To mark the 15th anniversary of TVNewser this month, Adweek honored the 30 Most Impactful TV Newsers of the Past 15 Years, spotlighting the personalities and execs who were instrumental in the industry’s incredible decade-and-a-half evolution. TVNewser will be presenting expanded versions of each honoree’s interview.
- Job title: CNN chief International anchor / anchor, Amanpour on CNN International / host, Amanpour & Company on PBS
- 15 years ago: CNN chief international correspondent; correspondent, 60 Minutes
Adweek: What were you doing 15 years ago, in January 2004?
Christiane Amanpour: I was reporting on the ground from Iraq, on the misadventures of the Bush administration into Iraq; and I was reporting on the rise of the insurgency, which became the precursor to ISIS. It was called: AQIM, which at that point was Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. I remember our reporting were dismissed out of hand by the likes of defense secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld and the entire Bush administration. They poo-pooed the notion that there was an insurgency growing up against the U.S. occupation there. That was a mistake because they failed to recognize it and deal with it, and so it became a very strong insurgency, and to a large extent had the reverberating negative impact on politics and military up until today.
What’s your favorite professional moment of the past 15 years?
I have several favorite professional moments. I was in the courtroom in Baghdad for the trial of Saddam Hussein. When he first came in for his first hearing, he arrived in shackles and it was the most riveting spectacle that anyone had seen in recent memory. He was this monster who had been caught and was finally being brought to trial, and I was allowed into the court, and I was the only independent journalist let into the court.
I had a very important moment whereby in 2004 – I want to read it to you because I thought it was quite prescient, because of the rise of the fake news crisis:
I was on an interview show with Tina Brown, who had a program at that time, and I said the following regarding the post-9/11 environment and what led to the Iraq war: “I think the press was muzzled. I think the press self-muzzled. I’m sorry to say, but television, and perhaps to a certain extent my own station was intimidated by the Bush administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News.”
And that remained a major issue for many, many years. It has turned around now because in the Jeff Zucker era at CNN, we’re not intimidated by anybody, but it was an issue.
Additionally, I would say that another favorite – I did an interesting report for 60 Minutes in 2004, which won an Emmy. It was about loose weapons of mass destruction. They were chemical weapons and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union.
Lastly, I would say now doing the joint PBS-CNN gig that I do right now is another favorite moment.
What has been your toughest professional challenge over the past 15 years?
Staying alive. I’ve been chief foreign correspondent, I’ve been in the field for most of my career, and in the most dangerous places in the world, where people are deliberately targeting journalists. I think staying alive has been tough, but keeping the truth alive has been very tough as well. Getting people to accept that truth does not mean neutrality, that it does not mean moral or factual equivalence.
Who have you learned the most from in your career?
There’s a range of old school mentors who I’ve had, but I will say because I’m a CNNer and because I mean it – I would say Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, has been my mentor. Not only as an example, but someone who I have had lots of face to face encounters with; I’ve learned everything really from him. Here’s what I’ve learned: I’ve learned that to be bold in pursuit of the truth and to be on the cutting edge, and to not fear what the rest of the establishment might say about you in pursuit of revolutionary and truthful movement in our world. And I’ll tell you why, because Ted Turner was ridiculed when he started the global media revolution with CNN. He was kind of ridiculed when he was the first massive private citizen who came out in America for saving the environment, and became the single biggest landowner for conservation. He was sort of ridiculed for starting the Goodwill Games, which was his way of saying at the height of the Cold War that we are going to demonstrate tolerance, and we are going to go for the nonviolent, tolerant embrace of nations, when American boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. He created the Goodwill Games as a bond between enemies at that time, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and I think that is something we can all appreciate today, when politicians make enemies out of the other, and that trickles down to the people as well. So I think I’ve learned on every level from Ted Turner, and so I would say he’s my mentor.
Which of your competitors do you most admire?
I’m a big fan of Barbara Walters; a big fan of Cynthia McFadden. For me, the closest would be – it’s sort of counter intuitive – but the late Anthony Bourdain, who used his platform and his message of traveling around the world to bring people together over food, and I thought that was just brilliant. I would say Sir David Attenborough as well, who has used his platform as an unmatched naturalist to point out that we must keep saving our species and step up to that challenge.
What do you know now about the business that you didn’t know 15 years ago?
I think for me this is the most troubling one. Obviously, the great thing is the work can be spread around much, much further than it used to be because of the platforms. But I think for me, what I didn’t know and what I wasn’t prepared for was what I thought was taken for granted which was the truth and facts. I really believed that if we just went out there and were the eyes and the ears of people and did our duty and were truthful and honest reporters, objective – that the truth would win the day. I never, ever imagined that the basic ingredients of civil society, and strong democracy and obviously journalism – truth is in question right now. Facts and truth. I think that, for me is the scariest aspect.