Thursday, April 1, 2010
In choosing Christiane Amanpour to host This Week, ABC News has done something not only right but brave. Giving the show to a tireless reporter with an avowed commitment to “make foreign news less foreign and link it with domestic policy” puts ABC in a position to break open a paradigm for the Sunday interview programs that has held sway since NBC’s Meet the Press began in 1947.
The appointment must have come as a shock to the cozy world of Washington insiders, who would have been much more comfortable with one of their own, such as network correspondent Jake Tapper, Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran or former Bush adviser turned ABC analyst Matthew Dowd. Amanpour’s entire career stands in almost perfect contrast to the increasing “Politico-ization” of the news, with its laserlike focus on what happened five seconds ago and what that will mean for the next 15 minutes.
Typically, the Sunday shows function as a corollary to a David Broder column or a Sally Quinn dinner party. While ABC’s recent roundtables have expanded the political universe ever so slightly – offering seats to liberals like E.J. Dionne, Paul Krugman and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel – your typical Sabbath Gasbag understands that he must stay in the Cokie Roberts/George Will safety zone of conservative conventional wisdom. In the past this meant generally strong support for the need to impeach Bill Clinton, make fun of Al Gore, cut taxes on the rich and, of course, invade Iraq without asking too many pesky questions. And the most popular guests of late have been similarly pitched, with Newt Gingrich, John McCain and Joe Lieberman among the bookers’ not-so-surprising favorites.
Amanpour has spent the past 27 years in a different world entirely. At CNN, she has famously occupied herself not with moronic insider gossip but with war, famine and mass rape.
Amanpour has made a career not of toadying to power but challenging it. “Mr. President, it’s a privilege to address you from Sarajevo,” she said via satellite to Clinton before he decided to intervene militarily in the Balkans. “You tonight just said that Bosnia was just a humanitarian catastrophe. Surely, sir, you would agree it is so much more than that, a fundamental question of international law and order. You also said that it is clearly in your national interest, the U.S. national interest. So my question is, as leader of the free world, as leader of the only superpower, why has it taken you, the United States, so long to articulate a policy on Bosnia?”
While Amanpour does not exactly have a politics – right-wingers pretend that she’s a left-winger because she does not eschew reporting facts inconsistent with their various biases, while many on the left believe her to be a prisoner of a narrow, NATO-style paradigm – she does not take refuge in the age-old dodge that “objectivity” demands neutrality. Speaking of Bosnia, she once explained, “There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice. Objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.”
A refugee from the Iranian revolution, she has no taste for violent upheaval in the service of lofty ideals, whether put forth by the Serbs in Sarajevo or the Bush administration in Baghdad. “It’s all about money and power and nothing else. Whatever anyone says, it’s just about power,” she once explained.
ABC News president David Westin spoke the truth when he said, “With Christiane, we have the opportunity to provide our audiences with something different on Sunday mornings.” So the real question is: Does ABC really have the courage to let Amanpour be Amanpour?