Life’s Work: Christiane Amanpour

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Here is an excerpt from the transcript of an interview of Christiane Amanpour conducted by Alison Beard and featured by Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete interview and/or  watch a video based on it, please click here.

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Christiane Amanpour gained global fame in the 1990s as a war correspondent for CNN and parlayed it into a simultaneous gig with CBS’s 60 Minutes. This year, only 16 months after stepping into a coveted anchor spot on ABC’s This Week, she returned to foreign news reporting (for ABC and CNN) because “there simply aren’t enough people doing it.” She is interviewed by Alison Beard.

Beard:  How did you get started in journalism?

Amanpour: My first job was at a local television station in Providence [Rhode Island]. They took a leap of faith with me, I think because they saw a young woman who was very serious about her career path and knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. I was committed to journalism; I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. Today I think that’s quite unusual. Many undergraduates don’t know what they want to do, so most of them put off the final decision and go to graduate school. So I think it was the ambition I showed, the sense of mission, the desire to improve myself, and also the willingness to do anything, go anywhere. No task was too paltry, and when things were above my experience level, I didn’t shrink. I just did the very best I could.

Beard: You’ve said that covering the war in Bosnia for CNN was a turning point in your career. Why?

Amanpour: That’s where I really started my professional journey. The first time they sent me abroad I was based in Europe, and several months after that, Iraq invaded Kuwait. I was immediately sent to work on that story, even though I was very junior. With CNN being what CNN was in those days, it was all hands on deck, and I was very lucky that was the case because I learned my craft, my trade—whatever you want to call it—on the job.

After the Gulf War, I turned to the next breaking story, which was the implosion that was going on in the former Yugoslavia, starting in the summer of 1991. The Bosnian War began 20 years ago in April. And it was a turning point for many reasons. First, my only war experience had been covering armies against armies in the desert. This time I was seeing a war against civilians, and so I had to adjust the way I looked at it, the way I covered it, the way I talked about it. I was questioned early on about my objectivity. And I was very upset about it because objectivity is our golden rule, and I take it very seriously. But I was forced to examine what objectivity actually means, and I realized that in a situation such as the one in Bosnia, where you had ethnic cleansing—genocide—you have a duty to call it like it is and to tell the truth.

Objectivity, in that regard, means giving all sides a fair hearing but never drawing a false moral equivalence. So I called who were the aggressors and who were the victims, and I’m very, very proud of that now, because that was what we had to do. I think we did the right thing as journalists and eventually managed to be part of the reason that the world intervened. We led and we forced leadership in our international sphere at the highest levels of the U.S. and European government. Unfortunately, we’re looking now at Syria, where we’re trying to do our job again, but it’s very, very difficult. Television organizations in the United States, except CNN, do not give enough or adequate weight to international stories. And the world is again saying: “Oh, we can’t intervene.” Excuses are being made, and leadership is not happening.

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To read the complete interview and/or watch a video based on it, please click here.


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