Why Christiane Amanpour Is CNN and PBS' Global "Activist for the Truth"
The journalist has faced down strongmen and exposed genocide. Now the woman even Anthony Bourdain calls "badass" is taking on Charlie Rose's prestige nightly slot.
Christiane Amanpour moves quickly through the world. She’s a fast walker, a fast talker; thoughts and opinions, some profanity-laced, tumble forth. “Who do these fuckers think they are?” she asks as she whirs through a revolving door at CNN’s Manhattan headquarters. “Seriously!” We’re discussing the sexual misconduct revelations that have toppled a succession of powerful men. “Just because we have breasts and a vagina we have a sign on us that reads ‘free access’?!” she says, as we bound down West 58th Street toward Central Park. A passerby looks up from his phone.
She tweeted a similar sentiment to her nearly 3 million followers in October, after reading Ronan Farrow’s detailed New Yorker account of Harvey Weinstein’s history of predation. “Our breasts/vaginas aren’t painted green; they’re not GO signs for great big Dicks.” She was in the Middle East at the time. It was Oct. 11, the International Day of the Girl.
She allows that she had a pang of guilt that her sentiment might rattle the nerves of CNN executives. But after 35 years at the network and countless dispatches from global hot spots, Amanpour, 60, needs no one’s permission to speak her mind.
“She was always out there on front lines reporting on deadly serious business in serious places with real passion and real authority,” says Anthony Bourdain, her friend and sometime collaborator. “And she never compromised. She’s a badass.”
Amanpour conducted a memorable live phone interview with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat from his besieged compound in Ramallah in March 2002. She was the only journalist to report from inside the courtroom during the 2004 trial of Saddam Hussein. She was the last journalist to interview Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi before he was ousted and murdered in 2011. In 2014, she uncovered a dossier that showed systemic torture of Syrian prisoners by the Assad regime.
In December, her London-based nightly global affairs program Amanpour (which airs on CNN and CNN International) became the interim replacement for PBS’ Charlie Rose, which was canceled in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against its host. And sources tell THR that she is in discussions to extend her relationship with the public broadcaster as well as expand her show to an hour.
She declines to discuss Rose in detail but allows that she hopes her program becomes “appointment viewing” as his was.
Since 2013, Amanpour, 60, has lived in London with husband James Rubin, a former State Department official, and their teenage son, Darius. (“My son’s generation is not infected with the disease that my generation and my parents’ generation was infected with, and that’s the disease of misogyny and sexism and wanton, grotesque, unacceptable abuse.”)
Born in Tehran and educated in England and the U.S., Amanpour began her career “right at the bottom of the ladder,” as an assistant on the foreign desk at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters in 1983. Her breakout story would come in 1992 with the Bosnian War; she was arguably the first female boots-on-the-ground reporter of the cable age. It seems quaint in an era of unapologetically partisan news stars, but Amanpour was accused of emotionalizing her reports and taking an activist role in the conflict, in which Serbs were perpetrating what is now accepted as ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims.
“I am an activist for the truth,” she says. “I’m an activist against genocide. I’m an activist against the violation of basic human rights. That’s what it means to be a journalist.”
This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.