Thursday, December 27, 2007
My Night with Benazir Bhutto
-- Jack Gray, 360 Associate Producer

When Benazir Bhutto traveled to Boston for a speaking engagement in the spring of 2005, I knew immediately that I wanted to book her for the nightly news program that I produced. She had not been in the headlines for some time, but to me she was still a big "get," as we say in journalism, especially for a local program.

I submitted my interview request through an intermediary and was thrilled when I heard back that she had agreed to do it. I would need to provide transportation for her, I was told. It was not an unusual request for most guests, though I was a bit surprised that a former head of state -- especially one as controversial as Bhutto -- wouldn't be traveling in her own secure convoy.

Nevertheless, I called the limo company we used and booked the biggest SUV they had, figuring she would be traveling with a large entourage. She was staying at the Hilton or the Sheraton in downtown Boston -- I forget which. The show was live so I was very worried about her showing up on time. A producer always prefers to have a way to contact a guest directly in case of emergency, but I was told, "Benazir Bhutto does not carry a cell phone." Maybe it was because explosives can be detonated remotely via cell phone or perhaps she simply didn't want to give out her number -- I didn't ask.

A colleague asked me, only half joking I think, about whether I was going to hire security guards to be at the television station. No, I said, I think we're all right. After all, this was during the time when Bhutto was living in relatively peaceful exile in Dubai and London.

On the appointed night, she arrived -- much to my relief -- on time. To say Benazir Bhutto had presence would be an understatement. The famous face, those piercing eyes, the flowing gown and traditional head scarf -- she was a combination of gravitas, international panache and feminine beauty unlike any I had ever seen in person.

To my utter surprise she had no bodyguards with her, only one personal aide. I explained to her the format of the program and the topics that we hoped to cover. I hung on her every word. For a young journalist with ambitions of covering important world figures and events, her charisma and accent were intoxicating.

Hardly a diva, all she asked for was a cup of tea and access to a room in which she could touch up her hair and make-up. Later she would ask me one more question -- where could she buy a DVD for her children? They really wanted to see Jim Carrey's movie, "Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events.'" Benazir Bhutto, just your average mom. I think I recommended she go to Best Buy. I wonder if she ever did.

As for the actual interview, it went off without a hitch. It was everything I had hoped it'd be --compelling, substantive and relevant. She made it clear that returning to Pakistan, despite the dangers she may face, was a top priority. When it was over, I escorted her from the studio to the front of the building, thanked her and said goodbye. With that, Benazir Bhutto climbed back into the rented SUV and disappeared into the dark New England night.
Posted By CNN: 2:13 PM ET
  8 Comments
Hi Jack, what a privilege and honor you had to have met Mrs. Bhutto! Your blog post showed that she was a real person, a regular mom...unpretentious, yet also a woman of enigma, intelligence, and great beauty all at once. Today truly is a sad day as Pakistan lost its champion of peace and democracy. My condolences and prayers are with her family and the citizens of Pakistan.

Thank you,
Lilibeth
Edmonds, Washington
Posted By Blogger Lilibeth : 2:53 PM ET
Jack:
Thanks for sharing with us a side of Bhutto we often don't get to see. What she is like when the cameras and eyes were not upon her. I'm troubled by the loss of such a strong female leader and mother. It truly has become a sad day in world history.
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 3:06 PM ET
Seriously, I can't think of Benazie Bhutto hanging out at the local Best Buy in the comedy movies section.

I'd be like running into Anderson picking out jeans at the local Sears.

What is it Anderson always says....surreal.
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 3:15 PM ET
I don't really know a lot about Mrs. Bhutto, but I feel as though a bright light has been extinguished. From what I've seen of her, she seemed to be an intelligent , positive, driven woman who wanted good to come to Pakistan. I liked the words you used-compelling, substantive and relevant. I hope that something good will come of her death. Maybe others will be inspired to carry on her work.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 3:32 PM ET
Dear Jack,

Thank you for sharing your personal account. I’m sure landing an interview with someone such as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto must have been a major coo in your career. Bhutto was a very misunderstood leader and woman, and I believe she will continue to be misunderstood by many, long after her death. My deepest hope, however, is for Bhutto to be remembered as a brave and courageous woman who fought for democracy in her homeland. As a first generation, Pakistani-American female, my heart goes out to Bhutto’s family and all Pakistani people across the world. Today is truly a sad day.

Peace and Love,

Aysha, New York
Posted By Anonymous Aysha, New York, NY : 4:43 PM ET
Jack

Thank you for sharing this story of Ms. Bhutto with us. Seeing the woman as you saw her fills out more of the mental image of who she was.

Your description of her as "a combination of gravitas, international panache and feminine beauty" was an eloquent tribute to a very powerful leader.

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Blogger Annie Kate : 8:32 PM ET
This is very frightening time in Pakistan...being a Pakistani myself...it is extremely painful to watch what is happening back home.. on tv... sitting so far away....wether Ms Bhutto would have proven to be what Pakistan needed, we will never know...but As we mourn her death...one cant help but think, given the fact that she was facing so many death threats wether something could have been done to avoid it... it is terrifying to imagine that if ONE person decides that he doesnt care about his life and wants to take another's by any means available... NO ONE CAN STOP HIM??? what is happening to the country now brings me to tears, cars and buses burning...banks aflame...trains on fire..the country is going to down the drain...someone needs to tell her loyal workers of the PPP.. to not use the country as a punching bag to take out their anger and frustrations...a country that she so loved and ended up paying for with her life...Asif Zardari and the children should make this appeal to their party workers...to make them STOP this madness... my thoughts are with the family of Ms Bhutto and with all those innocents who are suffering...who wanted nothing to with anything...may her soul rest in peace.
Posted By Anonymous Amina Ahmed NY,NY : 10:54 AM ET
My parents were born in India; however, I spent my childhood in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto used to visit our next-door neighbor's home on occassion. She was very down-to-earth. She'd ask our neighbor to cook the simplest food for her. She'd get out of the car with a genuine, gentle smile on her face and exchange greetings with everyone -- from the doorman to all the servents. I cannot imagine that somebody can murder such a humane, nice person.
Posted By Anonymous aezaz ullah : 5:53 PM ET
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