Tuesday October 10, 2006
Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, is one of the most recognizable faces in news. Now she is narrator of “The Journalist and the Jihadi,” a new HBO documentary about Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan. She has reported from Eastern Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Somalia, winning nine Emmy awards and two Peabody awards in the process. A staunch defender of the power of serious-minded journalism, she abhors the notion that Americans only want to see “crime and punishment and sex and face-lifts.” Appearing recently at the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Amanpour answered questions from Campus Progress and other reporters about Daniel Pearl, the documentary, and the state of journalism in our society. Daniel Pearl would have turned 43 this week. “The Journalist and the Jihadi” premieres on HBO tonight.
Christiane Amanpour Given the violence so many journalists have encountered, how are reporters and their organizations taking more precautions? How close is too close?
The violence has certainly had a chilling effect on the profession. I spent four whole years in Bosnia, in a city under siege. There were snipers in the hills, but there wasn’t the same wholesale slaughter as in Iraq with roadside bombings and gun-to-head assassinations. So it is more dangerous now. No doubt, it is hard to tell the story. Our organizations have really stepped up money for security. It is a major budgeting issue. We have former special forces guarding us. We have special hardware like helmets and Kevlar vests. At this point, I won’t do a stand-up interview in the streets of Baghdad. It is dangerous to do a man on the street interview so we need to tell the story differently, but we still tell the story.
What is the primary lesson you hope people will take away from the documentary?
I hope they’ll come away knowing that people like Daniel Pearl give journalism a great name and not because he died and not because he was killed but because he was doing something important. His whole body of work and reporting after 9/11 was so important. He went beyond the headlines and went deeper to penetrate these big questions–who are these people? What do they want? Why are they doing this? I hope it will stop these offensive accusations from some that journalists are too afraid to go out and tell the story–we just sit in our hotel room reporting rumors. Clearly, that is not the case. What we do comes at terrible cost and it is in pursuit of the truth, in pursuit of service, and can advance the policy debate.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for cable news networks trying to cover international issues?
Number one, resources. Corporations that own news organizations want higher and higher profits and the commitment to international news is being rolled back at a time when it should be increased. The other challenge is that there are very real issues of maximum importance that we need to examine, and we need to be able to do it as honest, independent journalists reporting without fear or favor. Sadly since September 11th, so much reporting has been done or viewed through a political prism. Reality is being politicized, our work is being politicized. If we tell a story about, say, Iraq getting worse–more car bombs, more murders and assassinations, more dangerous–we get accused almost of lying by those who don’t want to hear that. We need to be able to tell the truth; if we don’t we’ll just be compelled to keep repeating mistakes.