From War Zone to Washington

By Lynn Sherr
Photograph: Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

Christiane Amanpour’s status as the new face of the foreign correspondent was crystallized for me a few years ago at a women’s conference in California. As Amanpour crossed the stage—to thunderous applause—clad in her trademark khaki and black, the young woman seated next to me asked admiringly, “Do you think she has a closetful of safari jackets in different shades?” Well, yes. But what might be just a fashion choice for some was, Amanpour says, “my liberation.”

“I knew that this look was professional and neat and appropriate for the field,” Amanpour, 52, told me recently. “It meant I never thought how to mix and match and accessorize, and all those things you might think of in civilian life. I needed to think of just my work.”

Now Amanpour has traded her field uniform—and her longtime employer, CNN—for anchor duds and ABC News, where she hosts the Sunday-morning program This Week with Christiane Amanpour. She has also broadened her beat, further burnishing one of journalism’s most impressive résumés.

Born in England to an Iranian father and a British mother, she grew up in Tehran, where her future was shaped by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She lived under martial law and heard Ayatollah Khomeini preach. “I knew then that I wanted to tell those stories,” she says. When Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, starting an eight-year war, Amanpour’s family, vacationing in En­gland, decided to stay put. She chose to attend college in America.

After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, she landed in Atlanta at the foreign desk of then-fledgling CNN because someone said, “You’re foreign. We have an opening on the foreign desk.” Never mind that the ­job was about getting coffee and tran­s­cribing real reporters’ notes; Amanpour jumped at the chance. In 1990 she was sent overseas to cover the run-up to the first Gulf War, an assignment that ­allowed her passion and drive ­­to break through. Soon she was the ­network’s go-to reporter on foreign news, interviewing heads of state, ­casualties of armed conflict, victims of famine. She has won every major broadcast-journalism award, some multiple times. Today Amanpour lives in Manhattan with her husband, former­ Assistant Secretary of State ­Jamie Rubin, and their 10-year-old son, Darius. She commutes to Washington on weekends for the show, where her role is different but her ultimate mission is, in some ways, the same.

What do you want viewers to take away from This Week?
I want them to find a place where they get what they’re used to getting—politics—but also the policy that matters to them, beyond the “he said, she said” shouting across the aisle. My aim is to make foreign less foreign. And to really explore that vital nexus between domestic and foreign policy.

You have spent your professional life abroad. Do you feel up to speed on U.S. politics?
I will get up to speed. You know, I wasn’t up to speed on genocide when I covered that. I wasn’t up to speed on civil war, on famine. But I will be.

Are you a U.S. citizen?
No, I am a British citizen. But when I made a trip to America in 1976, one of the first places I visited was New York, the World Trade Center. We went up to [the restaurant] Windows on the World, and I saw my first view of America from there: all the way down to the water and the Statue of Liberty, all the way around Manhattan. Then in Washington we did the tour of all the monuments—I remember bicycling at sunset around the Lincoln Memorial and feeling this great history, the revolutionary process that made America the beacon it is. I have the foreigner’s idealistic respect for what America stands for and what it offers.

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