It feels a little strange to see Christiane Amanpour sitting on a bar stool at a local restaurant that has been taken over by CNN this week in Cleveland. Amanpour, dressed in a bright red blazer and khakis, is on the ground to cover the Republican National Convention for her show “Amanpour,” a foreign-policy-focused program that airs on CNN and CNN International.
Best known for her war reporting in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Rwanda and the Balkans, Amanpour has also covered U.S. politics and breaking news. Amanpour, whose nails are painted electric green, is in a joking mood as she intermittently gazes at the large television screen in the back of the restaurant, which shows a report on the Trump campaign’s response to Melania Trump’s apparently plagiarized speech.
“This story is extraordinary,” she says, leaning forward as if she were watching a baseball game. Fellow CNN journalist John King interrupts Amanpour to bring over a young woman who aspires to “be Christiane Amanpour.” King and Amanpour talk about their days war reporting together when they were both “kids,” before espousing advice. “You have to start at the bottom because that’s the most fun,” Amanpour says, as King nods. “The most fun is working your way up, not to be catapulted up.”
After a quick photo, Amanpour later laments how the speed of the news cycle and the stress associated with that is taxing for journalists.
“If war is the most intense experience for human beings — I’ve spent 20 years of my life doing that stuff. My great achievement is that I’m normal still,” she says, before looking down at her green nails. “Maybe that’s a little abnormal.”
She returns to her original thought. “But the stress of that [war reporting], I don’t want to say it is nothing, but I find the stress of this rapid media environment and social media craziness almost more [stressful] than that. I do. I find it so stressful. It’s just react, react, react or nothing, or not even do anything.”
She reflects on the young woman she just met.
“This poor girl comes up, and I’m like no, lady, choose something else, be a food writer,” Amanpour says, emphasizing that this marks a change in her views. “[Before] I was all like, ‘No, get out there, go to Syria.’ I wouldn’t say that today. Hopefully, I’ll be able to in a few years.”
Here, WWD digs deeper on Amanpour’s views on how social media has changed the media business, her thoughts on presidential politics — and what she makes of the Roger Ailes debacle.
WWD: How are people in the world looking at American presidential politics?
Christiane Amanpour: Here’s the thing: This isn’t just an American story; it’s a big global story. I have a program that is [about] foreign policy, an interview program that is about the world. It’s shown every night…periodically, through the campaign, I’ve been touching on this [race] for the international audience. CNN has made a big investment into covering this, and for me it makes a lot of sense to cover it as an international correspondent, to try to make sense of it. It comes at a time when you have this unexpected, unnoticed, suddenly overwhelming sort of tsunami of what’s been described, and I think it’s accurate, as white identity politics. It’s the politics of backlash sweeping across segments of America and certain segments of Europe. Obviously, you’ve seen it play out in the Brexit fight in Europe, and you’re seeing it here as well.
WWD: How has the speed of the news cycle, particularly with social media, impacted the way we view the news and tell stories?
C.A.: It is what it is. It’s difficult to deal with because there are so many important things going on in the world, wherever it is — here in this campaign, or the coup in Turkey, or the ISIS attacks in Europe, or the war in Syria, or whatever it might be — that just need a lot more time than a Twitter cycle. I fear that the Twitter reality, or the online social media speed of light, has done two things. It creates action and reaction, but it doesn’t allow for the time to create policy and deal with these issues. There’s a lot of what I would call sort of reactive policy-making, or just reaction from policy makers, I think, that’s incredibly important when you look at the fundamental issues that certainly in Europe are driving this phenomena right now — the war in Syria, not finished, not dealt with; the war against ISIS, in my opinion and certainly based on my experience, is only using one part of the arsenal and it’s sort of containing ISIS, not defeating it. It sort of leads to the refugees, which leads to the exodus, which leads to the refugee crisis in Europe, which leads to the backlash from nationalists and populists, and, again, a white-identity backlash. There are any number of politicians and political parties that are willing to use this, the politics of fear, the politics of the lowest common denominator, the politics of division. That’s what’s happening, that’s what we’re seeing, and so the speed of light in which news happens doesn’t allow the time for proper policy-making.
WWD: All the news here and abroad somehow feels connected. Why?
C.A.: You can’t draw a straight line between all of these [crises]. You just can’t. But you can say all of this is happening at a time when it’s almost like all the chickens are coming home to roost. The inability to end the Syrian War creates more blowback because there’s more radicalization — not just by people going back to Syria to become jihadists but by people sitting and looking at their computers and getting radicalized for whatever reason in about 20 minutes — literally, that’s what one law enforcement official told me in France after the Friday 13th attacks in November, that they are getting radicalized so fast we can’t stop it. People who are troubled themselves…they are using ISIS as a tool or a refuge.
WWD: Is there a solution?
C.A.: Yeah. Stop the war in Syria. Stop the war in Iraq. You have to throw everything at it and go back to the source…you cut off the roots, and you cut off the oxygen to the jihadists.
WWD: I spent some time reporting in France, and the situation there seems connected to society there, too.
C.A.: That’s the biggest tragedy about France. It has the biggest Muslim population of all European countries. It’s somewhere in the region of 10 percent. Unlike Britain and America, where there’s much more assimilation and integration and economic opportunity, in France, weirdly, because they refuse to deal with ethnicities or religions — everybody’s French — of course, it doesn’t work like that. If you have a name like Mohammed or Homed or whatever, and not Martin or Charles or Jacques, you don’t get the jobs, and that’s been proven. They did an experiment with CVs, and they asked employees here in the United States [the CVs didn’t indicate gender] if it was women versus men, they chose the men. A similar thing is happening in France: The French name will get the job. Plus, they [French Muslims] live out in these outer-city ’burbs, and this is growing multiple generations of disaffected youth. That’s no excuse, but if you want to understand the reason, that’s part of the reason. The other part is that, certainly in my lifetime, you had the Afghanistan War, you had the Bosnian War and now you have the Syrian War. All of those wars are perceived by fellow Muslims around the world to be wars in which Muslims are being slaughtered and no one is coming to the rescue.
The difference this time, to Afghanistan and Bosnia, is that this time they are being sent back to their Western homes to create mayhem.
WWD: Aside from the headlines of the day, what story interests you right now?
C.A.: One of the things that I find really interesting is what is happening in Tunisia right now. The Tunisian government, which is an Islamist movement, this year came out and said, we are separating ourselves from Islamic politics. We are now going to be a secular, democratic party. We used Islamism as a movement because that’s all we had to get to the democratic process….It’s the first time since the Iranian Revolution, which brought the first Islamist Revolution — my country, so I grew up in this. It’s the most significant political change in the Muslim world since 1979. It couldn’t come a moment too soon.
WWD: How do you view gender in this political race? Why haven’t we had a female president but other countries have?
C.A.: But not in America…but obviously the world is looking at Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a historic campaign because of what it might mean to have the first female president of the United States.
In the same world, which has seen a lot of female leaders, whether it’s in England, India, Scandinavia, Pakistan, wherever it might be, even in South Korea. There have been a lot of female elected leaders. The momentum is moving quite a lot in the rest of the world, even in the most patriarchal societies and Islamic societies. The fact that Pakistan had a female prime minister and Bangladesh, before America, has a female president is actually kind of weird. The fact that the Iranian parliament has more female parliamentarians than females in Senate in the United States is kind of weird. The long, hard slog of getting equality could and will be helped with the reality and the symbolism of having a female American president, because that will have a tipping-point effect. Now, if she wins, so much the better for feminists. If she doesn’t, well, you know, then the slog goes on.
As far as division, I’ve been covering the politics of fear and hate and division all my life, whether it’s in war zones in the Balkans in Bosnia, or France in the National Front and all the rest… or whether it’s here in the United States.
WWD: How does the scene in Cleveland compare to war reporting?
C.A.: When I went from CNN to ABC briefly, for about two years, and I was hired to do the Sunday morning show, I said, “Washington is a whole other war zone. It’s a whole different kind of war zone.” I think I’m right. It’s become more warlike since I left. It’s actually quite difficult to establish the truth and to be truthful. My whole thing, and I’m encapsulating it in a slogan right now: truthful, not neutral. That’s what I took from my Bosnian War days, and that’s what I apply to politics, to war, to whatever it is. You have to go for the truth, and the truth is not evenhanded, the truth is not always neutral. There isn’t always a balance between one and two. You mustn’t try and create one. Truthful not neutral, you heard it here first.
WWD: You came up in a time when being a female war reporter was an anomaly, but today it’s rather commonplace, to the point where gender may not be an issue. How do you view that change?
C.A.: People who came before me did a lot of the work for me, and my generation has done a lot of the work for the people who are coming up now. I can very well see someone of this generation saying that it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference. A lot of us have put an enormous amount of work for making that possible for women. I still say that I am proud of my female sensibilities as a war correspondent. I can do anything a man can do, and maybe even better. You know that song? [Sings] “I can do anything you can do better. I can do anything better than you.” I feel that very, very acutely because it boils down to competence. It’s not about being a man or a woman. It’s about being competent. The additional ingredient is that when you’re covering the sort of wars we’re covering today, which are essentially wars against civilians, it’s generally not set pieces on battlefields…it’s a bunch of thugs or paramilitary or terrorists killing men, women and children. If you look at my reporting, I tell stories in a very human way…that plus being a woman, even — and especially — in a patriarchal society, it gives you a leg up because you can get in to talk to the women. Plus, we still live in a patriarchal society, so men are inclined to give women the benefit of the doubt, even if it’s to open the door and let you through. [Hits table with hand]. If somebody opens the door for me, I’m going to put my foot in the door and I’m never going to let it out. And that’s what I do.
WWD: Give me an example.
C.A.: I’m the first person ever on camera to interview a Taliban. I’m the first person, and I’m a woman. I’m a woman, so they hated me. I’m on TV, and they hate television. He wouldn’t let us film any part of his body. There was a low coffee table and I filmed the table and there was a plastic bunch of flowers on the table. This was as the Taliban was taking over Afghanistan in ’96, and I got a couple of shots of his hands going in and out of the frame, but I’m very proud. I’m the first person to interview a Taliban leader on camera.
WWD: Another big story in the media this week is the Roger Ailes news…
C.A.: You know I’m not going to go there. [Laughs]
WWD: OK, how about your thoughts on the lack of female executives in media.
C.A.: We’ve still got a long way to go before we have real gender parity. It makes for a much healthier environment for men and women in every aspect of human endeavor, whether in family, in the workplace, in the executive suite, on the shop floor in politics, wherever it might be. Plus the notion that a power relationship between a man and a woman can put a woman in a bind is unacceptable in 2016. Unacceptable. Unacceptable.
WWD: Who’s going to win the election?
C.A.: I don’t know. Nothing is predictable in today’s crazy politics.
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