A Telling Tale From Bhutto’s Past

I met Benazir Bhutto 35 years ago, in the winter of 1972, when we were undergraduates at Harvard. We were juniors and she was trying out, or "comping," for the student newspaper, the Crimson. The president of the paper, Robert Decherd, asked me to run the "comp." Since the student strike in 1969 the "comp" had grown lax; anti-elitism was the code of the day, and the executives no longer cut anyone who was willing to write stories and headlines or do errands, like going down to the sandwich shop on the corner to buy food for the night shift. Anyone who completed the eight-week "comp" was elected an editor, regardless of ability. (The Crimson was ahead of its time in title inflation: all reporters were called editors and all editors were called executives.) Despite the anti-elitism of the time, Harvard was then, as now, competitive and status-conscious. The fact that anyone could get on the paper-the reality that no compers were getting cut anymore-meant that there wasn't much status or prestige associated with being elected an editor. So the new editors weren't taking their status seriously or working very hard. I was a lowly sportswriter, not an executive, but Decherd asked me to run the comp and to start cutting people. I guess no one else wanted the job.

The first person I cut was Benazir Bhutto. I don't recall her very well, except that her writing was poor and that she looked unhappy and a little bedraggled. She was known then as "Pinky," not Benazir. I don't think I ever told her she was cut; rather, I left her name off the list of compers asked to move on to the next round after a month or so. I didn't think anything of it until six years later, when I was a brand new writer in the overseas edition of Time magazine. I was writing a story about unrest in Pakistan, and I read that the daughter of the deposed (and soon to be hanged) prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was vowing a bloody revenge. Her name was Benazir Bhutto. Pinky? I thought.

About a decade later I saw Benazir Bhutto. She was on her way to winning election as prime minister of Pakistan and the guest of my boss, Katharine Graham, the president and owner of the Washington Post Co. Mrs. Graham had brought Bhutto over to the Washington bureau of Newsweek for lunch. I was the bureau chief, and so nominally the host-though in fact Mrs. Graham was running the show. Bhutto was coiffed and elegant, and she spoke articulately and powerfully. She fixed me with her large, dark eyes and said, "You cut me from the Harvard Crimson." She was not smiling. I sputtered a lame apology. The conversation moved on. The scene was hardly momentous, but it occurred to me, as I wondered why Bhutto was coming back to Pakistan from her comfortable exile at grave personal risk: this is a woman who does not forget.

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