On Fear, Feeling, & Fighting: Christiane Amanpour Talks International Reporting
Christiane Amanpour is indescribably bold and impressively accomplished. She has reported from every corner of the world in some of the most dangerous circumstances, and came to Tufts for the Edward R. Murrow Forum on April 26th to discuss her three-decade broadcast career. Currently, she works for both ABC and CNN. Back in 1983, when she started working at CNN, she admits that she considered it “grad school on the job,” and assumed that she would eventually start working at a “real network.” Obviously, a lot has changed since then, but Amanpour has managed to stay relevant and keep on top of the news, despite the passage of time.
Amanpour grew up in Tehran, Iran, (though she did spend considerable time in London) and the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s defined much of her adolescence and young adult life. She is tough, resilient, and hardworking, and credits the revolution for giving her the motivation to enter the field of journalism. “I never wanted to be the victim again,” she reflects. “I wanted to tell the stories of people.” She eventually left Iran and headed for the US. “I knew that to have a chance to make it in the world, I had to come to the US,” she explains.
Amanpour has received countless broadcast awards, and she didn’t get there by taking the easy route. She has reported from many extreme crises, including the Gulf War and the Arab Spring, in addition to her war reporting in nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and many others. She is known for interviewing many world leaders over the course of her career, and most famously, she alone secured an interview with Egyptian President Mubarak during the Arab Spring.
Given her experience on the frontlines, in war-torn nations, and staring revolution in the face, Amanpour understands the significance of strong international coverage better than most anyone. She reflects on the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon as a good example of how familiarity with events around the world can help contextualize tragic events like these, when they arise. She explains that many Americans probably didn’t give Chechnya much thought before the bombings, and now the Republic is popping up all over the news in the wake of the events. Keeping this in mind, Amanpour asserts: “We must do better international reporting. Not just in crisis times, but in non-crisis times, so when there is a crisis, we have a closer connection.”
Amanpour believes in the significance of international reporting so much that for many years she put her career above her own personal life. She calls herself a “late mother” and a “late wife,” and says that throughout much of her career, she had no one to stay alive for while trekking through some of the world’s more treacherous war zones. Now that she’s married and has a child, she says, “I have someone to stay alive for, and I want to.” But this certainly hasn’t made her any less courageous, and Amanpour stresses that she has never felt inhibited in her career for being a woman. She rejects the idea that women can’t “have it all,” and says that she has had it all; it’s simply come in stages. Amanpour admits that sometimes, she might get access to certain areas or interviews because she is a woman, and therefore seems less threatening. But she is careful to not let this logic go too far in undermining her accomplishments. Reflecting on the Arab Spring, she says proudly: “I didn’t get [my interview with] Mubarak because I am a woman. I got him.”
While Amanpour may come across as fearless and unfazed by the horrors she faces on a daily basis, she openly admits to
feeling constant repressed fear. She reflects on some of her past assignments, and comments specifically on her time in Bosnia: “I was an observer who happened to be on the inside, so I was at the same risk as the civilians.” She explains that by interacting with situations of war and revolution on a regular basis is a way of acquainting oneself with real fear. “Everyone is afraid in those kinds of situations,” she says. “It would be foolish to pretend not to be.”
Despite this fear, Amanpour keeps her emotions in check while on the job. She doesn’t deny that sometimes her work
will be saddening or deeply upsetting, but explains that the key is being respectful of the actual individuals involved. “The true skill,” she says, “has to be to tell the story of the other.” If she feels a strong sentiment, she doesn’t hold it in. That being said, she emphasizes: “You to have to be honest. It’s fake to show emotion you don’t feel.” Ultimately, it seems that the feeling wrapped up in a story can be more of a catalyst than a hindrance when it comes to bringing out
the narrative. “I just funnel my emotion into storytelling,” she says.
While sentimental attachment can be helpful in some cases, it goes without saying that fact-checking is critical to good journalism. Amanpour stresses the importance of “holding everyone accountable,” and adds that in times of fast-moving news stories, “One really must resist going with the herd.” This becomes increasingly important with the ever-growing influence of social media. “Everyone has an agenda,” Amanpour explains. And for that reason, she adds: “Trained journalists have the duty to bring real human stories, rather than relying on the armchair analysis of social media.” Amanpour doesn’t believe that youth is necessarily an obstacle to being a good reporter, but that it does make a person more idealistic by nature. The challenge then, for young people, she explains: “…Is to make truth your master, and nothing else.”