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. In reporting Amanpour’s hiring, Politico‘s Michael Calderone correctly observed, "It’s an unlikely moment for a host lacking experience in covering Washington politics to take the reins, and another reason the hire struck some staffers as coming out of left field." Unlikely and decidedly welcome. 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 fifteen 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.
Demands of comity and good manners take precedence over journalism unless it comes in the form of reporting a prescripted announcement or a silly gaffe. This coziness was neatly captured when NBC’s David Gregory appeared at the 2007 Radio and Television Correspondents’ dinner as a dancing backup singer to "rapper" Karl Rove–a Pip to Turd Blossom’s Gladys Knight–only to be granted the host’s job of Meet the Press not long afterward. (So, too, with the late Tim Russert’s admission that it did not occur to him to ask Scooter Libby any substantive questions when Libby called him during the Plame/Wilson affair, reportedly to try to smear MSNBC’s Chris Matthews as an anti-Semite.)
Amanpour has spent the past twenty-seven 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. Profiled in 1994 in The New York Times Magazine, Amanpour could be found pitching a tent next to the airstrip in Goma, Zaire, having flown in from Port-au-Prince. Describing how "bodies littered the ground for as far as one could see in any direction" amid the overpowering "stench of rotting flesh and human waste," reporter Stephen Kinzer aptly concluded, "Like perhaps no other reporter on American television, Amanpour seems to belong in such places."