Crank Up The Zombie David Brinkley

James Poniewozik at Time:

Going outside its current stable of reporters and anchors, ABC is hiring longtime CNN international reporter Christiane Amanpour to host the Sunday-morning This Week interview show vacated by George Stephanopoulos. TV Newser has the details; among them, that she’ll start in August, until which White House correspondent Jake Tapper (who’s been doing a strong job as sometime interim host and would have been a good pick as well) will fill in.

It’s definitely a change, since Amanpour comes from a world-news background, rather than the D.C.-centric training of the typical Sunday-show host. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one may depend on whether the program changes to fit Amanpour’s strengths, or whether she has to change to fit its demands.

I will be honest: I am not generally a fan of the Sunday morning shows. I can think of about a million things a sane person with human contacts could better spend a Sunday morning doing than watch hosts bring on one Democratic or Republican mouthpiece after another to recite talking points, talk strategy or engage in Tim Russert-esque “But didn’t you say the opposite in 1996…” moments. Some of that is fine, but as a wall-to-wall staple, it’s tedious, it’s uninformative, and its symptomatic of a Washington press corps that’s more concerned with politics than with policy—i.e., with power, rather than how that power is used to affect people’s lives.

We already have four or five (depending which shows you count) interview shows working that same circuit every Sunday morning. Do we need that many? With Amanpour, who’s more known for her work in the Balkans than in the Beltway, ABC has a chance to do a show that breaks from the Sunday shows’ myopic obsessions, that focuses on policies and ideas over partisan handicapping (and kneecapping). It could even—crazy talk, I know—build a show that focuses on world news rather than Washington news.

Daniel Drezner:

The Sunday morning talk shows started to blur together long ago in my eyes, so anything distinctive is welcome.  Anything distinctive and focusing on foreign affairs/international relations is even more welcome.  Amanpour might have the celebrity to attract the kind of viewers who long to watch as many ADM commercials as possible see a civil discussion of the connections between America and the world.  If everyone else does generic inside-the-Beltway stuff, This Week might find a nice sinecure for itself on the international front.

That said, I’m skeptical that it will work, for two reasons. First, most Americans just don’t care that much about foreign policy — particularly right now. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just saying that it’s true.

Second, I’m not sure that the number of foreign policy wonks who ordinarily wouldn’t watch This Week but might tune in now will compensate for the drop in those uninterested in foreign affairs. Last year, This Week attracted 2.3 million viewers, while Fareed Zakarias’s GPS show attracted less than 200,000 viewers. There are numerous reasons for this, but one of them might be that world politics wonks don’t watch much television about world politics.  (full disclosure:  I haven’t watched This Week since having children David Brinkley left).

Still, I’ll be rooting for Amanpour to succeed, and will even offer one nugget of advice — put Laura Rozen on the roundtable the moment you take over the show. She’s a great bridge between the substance of foreign policy and the machinations of the foreign policy community.

Lisa de Moraes calls critics of the move “Negative Nancys”:

Amanpour, one of the country’s most respected international correspondents, will also appear on other ABC News programs and platforms to provide international analysis of the important issues of the day, ABC News said in Thursday’s announcement. She will anchor primetime documentaries on international subjects for ABC. She starts in August. “This Week” will continue to be broadcast from the Newseum in Washington.

Various Negative Nancys spent Thursday puzzling over what ABC News was thinking by hiring someone outside the box, with little knowledge of domestic politics, to anchor “This Week.” Amanpour, who grew up in Iran and Britain, the daughter of an Iranian father and a British mother, will be the first broadcast TV Sunday Beltway show anchor with a distinctly non-American accent, they said.

Nonsense.  Her accent has nothing to do with the criticism of hiring a reporter whose entire work has been focused on covering the foreign desk to a position that focuses on domestic politics.  The Sunday talk show audience usually watches to get a longer-view perspective on American politics, moderated by someone with credibility in that arena.  That’s why the late Tim Russert got the hosting duties for Meet the Press and Bob Schieffer handles it for CBS on Face the Nation.

Moreover, people like Russert and Schieffer built a reputation for fairness and even-handedness prior to assuming the duties of interviewer/moderator.  As this confrontation with Marc Thiessen on CNN in January showed, Amanpour has a well-earned reputation as a journalistic activist, not someone who works objectively.  In that same interview, she showed a remarkable lack of preparation and background on the subject which she was covering.

Instead of getting a seasoned political reporter who had built a reputation for objectivity, or at least fairness, for this role, ABC went outside of its house to snag someone who barely knows the main subject matter in which their audience is interested.  That doesn’t mean that Amanpour can’t grow into the role, of course; she may wind up doing very well indeed.  It does make her an odd choice for the job now, however, especially since most Americans put domestic issues like the economy and deficits high up on the agenda — the kind of issues Amanpour hasn’t covered.

Tom Shales in WaPo:

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.”

The conservative Media Research Center, on its NewsBuster blog, claims Amanpour has the “standard liberal outlook on the world,” but then there don’t seem to be many journalists that conservatives do not consider liberal.

The group called Westin’s selection of Amanpour to anchor “This Week” a “bizarre choice,” but had also knocked her predecessor in the job, George Stephanopoulos, who has since moved on to “Good Morning America” and who previously worked to elect Bill Clinton and served in his White House.

As if outside opposition to Amanpour weren’t enough, ABC News is practically in a state of internal revolt over her selection, according to such industry-watchers as TV Newser, which quotes ABC insiders as resenting Westin’s hiring of a highly paid celebrity interloper for a job that many thought would go to White House correspondent Jake Tapper or to “Nightline” co-anchor Terry Moran. Either would have made a better “This Week” anchor, and neither would put ABC News in the position of having to rationalize spending big bucks on an superstar while making brutal cutbacks in the division.

[…]

From many angles, it was a bad choice — one which could create so much consternation that Westin will be forced to withdraw Amanpour’s name and come up with another “nominee” for the job. That would hardly be a tragedy — considering how many others deserve it more than she does.

Michael Calderone at Politico:

When Amanpour’s name first publicly made the rounds, the reaction I heard from ABC staffers (and some TV insiders) was one of bafflement at the selection. The questions and concerns boiled down to this: Why would ABC hire CNN’s highly-accomplished foreign correspondent for a traditionally Beltway political job that could be filled by capable internal candidates like Jake Tapper and Terry Moran? (Not to mention, Amanpour comes to the network amidst major cutbacks to the news division).

Jim Romenesko:

ABC senior vice president Jeffrey Schneider e-mails Romenesko: “There has always been all kinds fretful ink spilled about decisions we’ve made that ultimately turn out quite well for ABC News. If we are being accused of hiring one of the most well respected journalists in the world we proudly plead guilty and cannot wait for Christiane to focus her considerable talents on the Sunday morning landscape.”

Glenn Greenwald:

But I want to focus on a far more pernicious and truly slimy aspect of Shales’ attack on Amanpour.  In arguing why she’s a “bad choice,” Shales writes that “[s]upporters of Israel have more than once charged Amanpour with bias against that country and its policies,” and adds:  “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.”  Are these “charges” valid?  Is this “Web site” credible?  Does she, in fact, exhibit anti-Israel bias?  Who knows?  Shales doesn’t bother to say.  In fact, he doesn’t even bother to cite a single specific accusation against her; apparently, the mere existence of these complaints, valid or not, should count against her.

Worse still is that, immediately after noting these charges of”anti-Israel” bias, Shales writes this:

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.”

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?

Kevin Drum:

There’s not much meat here. Insiders are always unhappy when an outsider gets a plum job. There are ideologues with an axe to grind against everyone. And perhaps This Week could do with a little more substance and a little less “inside-the-Beltway palaver”?

(And not to put this too finely, but it’s not really as hard as Shales might think to bone up on domestic politics. It’s not that complicated.)

Anyway, strange stuff. I don’t know if I would have picked Amanpour either, but if I were arguing against it I’d at least try to come up with some colorable criticisms. This is just junior high school stuff.

Paul Krugman:

Shales complains that

“This Week” deals mainly in domestic politics and inside-the-Beltway palaver, an area where Amanpour is widely considered to deficient.

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?

It’s true that Amanpour is not, to my knowledge, an expert on health policy or financial reform. But which TV host is?

I don’t really understand what’s going on here. But it says more about how DC insiders think than it does about Amanpour or “This Week”.

Andrew Sullivan:

What a load of hooey. I think Amanpour is a brilliant idea for hosting This Week, calm, authoritative, not caught up in Beltway process, able to say what she thinks – on torture and Israel, for example – while remaining careful to include other views. Genius. A vast improvement on the charisma-free insider, Stephanopoulos.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

Just in case you were wondering if I was too hard on Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales yesterday for his shallow and pernicious critique of Christiane Amanpour as ABC’s choice to replace George Stephanopoulos on This Week, this is what he had to say about her during his live chat with readers :

Well you’re talking about reworking the whole show — so not discuss domestic politics? It’s George Will’s specialty though of course he can discuss international affairs as well. But it was conceived (for David Brinkley) as a discussion show about Washington DC, capital city……. I wonder if ABC is really going to revise the show or if they aren’t going to try to turn Amanpour into Little ms Politics.Amanpour has spent decades reporting from some of the most dangerous parts of the world since the first Gulf War. She’s interviewed people like Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad, Syrian President Bashar el Assad, and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. You’d think, that with a career like that, she might avoid being patronized because of her gender by another journalist.

A reader points out that Shales’ colleague at the Post, Lisa de Moraes, thinks Amanpour is a smart choice.

Lisa said Christiane is a smart choice? I didn’t know we were having a feud about it. I think Christiane is one of the most over-rated and hyped personalities of our day. There’s a reason that 60 Minutes didn’t pick up her contract; she disappointed them. Anyway c’est la vie.Can’t speak to why 60 Minutes didn’t pick up Amanpour’s contract, but she won two Emmys and a Peabody when she was there. On the other hand, she has lady parts and lived in Iran as a child. Tough call.

UPDATE: Tom Shales at WaPo

Eric Boehlert at Media Matter

Matthew Yglesias

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary

James Joyner

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1 Comment

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One response to “Crank Up The Zombie David Brinkley

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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