CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour has reported from most of the world’s hot spots. An Emmy-winning reporter who started at CNN in 1983, she has witnessed war in the Middle East, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan. She took time to talk with B&C’s Anne Becker about war, jingoism and rocket fire from Northern Israel, where she has been reporting live.
How does this conflict compare with others you’ve covered?
This is war, but it’s a limited war. It’s between essentially Israel and a guerilla group, although Israel is attacking parts of the Lebanese state infrastructure, but it’s not a wider conflagration. I hope it doesn’t get to that. Right now, there’s no indication that it will be wider, but it’s a hot conflict and one that I believe has far-reaching implications in what is the end result when the shooting is over. That, for me, is always the question.
How has your access to this story compared with access during other conflicts?
I think we are getting access. I would appreciate if we had more access to Israeli senior officials and senior military high command. I have had access because of my own contacts and my own experience over the years. But I would prefer to have many more press conferences and interviews with high-ranking officials here.
I do think that, when we’re covering it, we should do more than just focus on the bang-bang, so to speak. It would be great to be able to see more and hear more from the Arab street, from Arab leaders, from other countries that are being accused of being involved, such as Syria and Iran. It’s difficult often to get access, but still...
Iraq and the Middle East seem to dominate coverage, while other conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Darfur get less attention. Why?
Two reasons. One, the Middle East has historically been America’s highest foreign-policy priority. I think, in America, everybody identifies with the story over here; it’s been going on for so long that I think that’s just natural. I think also it’s easier to get to than Afghanistan or Darfur. When Afghanistan was hot at the beginning, it got plenty of coverage. This is sort of the beginning of this story, and therefore it’s getting plenty of coverage.
American crews in Iraq need full security detail or U.S. military accompaniment. What are conditions like in Israel?
We have the traditional body armor: bulletproof vests, helmets, that sort of thing. Here, anyway, I don’t have a security detail. I don’t know what it’s like on other sides, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere. But it’s pretty hot where we are in terms of conflict. We have literally stood and watched tank fire going overhead, rockets coming from the other side going overhead. It’s not as intense in terms of one city here as it is in Beirut, for instance, where the city and parts of the city, the Hezbollah strongholds are being pummeled. Here, it’s not as intense, but those Hezbollah rockets are pretty indiscriminate. They come over with quite alarming regularity. What’s interesting is the demonstration of Hezbollah’s military ability; it’s the first time it’s really been shown.
How does the randomness of attacks compare with conditions in Iraq?
It’s not comparable. I mean, look, in Iraq, it’s just carnage on a daily basis. There are 10 times more casualties in Lebanon than there are here in Israel, but, where we are, it’s nowhere near the carnage that happens on a practically daily basis in Baghdad and around Iraq.
Is it more dangerous there for women than it is for men?
No. No, no.
And in Iraq?
The news divisions are spread so thin on international coverage. How can you cover this conflict and still adequately report on Iraq and Afghanistan?
With difficulty. We still have a staff in Iraq, of course, but it’s taken a most definite backseat to this current conflict. But I just have to say that, over and over again, I have been a consistent voice for the importance of international news coverage, and it’s proved over and over again how desperately necessary it is.
How has the death of journalists changed how you do your job?
Look, it makes us really, really sad, and it makes us think twice, three times, four times about what we do. But in the end, we have to do it with as much natural gut instinct and survival instinct as possible and try to do the best we can to do our job and remain whole and safe. But it’s very difficult, and it’s often beyond our ability. You can’t say that happened to them because of “X” or “Y.” It happened because they were covering a story. It could happen to anybody. It’s really tragic.
Some who say the American media has been too jingoistic since 9/11. Do you see that in coverage now?
To an extent in some quarters, I believe that’s true. At CNN, we have a history of broad international coverage. I don’t think it’s so true certainly amongst the international correspondents at CNN, but, yeah, in some quarters, I think it’s true.
How much longer will you be stationed there?
Certainly for another week.