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JONATHAN STORM

 
 
 
 
 
On Christiane Amanpour, the Midterms, Hasan Minhaj, and Why ‘Amanpour & Co.’ Is Now Part of My Regular Viewing
November 3, 2018  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments
 
 
Christiane Amanpour (center at top), CNN International’s longtime chief foreign correspondent, has long been based in London, so she has never been as familiar to news viewers on these shores as she is in Europe, despite her profile overseas.
 
So she must have seemed a curious choice at first to replace the high-profile Charlie Rose as the face and voice of PBS’s late-night conversations.
 
Amanpour — headstrong, strong-willed and not given to moving to a new home on a whim — has stayed in London, where Amanpour & Co. is more or less based, and does interviews with Washington, DC politicians, pundits, and policymakers by satellite.
 
A funny thing has happened, though. The really big “gets” are only too happy, it seems, to travel to London, and sit down with her in person. She’s always had unique access — a lifetime war correspondent with fastidious attention to detail and a carefully cultivated reputation for thoughtful, occasionally combative interviews — but Amanpour & Co. is structured in such a way that interviews are allowed to breathe, up to 20 minutes at a time, without those seven-minute commercial breaks for boner pills, as Bill Maher likes to call them.
 
Also, unlike Rose, she’s not an interrupter. And if she does interrupt, when her subject is talking absolute twaddle, for example, she almost always prefaces her interruption with a pre-emptive apology (“I’m sorry to interrupt, but. . . . that’s nonsense, and you know it”).
 
The value of a long-form interview can’t be discounted. More than a few national leaders — and evasive, hard-to-interview celebrities — have told her — on-air — that the only reason they agreed to sit down with her in the first place is that they’re allowed to talk at length, without fear of being cut off in mid-sentence or shuffled off the air by an ill-timed commercial break. Amanpour & Co. is more conversation that Q & A. 
This has been a particularly febrile two weeks for Amanpour, and not just because of Tuesday’s midterm elections in the US. (Don’t kid yourself: The US midterms are being watched around the world in a way few US midterm elections have been since the Founding Fathers crafted a Constitution they trusted would be so ironclad that no gibbering incompetent could undo it on his own.)
 
A little-known detail about Amanpour is that she’s an active crusader for journalists’ rights — i.e., speaking truth to power, without fear or favor, without having to worry about being murdered. She’s active in CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and because of her personal background — her family, of Persian descent, fled Iran for the UK during the Iranian Revolution — she has unique insight into Middle East politics and knows many of the key players by name. Jamal Khashoggi was a personal friend, so when he was murdered in what should have been the safe confines of a foreign embassy, she was appalled, both professionally and personally. Reporters — the good ones, anyway — pride themselves on objectivity, but Khashoggi was a particularly sensitive story to handle on-air.
 
Amanpour also has an innate curiosity about the arts, when they intersect with public policy, and this past week in particular, in back-to-back interviews with Jon Stewart (left), Dave Chappelle (left) and, most recently, Hasan Minhaj (one of the guest speakers at this past year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and an invited panelist on Stephen Colbert’s live Late Show election-night special on CBS), Amanpour touched on such sensitive issues as the blurred lines between politics and satire on the late-night talk circuit, growing incivility, and the crisis caused by social media’s role in manipulating popular opinion.
 
With arguably the most divisive midterm elections in the history of the republic about to reach their conclusion — finally — the time was right for a thoughtful conversation about how it all came to this. 
Her talk with Stewart and Chappelle, onstage and with no audience at London’s Royal Albert Hall, segued from early good-natured ribbing to a tart exchange during what, in less skilled hands, could have been a soft-shoe puff piece of the kind personal publicists crave, but was instead a free-ranging, often probing conversation — the kind you can have when the clock isn’t focused on a rapid-fire stream of quips and ready-made sound bites.
 
“I’m going to push back on you there,” Amanpour told Stewart at one point, when Stewart suggested, midway through the conversation, that the media, in general, bear much of the responsibility for degrading the public dialogue.
 
"Push away," Stewart replied.
 
“We’re doing our job here trying to navigate a new normal that’s been thrust on the world,” Amanpour told him.
 
“I think 140 or 280 characters is not a welcome forum for grappling (with the issues),” Stewart said, weighing in on what he really thinks about Twitter and the way Twitter figures in much of the mainstream coverage on the cable news channels. “But it’s certainly a seductive forum.”
 
Amanpour & Co. is a long show, Amanpour reminded him. Twitter, it ain’t.
 
“It’s why I never miss it,” Stewart replied, perhaps a bit too glibly for his own good.
 
As illuminating as Amanpour’s conversation was with Stewart and Chappelle, her interview the following night with Minhaj was even more instructive.
 
Minhaj (right), Amanpour noted, cut his teeth on The Daily Show self-identifying as Indian-American Muslim in fractious times.
 
“You guys have to be more perfect now, more than ever,” Minhaj told her, meaning the media. “Because you are how the president gets his news. . . . You have to be twice as good. Because when one of you messes up, he blames your entire group.”
 
He paused slyly, then added: “Now you know what it feels like to be a minority.”
 
Minhaj is on the talk-show circuit right now because he has a new commentary program, wryly titled Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, on Netflix. Two episodes have aired; Netflix has committed to 32 half-hours in all.
 
The line between comedy and commentary is a tricky line to walk in troubled, divisive times Minhaj admitted to Amanpour, but he feels it was what he was born to do.
 
He only wishes more people would see through the noise and rhetoric of social media to get at the truth. 
“Being funny is my conduit to some of my favorite comedians of all time, the Richard Pryors and Dave Chappelles,” Minhaj explained. “That’s the beauty of comedy. The world is very complicated. What we do is actually reductive. We boil the world down into philosophical espresso. That’s our job.”
 
These may be divisive times but good comedy is universal. It can be a force for good, and for unifying divisions, Minhaj insisted.
 
“What’s really powerful about comedy is being able to speak to something that people experience on a daily basis, and then have people who may not have experienced that go, ‘Oh, I never thought about it that way.’
 
“We have all felt like outsiders at some point or not accepted. Comedy’s the only way I have been able to talk about it.”
 
Asked what upsets him most about the times we’re living in, Minhaj told Amanpour that it’s a debate in which the sides can’t even agree on what objective reality is.
 
“In high school, I was a speech and debate kid,” Minhaj said. “When you’re debating there is an objective reality that you both agree on. You’re on one side of the issue, and I’m on the other. If we can’t even agree on objective reality, a serious debate is impossible.”
 
That, and the demise of nuance.
 
“You know, something can be awful and amazing at the same time,” Minhaj explained. “There’s something that I learned from a mentor of mine that I really appreciate: He said there’s a lot of heat that’s being generated right now, a lot of noise. There are so many tweets, so many hours of content uploaded every day on YouTube. Every hour. Every minute. Every second. A lot of heat. Not a lot of light.
 
“When people see light, truth — like really powerful stuff, a beautiful song, or a poem, or a joke that brings out truth and light in the darkness — it really is beautiful. And that’s my job.”
 
And there you have it.
 
This is the kind of conversation that comes out almost every night on Amanpour & Co., at least during those nights I’ve seen.
 
It’s not the kind of conversation you’ll find on cable news channels, nor the late-night comedy shows, as entertaining as they can be at times.
 
It’s the kind of conversation that, at its best, can shine a light, even in troubled, divided times.
 
It’s in no small part why Amanpour & Co. is now part of my regular viewing.
 
Amanpour & Co. airs weeknights on PBS at 11 p.m. ET. Check local listings.
 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Ed
You DVR it....
Nov 4, 2018   |  Reply
 
Zeke
Thanks, Ed. However I'm so un-TV that I don't use that level of technology. I use the On-Demand system of cable. Keepin' it simple.
First time it would be an asset.
Nov 4, 2018
 
 
 
Zeke
Not used to watching programming at the appointed time, Prefer to be wide awake--
How does a viewer get to see Amanpour? Xfinity does not use On-demand for it.
Hoping for suggestions.
Nov 3, 2018   |  Reply
 
Sally
Check out pbs.org to see the program. I’m not sure how long the show/segments are available, but really nice to see the next day.
Nov 5, 2018
 
 
 
 
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