The announcement of Christiane Amanpour's selection for host of ABC's This Week was certainly a little surprising. As someone who has watched the Sunday shows every week for the last four years for C&L, I was somewhat heartened by the hope of thoughtful discussions for once. And Amanpour, mindful of where her skills lie, has reportedly plans to make some pretty big changes to the show, moving it outside the Beltway to New York and not focusing on Washington politics exclusively.
Well, as you can imagine, a cerebral Iranian-British female reporter with a reputation for comprehensive work and a lack of interest in the cocktail class of DC and the endless pit matches between Republican and Democratic politicians that serve as Sunday show fodder has some people feeling a little tetchy. Longtime WaPo television reporter Tom Shales issued a prickly op-ed on Amanpour's hiring:
In a way, Amanpour, scheduled to leave CNN after 18 years of international coverage and take over the program in August, could be seen as the opposite of the perfect candidate. "This Week" deals mainly in domestic politics and inside-the-Beltway palaver, an area where Amanpour is widely considered to deficient. Consider: Whenever CNN has thrown one of its big election-night, convention, or presidential debate spectaculars, drafting nearly every living staff member to appear, Amanpour has had a conspicuously low profile.
And even though Amanpour has often been touted for her expertise on foreign affairs, she has vocal and passionate critics in that arena as well. Supporters of Israel have more than once charged Amanpour with bias against that country and its policies. A Web site devoted to criticism of Amanpour is titled, with less than a modicum of subtlety, "Christiane Amanpour's Outright Bias Against Israel Must Stop," available via Facebook.
Amanpour grew up in Great Britain and Iran. Her family fled Tehran in 1979 at the start of the Islamic revolution, when she was college age. She has steadfastly rejected claims about her objectivity, telling Leslie Stahl last year relative to her coverage of Iran: "I am not part of the current crop of opinion journalists or commentary journalists or feelings journalists. I strongly believe that I have to remain in the realm of fact."
Get that? Amanpour can't be objective because she lived in Iran. (For the record, Amanpour left Iran to study in England in 1969. Her family left Iran at the start of the revolution. Amanpour came to the US for college, graduating in 1983, per Wikipedia). So obviously, being part Iranian, she's unable to cover Israel objectively, so her "expertise" in foreign affairs is entirely suspect. It's quite a leap of logic, as Glenn Greenwald points out:
Without having the courage to do so explicitly, Shales links (and even bolsters) charges of her "anti-Israel" bias to the fact that her father is Iranian and she grew up in Iran. He sandwiches that biographical information about Iran in between describing accusations against her of bias against Israel and her defensive insistence that she's capable of objectivity when reporting on the region.
So here we finally have a prominent journalist with a half-Persian background -- in an extremely homogenized media culture which steadfastly excludes from Middle Eastern coverage voices from that region -- and her national origin is immediately cited as a means of questioning her journalistic objectivity and even opposing her as a choice to host This Week (can someone from Iran with an Iranian father possibly be objective???). Could the double standard here be any more obvious or unpleasant?
Wolf Blitzer is Jewish, a former AIPAC official, and -- to use Shales' smear-campaign formulation -- has frequently "been accused" of pro-Israel bias; should CNN bar him from covering those issues? David Gregory is Jewish, "studies Jewish texts with a top Jewish educator in Washington," and has conducted extremely sycophantic interviews with Israel officials. Should his background be cited as evidence of his pro-Israel bias? The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg is routinely cited as one of America's most authoritative sources on the Middle East, notwithstanding numerous accusations of pro-Israel bias and, even more so, his choice to go enlist in the IDF and work in an Israeli prison where Palestinians are encaged; do those actions (far beyond his mere ethnicity) call into question his objectivity as a journalist such that The Atlantic should bar him from writing about that region? Jake Tapper -- who Shales suggests as an alternative to Amanpour and who I also previously praised as a choice -- is Jewish; does that raise questions about his objectivity where Israel is concerned?
Besides objectivity towards Israel--Shales' overriding standard apparently for a This Week host--what other traits do they share? Could it be that we're talking about a bunch of white guys? Could it be that Amanpour being a female is threatening for a medium that has consistently underrepresented minorities and women? Could it be that she's not as enthralled as they are about themselves? Even Krugman, a frequent guest on This Week, found the criticism odd:
Um, maybe the idea is to do a bit less “inside-the-Beltway palaver”? You know, we’ve got a global economic crisis, a budding confrontation with China, a major row with Israel; maybe someone who’s knowledgeable about the world rather than the DC party circuit might be just the right choice?