Amanpour’s Troubling Journalism

Known for parachuting in to cover the latest global hotspot, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour is one of the most famous journalists in the world. But there have long been questions about her habit of skewing coverage to suit her own political biases. A particularly egregious example of her rush to judgement about one side in a violent conflict was noted by Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times (Oct. 9, 1994). Kinzer quoted a colleague’s description of Amanpour as she reported on a terrorist bombing in the marketplace of the Balkan town of Markale:
She was sitting in Belgrade when that marketplace massacre happened, and she went on the air to say that the Serbs had probably done it. There was no way she could have known that. She was assuming an omniscience which no journalist has.
As it happened in the Markale case, later investigation indicated Serbs could not have perpetrated this particular attack. They, however, were the designated bad actor in Amanpour’s story-line and sometimes, it seems, the facts are immaterial. Despite such unprofessional conduct, the CNN star has frequently been called upon to expound publicly on journalism, which she deems a high calling whose practitioners serve the truth. As she explained to the Montreal Gazette:

I really do believe that journalists are motivated by, first of all, a commitment to the truth, and seeking the truth. But I also think we’re motivated by a sense of fairness. At the bottom of our hearts, I think we’re people who are fair. (July 18, 2007)

Amanpour said much the same at an earlier California appearance, asserting:

“You’re either for that [truth] or you’re in the propaganda business,” she said. “Our objective is the truth, as close to it as we can get. We don’t want to be assailed by ideology, partisan politics or the monopoly of one party.” (Pasadena Civic Center, Feb. 15, 2006)

Yet, a review of her reporting over the years in Bosnia, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories suggests the hollowness of such lofty claims and underscores her preference for advocacy journalism in which she pushes her own personal definitions of fairness and truth, instead of presenting information objectively.
Amanpour’s biased rendition of Arab-Israeli issues reached a new low in her recent three-part series, “God’s Warriors” in which she frequently equated Muslim and Jewish extremism, failing to distinguish the vast difference in scale of and support for violence in the respective faiths. In the lead-up to the August 2007 broadcast of “God’s Warriors,” she expressed a variation on this distorted perspective, saying: 
“If I was queen of the world? I would do everything I could to bring rapprochement between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the case of Islamic and Jewish extremism.” (Guardian, Aug. 19, 2007)
Her partisanship for the Arab view is apparent too in sympathetic statements about Palestinian goals.  
But then you go to Israel-Palestine and you have a group of people, the Palestinians, with a legitimate grievance who are trying to throw off occupation and who are trying to win a state using illegitimate means, which are the suicide bombings. (Larry King show, CNN, Aug. 20, 2007)
Commenting on the outbreak of violence between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza in June 2007, Amanpour blamed Israel and the West:
What happened was then the U.S., Europe, Israel basically punished Hamas and the Palestinians because of Hamas policy and squeezed them and created this real division between Hamas and the PA, which has exploded now. (CNN, June 15, 2007)
Continuing on a similar vein, she conjectured
…we found very clearly that the people were not voting for Hamas for any religious or militant views or reasons, but rather because they had become fed up with what they call the institutional corruption of Fatah and the ineffectiveness of Fatah. In other words, over all these years, about 10 years, really, since the Oslo Peace Accords, Fatah had not yet been able to get with the Israelis an accord to have an independent state. (CNN, June 15, 2007)

Yet, many Palestinians clearly share Hamas’ militant worldview and religious ideology. Moreover, Amanpour betrayed her own muddled logic when she explained why Fatah did not garner enough votes. If, as she claimed, Palestinians were voting against Fatah for failing to get an accord with Israel, then voting for Hamas would not offer a better path to an agreement. Furthermore, the institutional corruption that drove Palestinians away from Fatah involved theft of the Palestinian Authority treasury by Fatah officials, a matter only tangentially related to the peace process.

Amanpour further claims the Palestinian Authority was “unable to get a deal with Israel” and blames Israel for not keeping promises, although she doesn’t specify which ones. While admitting the Palestinians too didn’t keep their promises, she continues to shift the onus onto the Israelis and the U.S.

So Palestinians were fed up and they thought maybe they would try something new. But of course, after Hamas was elected, because the West and Israel doesn’t recognize Hamas, doesn’t approve of its — of its militants, wants it to recognize Israel, wants it to renounce terrorism, wants it to keep to all the agreements that the previous Palestinian governments had made with Israel, the West and Israel basically cut off Hamas and cut off all those people in Gaza. (CNN, June 15, 2007)

In fact, the West increased donations to the Palestinian people in 2006 after the election of Hamas, more than doubling the amount of the previous year. The aid was redirected to the office of Palestinian President Abbas so that Hamas could not make use of it.

While Amanpour repeatedly exonerates the Palestinians of responsibility for the conflict or for their own problems, she blames the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for unrelated Middle East strife. Commenting upon the anger and violence in Iraq, Amanpour opined: “They see what’s going on in Israel and Palestine” (CNN, April 1, 2003). Amanpour offers no explanation as to how the Shiite-Sunni conflict or the U.S. and British invasion, the obvious immediate causes of anger and violence in Iraq, are related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She also adopts the Palestinian narrative with respect to refugees. In a program entitled “Passage to Hope” (CNN, June 20, 2007), dedicated to World Refugee Day, Amanpour described how:
Palestinians have become almost permanent refugees while they’re waiting for their own homeland since the end of World War II. There are more than 4 million who are outside the Palestinian territory and have pretty much no hope of ever going back. 
Amanpour neglected to tell her audience that the Palestinians rejected their first-ever offer of a state in 1947, and then rejected an independent state again in 2000-2001 and she failed to clarify that these Palestinians are not waiting to return to “Palestinian territory” but are demanding land and property in Israel itself.
Advocacy Journalism in Yugoslavia

Amanpour’s willingness to abandon objectivity had earlier been evident in her reporting on the violent break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. She stepped unabashedly out of her role as a reporter when she publicly challenged President Bill Clinton in May 1994 to take action in response to Serbian actions in Bosnia. Many critics charged that her coverage painted a distorted and oversimplified picture by consistently portraying the Serbians as the only malefactors, when in fact both sides — Bosnian Muslims and Serbians — engaged in atrocities against civilians. In an interview with the Guardian, she explained,

It drives me crazy when this neutrality thing comes up. Objectivity, that great journalistic buzz-word, means giving all sides a fair hearing — not treating all sides the same —particularly when all sides are not the same. When you’re neutral in a situation like Bosnia, you are an accomplice – an accomplice to genocide.”(Guardian, July 6, 1996)

In a speech she gave at the University of Michigan, Amanpour proclaimed,

When our world leaders wanted to shrug away and call it a terrible civil war for which all sides were equally guilty, we said, “No.” Genocide against Muslims in Europe was being committed and this had to be stopped. (April 29, 2006)

In actuality, the Bosnian war was not a one-sided slaughter like those perpetrated against Jews, Cambodians, Armenians or Tutsis. Both sides were victimized in the war. An accounting of the war by the Sarajevo-based non-governmental Research and Documentation Center determined that the death toll had been grossly exaggerated. The research, funded by the U.S., the UN and numerous international foundations, determined that

97,207 people were killed during the Bosnian war. Of those, about 60 percent were soldiers and 40 percent civilians. Some 65 percent of those killed were Bosnian Muslims, followed by 25 percent Serbs and more than 8 percent Croats.

Bosnian Muslim Jihadi

While Bosnian Serb leaders responsible for the massacre of several thousand Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, in July 1995, were charged with committing genocide for that specific atrocity, the International Court of Justice at the Hague (ICJ) eventually acquitted Serbia of committing genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovinia in February, 2007. Amanpour, however, paints the war with a broad brush, describing it simply as a genocide against Muslims.

As noted, the New York Times’ Stephen Kinzer reported that Amanpour fingered the Serbs as being responsible for the Markale bombing, but Serbian writer Stella Jatras recounted several years later in a Washington Times Op-Ed:

the fact that a UN classified report concluded that Bosnian Muslim forces had committed the Markale marketplace massacre seems of no consequence to Ms. Amanpour. Christiane Amanpour has yet to inform her viewers of this fact, but continues to allow them to believe the massacre was a Serbian atrocity...(“Odd alliance at State, CNN?” March 14, 1999)

Commentator or Reporter in Iraq?
More recently, Amanpour’s advocacy journalism has been on display in her editorializing about the Iraq war. She castigated former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his support of the war, stating:

It is true that after the Iraq War and the subsequent debacle that has become the Iraq War, Prime Minister Blair had suffered a lot of slings and arrows. And many would say rightly.(CNN, June 15, 2007)

As the specter of conflict with Iran grows, Amanpour increasingly equates U.S. or Israeli stances with those of the theocratic regime. She, in effect, mocks fears of a nuclear-armed Iran, claiming the West has made that nation a “bogeyman”:
There’s no doubt that President Ahmadinejad of Iran is provocative and confrontational, and taking Iran’s foreign policy, at least on a public way, in a much different direction than it has been in the past.On the other hand, it’s also common practice right now by the U.S. and its allies to blame Iran, like the bogeyman, for everything going on in the Middle East. (CNN, June 15, 2007)
An Authority on All Topics
Amanpour’s self-ascribed moral authority is reflected in other aspects of her work. She even fashions herself an expert on international law where it suits her story.

As Monica Hakimi noted in an article titled, “The media as participants in the international legal process,”appearing in the Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law (Jan. 1, 2006):

Although when the media apply the law it is usually by communicating the analyses of other actors, the media sometimes attempt to apply the law themselves. In some cases, the me dia may cultivate journalists who purport to have the expertise to apply international legal norms to particular fact patterns.

Hakimi singles out Amanpour, writing in her footnotes:

For example, Christiane Amanpour of CNN and Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek have earned reputations for international legal analysis. In this sense, Amanpour and Zakaria may be distinguished from, for example, Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times because Amanpour and Zakaria may themselves apply the law, whereas Greenhouse communicates the law as applied by a more conventional actor — the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite the fact that Amanpour serves as CNN’s chief foreign correspondent, and not its chief legal commentator, she built a central portion of  “God’s Jewish Warriors” around her contention that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal. In strikingly manipulative fashion, she advocated one side of the argument, relying solely on sources who agreed with her and ignoring those who didn’t. The arguments and historical documents that support the legality of Jewish settlements, arguments put forth by international legal scholars, received no mention at all.

The fact that Amanpour is a celebrated figure in journalism while openly rejecting objectivity in favor of advocacy — as evident in her “God’s Warriors” series — is a troubling commentary on the profession. Her brand of bias should be shunned, not admired, however lavish her paycheck from CNN.

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