Update: In hindsight, I want to acknowledge an issue that frequently arises within and surrounding the women's movement: an assertion that feminists elevate women by degrading men, and fight historic inequalities with demands for female rule. The prevalence of this complaint warrants greater public discussion, and in that spirit I want to address the comparisons I made between Christiane Amanpour and Jake Tapper, and affirm that this piece was in no way meant to undermine the career or values of Mr. Tapper. He is a prestigious journalist in his own right with a strong progressive background -- anyone who names his daughter after suffragette Alice Paul is a feminist in our hearts and minds. (See a photo of Tapper with Alice on page 5 of this Alice Paul Institute newsletter.) We need to do a better job of welcoming and engaging male feminists; there are many more out there than we sometimes assume. The point of my piece, which has been shared by ABC, is that Tom Shales provided no substantiation for his strongly-worded argument that Christiane Amanpour is unqualified to host This Week, and no substantiation for why Mr. Tapper or Terry Moran would have been better for the job. In comparing the careers of Amanpour and Tapper, I was not seeking to subvert Mr. Tapper's journalistic merit, but to demonstrate - with colorful examples, yes - that Shales's claim was ungrounded and unfair.
Earlier: On Thursday, March 18th ABC News announced that Christiane Amanpour will host This Week, the network's premiere national political news show, airing in the plum Sunday morning slot. Sometimes second, sometimes third in the ratings against stalwart shows Meet The Press and Face The Nation, This Week was until recently hosted by George Stephanopoulos, who decamped for Good Morning America several months ago.
The announcement was thrilling to those of us who follow politics and media, and not just because Amanpour is a fresh voice who brings decades of field experience and vast international expertise. It was also exciting because the Sunday pundit hours, while some of the most influential in American media in terms of impact on policy and politics, remain highly segregated. A 2007 Media Matters survey found that one in four guests was female and that white guests outnumbered people of color by seven to one. The hosts, of course, were all white men. Until now.
In a perplexing and misguided column in today's Washington Post, "ABC's Choice of Amanpour for This Week Has Critics Inside The Network and Beyond" the prominent television critic Tom Shales inveighs against the choice of Amanpour to host the prestigious show. He describes the 27-year broadcast veteran as "widely considered to be deficient," raises questions about her personal politics, refers to ABC insiders thinking of her as a "celebrity interloper" and ultimately declares:
From many angles, it was a bad choice - one which could create so much consternation that [ABC News President David] 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.
To support his assertion that Amanpour is "the opposite of the perfect candidate," Shales cites two formidable critics: a Facebook group against Amanpour and a conservative media think tank's blog who he quotes as saying she has "the standard liberal outlook on the world." This is a bland critique from a marginal source - why is Shales including this stuff in his assessment of Amanpour? Rather than examine her actual journalistic credentials - beyond considering her Facebook detractors, of course - Shales focuses exclusively on Amanpour's Iranian ethnicity, noting that she has "steadfastly rejected claims about her objectivity" while slyly raising the issue of her possible bias against Israel. Naturally, an Anglo-Iranian woman is ethnically incapable of reporting Middle Eastern stories objectively.
Despite his argument that a reporter's history directly informs her objectivity, Shales has been known to swoon over George Stephanopoulos, saying of his November departure for Good Morning America, "it's unpleasant, a potential squandering of talents which are ideally suited to 'This Week'" "Ideally suited?" It seems that Stephanopoulos's resume, which includes campaign manager and Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton, doesn't raise any objectivity flags for Shales.
Then again, his standards for the male candidates seem slightly more lax than those for Amanpour. After all, he can't help but comment that either White House correspondent Jake Tapper or 'Nightline' co-anchor Terry Moran "would have made a better This Week anchor." Really? Jake Tapper would have made a better anchor? He seems like a nice enough man, but compared to Amanpour he is a lightweight. In 1999, Tapper penned an unauthorized bio titled Body Slam: The Jesse Ventura Story, a book whose blurb on Amazon reads: "In every arena, Jesse Ventura puts a headlock on the competition--now he's turning the country on its ear." By that time, Amanpour had won 2 Peabody Awards - one in 1993, which stated "CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour represents the best of the profession" - and one in 1998 which stated "she reminds us of all that is good and great in television journalism." In 2002, the same year Tapper did a story on Lynyrd Skynyrd for VH1, Amanpour won the Edward R. Murrow Award for Distinguished Achievement in Broadcasting, and had been a reporter for 60 Minutes for 6 years, and at CNN for 10 years.
Nothing against Tapper, but Shales's assertion that he holds a candle to Amanpour - much less out-merits her journalistically - is just plain insulting to the informed public. Beyond her Iranian background and her gender, exactly what is Shales claiming against Amanpour?
It's easy to make the argument that a journalist primarily known for international affairs is a counter-intuitive choice to host one of our country's top national affairs shows. But ABC News President David Westin made the point that her perspective and experience are nothing but assets, and we agree. That's why at the Women's Media Center, we issued a statement supporting the choice of Amanpour and thanking ABC for taking an important first step in diversifying the voices heard on Sunday talk. But Shales's beef with Amanpour steers clear of any reasonable concerns. There is no substance presented in his "body slam" of Amanpour - none of his inferred critiques hold up, mainly because he doesn't bother to support them. So we have to ask, why does Shales go out of his way to characterize this much-lauded journalist as an insubstantial joke, "a bad choice" while supporting the talents and qualifications of Stephanopoulos and Tapper? Is one of America's top TV critics damning a broadcast colleague because she's not a man?