By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 23, 2010; C04
If being the moderator of "This Week," ABC's Sunday morning news-talk show, required Senate approval, then journalist Christiane Amanpour -- recently named by ABC News President David Westin to take over the job -- would already be in big trouble.
In a way, Amanpour, scheduled to leave CNN after 18 years of international coverage and take over the program in August, could be seen as the opposite of the perfect candidate. "This Week" deals mainly in domestic politics and inside-the-Beltway palaver, an area where Amanpour is widely considered to be deficient. Consider: Whenever CNN has thrown one of its big election-night, convention, or presidential debate spectaculars, drafting nearly every living staff member to appear, Amanpour has had a conspicuously low profile.
And even though Amanpour has often been touted for her expertise on foreign affairs, she has vocal and passionate critics in that arena as well. Supporters of Israel have more than once charged Amanpour with bias against that country and its policies. A Web site devoted to criticism of Amanpour is titled, with less than a modicum of subtlety, "Christiane Amanpour's Outright Bias Against Israel Must Stop," available via Facebook.
Amanpour grew up in Great Britain and Iran. Her family fled Tehran in 1979 at the start of the Islamic revolution, when she was college age. She has steadfastly rejected claims about her objectivity, telling Lesley Stahl last year relative to her coverage of Iran: "I am not part of the current crop of opinion journalists or commentary journalists or feelings journalists. I strongly believe that I have to remain in the realm of fact."
The conservative Media Research Center, on its NewsBusters blog, claims Amanpour has the "standard liberal outlook on the world," but then there don't seem to be many journalists that conservatives do not consider liberal.
The group called Westin's selection of Amanpour to anchor "This Week" a "bizarre choice," but had also knocked her predecessor in the job, George Stephanopoulos, who has since moved on to "Good Morning America" and who previously worked to elect Bill Clinton and served in his White House.
As if outside opposition to Amanpour weren't enough, ABC News is practically in a state of internal revolt over her selection, according to such industry-watchers as TV Newser, which quotes ABC insiders as resenting Westin's hiring of a highly paid celebrity interloper for a job that many thought would go to White House correspondent Jake Tapper or to "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran. Either would have made a better "This Week" anchor, and neither would put ABC News in the position of having to rationalize spending big bucks on a superstar while making brutal cutbacks in the division.
Referring to the ABC staff as "too demoralized to care" about the nomination, an unnamed network veteran told TV Newser, "The appointment of Amanpour is a sideshow" because "the future of a Sunday morning talk show is trivial to people who believe they have no future at ABC News."
In defense of ABC, morale is hardly sky-high at any of the network news departments as personnel pruning continues and the news divisions try to deal with changes in TV technology and the exploding proliferation of news sources thanks to cable and the Web.
ABC News executives apparently see the future as belonging to so-called "backpack journalists" who can lug video equipment around and shoot their own reports -- much like a character once devised and played by Al Franken (now a senator, of course) on "Saturday Night Live." Franken's jerk-of-all-trades one-man news bureau even had a small satellite dish on his head.
Giving Amanpour the "This Week" job seems like one more bitter pill for ABC professionals to swallow, even as they overdose on all the others they've been forced to gulp down. After artfully orchestrating a smooth transition from Charlie Gibson to Diane Sawyer on ABC's "World News," Westin now seems to have ended his winning streak with a resounding clunk.
From many angles, it was a bad choice -- one which could create so much consternation that 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.