Rachel Maddow Speaks Out About Afghanistan Trip

By Alex Weprin 

MSNBC’s 9 p.m. host Rachel Maddow will be anchoring her program live from Kabul, Afghanistan Tuesday July 6 and Wednesday July 7.

TVNewser spoke to Maddow before she left for the Middle East. We discussed why she is taking this trip, and her concerns about remaining editorially independent when you have to rely so heavily on the military for travel protection and access, among other topics.

TVNewser: What made you decide to go to Afghanistan?

Rachel Maddow: The opportunity arose. I had been in contact, not in an intense way but in an on-and-off way with various public affairs officers and other members of the military serving in Afghanistan, and a lot of different people had expressed a desire that I go over there to see what’s really going on. It is also something that aspirationally I wanted to do, but I just never had the chance to. Then MSNBC said if you really do want to go we can make it happen, I am just really grateful.

The one thing that isn’t always appreciated about MSNBC is that we are in a unique position. ABC and CBS don’t have a cable news side. CNN and Fox don’t have a broadcast news side. Only NBC News and MSNBC co-exist in the same bubble, and that is totally unique in this industry. This is an example where MSNBC can really take advantage of NBC News’ assets, experience and resources. It has been incredible and I feel so lucky.

TVN: You are going to be talking to [NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent] Richard Engel out there, but do you have any sense of who your other guests will be?

RM: We are still putting that together at this point. Obviously there is going to be a heavy military component. One of the things I have heard after talking to a lot of people that have reported from Afghanistan that internal travel is really difficult. It is one thing to get from Dubai to Kabul, but once you are in Afghanistan it is hard to internally travel without help from the military.

It is hard to go up there as a first-time visitor to this war zone and not have to depend a lot on not only military transport, but also the military making different reporting opportunities available to me. So while I respect that that has implications for the editorial content of our show, it is also the constraints under which we are operating. That said, I am going to try to talk to as many people outside of the military bubble as I can. I think we are going to have to be a little bit flexible once we are on the ground.

TVN: What are the challenges of producing a show in a country like Afghanistan?

RM: Well, there are a lot of technical challenges certainly. Technical and logistical, not just transportation but connectivity in terms of computing, in terms of satellite uplinks, even with something like bad weather, there are fewer resources and options available in a place like Afghanistan to cope with a sudden storm than there would be in a place like Louisiana or someplace else where we have done field work.

So I think the logistics are harder, the technical stuff is harder, and honestly, to be frank with you, as somebody who has never done a trip like this before, I am worried about being able to hold onto my editorial judgment and having that continue to drive the show in the way that it does when we are reporting from home.

I do think when you are really out of your element, when you are in an environment that is completely new, it is hard to keep track of your own editorial voice, and not reflect back some of the novelty where it is that you are. I want to make sure it is still “The Rachel Maddow Show,” that we are really still asking and trying to answer questions that I think my viewers want asked and answered. We will see how I react when I am in that setting.

TVN: Obviously the shows are going to come right after the July 4 weekend. What do you hope your viewers take away from what you will be doing there?

RM: I do think there are questions that need to be asked and answered about the war that are going to benefit from me being there to be telling them. The McChrystal controversy has focused the nation’s attention on Afghanistan in a way that nothing else in the past year has been able to. I think that people are asking even harder questions about Afghanistan right now than they were around the time of the President’s West Point speech, when he announced his Afghan strategy.

The country is concerned about the fact that we are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of starting this war. trying to imagine not only how we leave, but how we make the most of this nine-year situation that we have put ourselves in. There is obviously still the concerns about why we went to Afghanistan in the first place, and whether those things are resolved.

The connection between the war we are fighting in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism in the United States is something that I think requires hard questioning and a pretty rigorous look for answers. I think it is a pretty mainstream conversation right now.

Not everybody has served, not everybody knows somebody who has served, but everybody knows that we have been there a hell of a long time, and it has taken a hell of a toll on the tiny minority of our country who are military, and their families.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity