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CNN Anchor Christiane Amanpour Concerned For U.S. Journalism In Trump Era


The results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election surprised and shook up much of the U.S. media as the results of the Brexit referendum surprised the British press. Some of the most authoritative voices around the world have been caught flat-footed wrong in foreseeing events. And now there's a lot of anxiety about if journalism, seeking objective truth, featuring a diversity of voices and treating them with respect but rigor can survive in a time of social media platforms that thrive on sniping and partisanship. Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent, received a lifetime achievement award from the Committee to Protect Journalists recently, and she had some pointed remarks. She joins us from London. Christiane, thanks so much for being with us.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Scott, it's a great pleasure.

SIMON: You spoke about your concerns for press freedom around the world, but you said also for the first time you're worried about the United States. Why?

AMANPOUR: You're absolutely right. I said never in a million years could I have imagined myself on this stage in New York really appealing for the safety and the freedom of the American press. And I base that on, obviously, Donald Trump's rhetoric against the press, calling us dishonest, despicable and all sorts of other epithets that were hurled around. And of course when that happens in a highly charged partisan atmosphere and when the press is there just to report objectively on what's going on and suddenly finds itself the butt of some very angry partisans, it is very dangerous, and it could be threatening to physical safety but also to the rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment to report freely and fairly without fear nor favor.

SIMON: You've covered a lot of tyrannies and interviewed a lot of tyrants, and without stretching an analogy, you see a lot of history here in what you've observed around the world.

AMANPOUR: You know, Scott, I'm not going to go with that analogy. Obviously, we're not there yet. But what I did say in my speech was when President-elect Trump - his first tweet after the election was talking about paid protesters incited by the media. Those were the words. Well, first of all, paid protesters is a lie made up by fake news, right? So he might believe it, but that's because fake news sites put that out, and people sort of picked it up, retweeted and ran with it. So he walked that back after a while. However, he didn't walk back the idea of incited by the media. And I have covered enough of my colleagues who have ended up, as I put it, in cages in kangaroo courts, in places like Cairo or in Moscow, on trial for being inciters or sympathizers or associates or out and out flat out terrorists. So I feel I have to stand up for my own tribe in the United States.

SIMON: You were awfully tough on Russia in your remarks, accused Russian sources of promoting fake news, hacking emails, meddling in elections around the world. However, Glenn Greenwald and others have said that they're not satisfied there's proof that Russia is doing all that.

AMANPOUR: Well, look, U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that Russia has been involved in hacking of the U.S. democratic system, of the DNC and other things. Then you go and, for instance, look at the whole idea of Russia paying for fake news, having sort of factories of - whatever you want to call them - trolls who make up stuff and then it gets placed in the media in Russia and around the world. Then you go to Russia itself. You listen to their main ideologues who talk about using information as war by another means. What we do know is that fake news sites proliferate and advertisers pay because they get so many clicks. And my view is that when lies become mixed up with the truth, it's a very dangerous world. I'll give you a very, very, you know, easy example.

SIMON: Yeah.

AMANPOUR: When I was reporting in Sarajevo in Bosnia throughout the Balkan wars of the '90s, it was the worst geopolitical crisis for the West and for the region since World War II, only there was our version of the fake news system going on where people refused to make a difference between victim and aggressor. And people insisted for their own political reasons or their own personal reasons that all sides were equally guilty when they were not. And I said if you do that, you are not only not telling the truth, but what you're also doing is becoming an accomplice to this terrible crime. And I do believe that is a template that I stick very strongly to to tell the truth in an increasing swelter of lies and misinformation and disinformation.

SIMON: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much for being with us.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.