlord and arranged to go in with him and his group, his little army of about 150 people.
And we crossed over, and at that point I began to understand just how, what kind of people these are. These are tough, really tough people, and they will fight to the end.
Just, I thought to myself, “My goodness, this is not an enemy you want to go against. The Russians are making a big mistake by being here.” Well, now we made the same mistake because I think we ran up against the same kind of people.
The Mujahideen became the Taliban essentially. And so what we now see is, you know, maybe a loose collection of people kind of thrown together into a semi army.
They’re very effective at what they do because it’s all guerrilla warfare and very small units. They’re able to hit and run. They do all kinds of things, which is difficult for any kind of organized, large military force like the Americans have to combat against. And the same thing happened in Vietnam, frankly. So I discovered very early on, this is gonna be a formidable foe.
And in 2001, when we went into Afghanistan after 9/11, I remember the story I’d done about this little 12-year-old boy—not little, he was a 12-year-old boy. And his job was to crawl along the roofs of buildings, in Kabul or Kandahar, wherever you might be assigned, and with a bag of hand grenades or explosive devices, and to throw them at tanks down there.
You’d see an open hatch for a tank, and his job was to crawl to the edge of the roof of a building and throw those hand grenades down that hatch. And he was very good at doing it. And he destroyed, I think, something like six tanks.
And I asked him, “How many people do you think you killed?” He said, he didn’t know, maybe 10 or 15 or 20. But when he did that, he had to start running along the roofs and jumping from one building to the other to get away, because they were after him with the Kalashnikovs, shooting at him.
12 years old, I thought to myself, “My gosh, a 12-year-old boy doing this, and we are gonna be fighting against these people? It’s gonna be a real tough road to hoe.” I think that we’ve discovered that.
You know, 20 years of that war, it just seems, I don’t consider it a waste, because I will say this, it stopped attacks on our homeland, that’s for sure. It got rid of Al-Qaeda and it sort of held the Taliban at bay for a while, until this last month or so, and then we saw what happened.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I have seen examples of Taliban leaders actually being interviewed by women. I believe you’ve been on some semblance of Afghan television. Is this something that you would expect?
Mr. Yates: Well, if it was an Afghan woman journalist, interviewing the Taliban, that’s significant, because the Taliban that are saying, at least publicly, that they are not going to enforce Sharia law like they did in the past on a lot of women, and force them to wear the hijab and to be locked away in their homes and stuff like that. That’s what they’re saying, at least.
Whether or not that plays out, I don’t know, because there are a lot of very conservative Taliban. They don’t want to see women on the streets, don’t want to see their hair uncovered and all that, and certainly don’t want them working as journalists.
But yet we have a 20-year period here where women in Afghanistan experienced a lot of freedom. They went to school. They became doctors. They became journalists. They got involved in government. There is even some women mayors of towns and whatever.
So whether or not that’s going to remain, I don’t know. I hope it does, because if it does, it means that maybe this Taliban is different from the one that was in back in the ’90s, which ran the country.
But I’m not holding my breath, ’cause I think the Taliban are, they’re pretty big on Sharia law and they’re pretty big on maintaining these strictures against women.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so tell me about the evolution of the Mujahideen into the Taliban.
Mr. Yates: Well, the Mujahideen were the, essentially the warrior group that rose up to fight against the Russians. And I think, as I said before, so many of the people in Afghanistan, these groups were disparate units controlled by various warlords. And the warlord that I knew when I went in with, I don’t know if he still exists or not, if he’s still alive, he was in his 50’s then. So he might not be.
But that group, I think what happened, once the Russians left, and then you had the Taliban rushing in to take control of the country, that some of the Mujahideen became Taliban. I’m not sure if they all did. I don’t know if the Taliban, how powerful it was when I was there in the ’80s, but it was probably a unit someplace else within the country.
But a lot of the Mujahideen then became the Taliban, I think. And I remember, even the unit that I was with, they were very conservative about women. They didn’t want their women out anywhere. They want them locked up .
They were, and I asked them those questions. He says, “Oh, we can’t let them out.” And I said, “Why?” Well, they had all kinds of reasons why not, but they were not the kind of reasons that would certainly be honored by anybody in the Western world.
The Mujahideen, when they began to morph into the Taliban, or some of them began to morph and move into that world, they brought a lot of their ideas with them. And so those ideas are still pretty conservative.
I don’t think it’s going to be, like I say, I would be very surprised if you have suddenly have a very liberal, kind of a woke Taliban, so to speak, charge.
Mr. Jekielek: A number of people have described this as an intelligence failure. And frankly, the other thing that I’ve been thinking about is the role of the media, because I know for example, with this current administration that we can, I think a nice way to say it would be the corporate media have been very, very friendly to the current administration, shielding it from criticism.
Almost I think [that] is what might be a fair way to characterize it. And I wonder what the impact that is on that sort of a situation is on decision-making of people in power.
Mr. Yates: Well, you know, I’ve heard the same thing. Was it an intelligence failure? My background in the military was in military intelligence. When I was in the Army Security Agency, we were involved with what they called signals intelligence, and which is what the NSA does now.
And we worked for the NSA essentially. So my feeling is this. I don’t think it was an intelligence failure. I think it was a failure by the administration to heed the intelligence. I think there was a lot of intelligence on the ground. You know, we have a lot of people on the ground in Afghanistan, even now, who are providing good intelligence about the Taliban or whatever.
And I believe that the military of the Pentagon alerted the administration to what was going to be happening. I heard that they alerted them back in July, that what was going to happen if they didn’t, if they allowed the Taliban, if they pulled out precipitously, and the Taliban began to do what they’re doing now. That would be chaos. It would be horrible.
And somehow, I don’t think the administration heeded that advice. I wasn’t there in the room, so I don’t know. I’m not privy to the Situation Room in the White House, but my feeling is, they didn’t listen. And now we’re paying the price for that. But that’s in terms of the intelligence. In terms of the media, I think you’re right.
I’m really happy to see the mainstream media now doing its job. They’re holding the administration to account for what’s happening there. They’re asking pointed questions, they’re probing. Even Stephanopoulos, you know, when he interviewed the president on ABC, I guess, last week or whatever, asked some very good questions and he didn’t get very good answers, frankly.
But I think right now the media are doing their job. In the past, I don’t think that they did. I think they were kind of circling the wagons around the Biden administration to kinda protect them from any kind of criticism, overt criticism or whatever.
And I think that they felt they need to be an advocate for him, rather than to be somebody who behaves like a watchdog, which is what journalists are supposed to do when it comes to government. It’s gratifying for me to see the media doing its job—doing their job. How long that will last, I don’t know, but we’ll see .
Mr. Jekielek: At the Tribune, I think you were there almost, you were a foreign correspondent for almost 30 years.
Mr. Yates: Right.
Mr. Jekielek: How has media changed over that time period?
Mr. Yates: Oh wow, boy, big changes, Jan. When I started in the, I can tell you this much. The stories I see right now in newspapers, and I read the L. A. Times, I read The San Diego Union Tribune, I read other newspapers. I see stories in those papers that would never have been allowed to be run in the Chicago Tribune in 1970, ’71, ’72, or whatever.
Editors would have caught things, little pieces of opinion that a reporter will insert into a story or a perspective that shouldn’t be there, or unbalanced stories, or bias by omission, things like that, which are little signals that the person writing the story has an agenda. They’re trying to adhere to a certain narrative. And I think that that didn’t exist.
And I can remember being yelled at by editors when I dared to put some kind of opinion in a piece, not even realizing that I had done it. But they would yell at me and say, “Yates, what are you doing? Get this out. We don’t give a godawful, damn, whatever. We don’t care what you say. We don’t want it in the story, get it out.”
It was a different world. And you know, when I started in 1976, the Poynter, I think it was the Poynter Institute, they do these annual studies about the perception of the media by the public. And when I, in 1970, so in 1976, I guess, the one that I remember very distinctly, or maybe it was 1973, anyway, 76 percent of Americans believed and had faith in the media, saying that they believed that that was being truthful and they could trust it.
The same study today, which was done just about six months ago, only 29 percent of Americans have trust in the media. That tells me something. It tells me something that the media is self-destructing as we watch it.
And a lot of the media out there are acting like Pravda or TASS, in the old Soviet Union. They’re not acting the way they should be. And so it’s, they’re destroying their own credibility by being advocates for a certain narrative or a certain political point of view. And that’s too bad, it really is.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s this sort of element. This is what I’ve been thinking about, right? When, if you are in a position of power, and you’re fairly confident that the people that are supposed to be looking in on you, keeping you honest, so to speak, are not, are basically just gonna kind of agree with whatever it is that you’re doing, you don’t feel the pressure maybe, I guess. What are your thoughts here?
Mr. Yates: Normally, the way the media behaved, the way I always behaved, if I were working on a story and I saw The New York Times was there, or The Washington Post or the L. A. Times, my impetus or my, what I wanted to do was to beat them somehow. You know, you want to get a story they don’t have. You want to get a better story. You want to get something that’s exclusive.
What I find now, Jan, with the media is that there’s this kind of a group think mentality. “We’re all in this together,” you know.
I don’t want to get political here, but I look back at the previous administration. The sense I always got watching these things is that they wanted him out of the White House. They wanted Donald Trump out of the White House, and this is what they needed to be doing to get that to happen.
That’s not their job. Their job is to report to the American people what’s happening, and what’s right, and what’s wrong, you know?
But you didn’t see much reporting about what’s right in that administration. You saw a lot of reporting about what they thought was wrong, and that’s not journalism, in my view. That’s people behaving like propagandists. That’s a big problem with the media today. They need to go back to being journalists, and not advocates.
Mr. Jekielek: Why do you think there’s a sudden change? And is it something that can really last?
Mr. Yates: There’s only so much, if you’re trying to protect somebody, there’s only so far you can go without looking like you’re an idiot. Just face it.
I mean, there’s a huge problem in Afghanistan right now. It’s an unmitigated disaster. It’s a problem. It shouldn’t be happening what we’re seeing now there. We’re facing a situation which is going to devolve and probably collapse into some kind of a bloodbath. I hope it doesn’t happen, but they’re seeing it. They saw what was happening on the runway.
They saw those 117s trying to take off with people hanging onto the wings and whatever, and you can’t ignore it. There’s only so much you can ignore without saying, “Okay, we have to start reporting this.” I hope it has a sustainability, following what’s happening in Afghanistan. I hope it remains somehow.
You know, there’s that old saying. “Journalists should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” And in a way that’s kind of what they should be doing, in addition to being watchdogs of government, which is what their traditional function has always been.
Mr. Jekielek: “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” That’s brilliant, that’s not something I had come across before, but it sounds right.
Mr. Yates: Well, it makes some sense. I mean, obviously, in a way, that’s almost pushing the advocacy point of view, you know? You really should report what’s happening, and not worry about if you’re afflicting somebody or comforting somebody.
But at the same time, I think in the process of comforting people, what you’re doing is providing them with good, unadulterated information that is devoid of perspective—your perspective or your particular biases. And I think that’s what’s critical.
Mr. Jekielek: So Ron, as we finish up here, what are your hopes for what happens next for Afghanistan?
Mr. Yates: Couple of things I hope for. I hope that we get most of those Afghanis out who were working with Americans, and also the coalition forces. I hope they get out safely, and their families. Frankly, I don’t see that happening. I think there’s going to be a big issue here.
This was a complete collapse, a complete disregard for human life, I think. And I think it’s despicable, and I hope that it doesn’t turn out to be an enormous bloodbath. That’s one thing.
The other thing I think is really important is the behavior of our media. I’m very impressed, I’m very gratified, and by the function of the media, as it’s covering this story. They’re asking good questions. They’re holding the administration accountable. They’re probing them. They’re trying to get some good answers for some of the things we’re seeing on the ground in Afghanistan, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it shows the media at its best, at their best.
And I believe that if they can be, if this could be sustained over time, then it may be a kind of a reinvention of our American media, doing its job for a change, and being a watchdog of government. So I hope that’s the end result of all of this.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Ron Yates, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Yates: Well, thank you very much, Jan. I was glad to be here, and thank you for inviting me on.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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