Monday, July 11, 2011

Christiane Amanpour

The Awesome Woman of the Day is Christiane Amanpour (born January 12, 1958), a broadcast journalist well known around the world for her coverage of major conflicts and world events since 1990, as international correspondent at CNN for years and currently as anchor  of ABC's This Week.  Amanpour has navigated war zones, built an unparalleled network of worldwide connections, excelled in a hugely male-dominated profession, and gone face-to-face with world leaders fearlessly asking the hard questions. And she has also on many occasions taken the risk of breaking the "neutral journalist" mold by reporting from her own point of view and expressing her own conscience, in defiance of the old meme that if a reporter has a personal opinion on a situation they must keep it to themselves. She is brassy, outspoken, and brave.

Amanpour was born in London (or, by some accounts, in Tehran) to an Iranian father and British mother. She spent her early years in Iran, receiving an elite education as her family was among the privileged class under the Shah's regime. Her family emigrated to England on the eve of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In England, Amanpour attended the New Hall School, the country's oldest Catholic school that has educated girls since the year 1642. She then traveled to the United States to study at the University of Rhode Island, and graduated summa cum laude in 1983 with a degree in journalism.

Very soon after graduating, she was hired as an entry-level desk assistant on CNN's foreign desk in Atlanta, Georgia (1983) and gained rapid recognition and major opportunities early on. After an assignment covering the Iran-Iraq war, by 1986 she was transferred to Eastern Europe to cover the fall of Soviet Communism, and she remained in Europe into 1989 reporting on the democratic revolutions on that continent. Her achievements landed her a role as a correspondent for CNN's New York bureau, and very soon afterwards she was shipped out again to serve as CNN's foreign correspondent covering the Gulf War as it commenced in Iraq.

Amanpour quickly gained recognition and notoriety for her gutsy style of journalism, for her bravery in the field (even parachuting into conflicts), for her poise and incisiveness when interviewing officials and leaders, and for allowing herself to occasionally report quite emotionally on difficult events. After the Gulf War she was promoted to the position of being CNN's chief international correspondent (a position she held until she departed CNN in 2010), and she was sent to cover the Bosnian War.

Deftly moving between the field and arranged interview, on worldwide live TV in perhaps her most famous moment she challenged President Clinton (on his own "Global Forum" show) regarding U.S. policy on the Bosnian war. Locking eyes with him across the satellite signal, she asked one of the most ballsy questions in the history of broadcast journalism:
Mr. President, 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? Why, in the absence of a policy have you allowed the US and the West to be held hostage to those who do have a policy - the Bosnian Serbs - and do you not think that the constant flip-flops of your administration on the issue of Bosnia set a very dangerous precedent and would lead people such as [North Korean president] Kim II Sung or other strong people to take you less seriously than you would like to be taken?"

An angered Clinton responded coldly, "No, but speeches like that may make them take me less seriously than I'd like to be taken. There have been no constant flip-flops, madam." This exchange is worth watching -- Amanpour has it posted to her Facebook page. To cut Clinton a break, he did pretty well at recovering from her unsettling challenge. Also, near the end of the program Clinton returned to what she had said. "That poor woman has seen the horrors of this war, and she has had to report on them... She's been fabulous. She's done a great service to the whole world on that. I do not blame her for being mad at me. But I'm doing the best I can on this problem from my perspective."

Since  that time Amanpour has covered major conflicts, events, and genocides around the world. In 2008 she traveled to the killing fields of Europe, Africa and Asia for a two-hour documentary, "Scream Bloody Murder." In Wikipedia some of her assignments are listed:
Amanpour has reported on major crises from many of the world's hotspots, including Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Somalia, Rwanda, and the Balkans and from the United States during Hurricane Katrina. She has secured exclusive interviews with world leaders from the Middle East to Europe to Africa and beyond, including Iranian Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as the presidents of Afghanistan, Sudan, and Syria, among others. After 9/11, she was the first international correspondent to interview British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf...

She has had many memorable moments in her career, one of them being a telephone interview with Yasser Arafat during the siege on his compound in March 2002, during which Arafat hung up on her.
Another memorable moment was her interview of Hosni Mubarek before his official departure as Egypt's President during the Egyptian People's revolution of early 2011.

She gets to the heart of the matter, engages people, and does not shy from the most important job in journalism -- holding politicans' feet to the fire while demanding answers to the uncomfortable questions.

As the premier of her half-hour weekly show Amanpour approached, at the tail end of her tenure at CNN, Amanpour did a promotional interview for the show in which she was asked what it was like for her to make the switch from international correspondent to a studio-based job. "For 20 years my comfort zone has been running around the world in extreme situations, often dodging hostile fire, hostile intent, and fighting to get the story in a way that is really visceral." She went on to explain that her goal for her new role was to leverage the extra resources "to bring all that experience into the studio and extend and expand the story-telling that I've already been doing," and to broaden and deepen the debate on important events and issues. And that is exactly what Amanpour has fearlessly done throughout her career.

Personal footnote: I met Christiane Amanpour, who was friends with an Iranian co-worker of mine, for a brief moment in 1990 when she was about to depart to cover the Gulf War. She had come to say goodbye to my co-worker. I was introduced, and was bowled over by the woman's aura without even knowing who she was. Then she and my friend continued a private conversation in hushed tones in the doorway of the office. After she left I learned some private details that I will not share here, but I can say that in order for Amanpour to accept her first war zone assignment, she was braving not only the potential dangers of the gig but, but huge personal changes were also involved. She was truly stepping off a cliff, and doing so with her characteristic (but not callous) moxie, which explained for me the energy that shimmered all around this awesome woman.

Gulf War

(and as chief international correspondent there from 1992 to 2010