Friday, November 20, 2015

CNN And Christiane Amanpour: Perfect Together

Count my first impression of Christine Amanpour as inaccurate. That would apply, unfortunately, to roughly my second, third, fourth, and fifth impressions of her. Fortunately, my negative impression of her network was not as misguided.

The realization comes about as The Guardian reports

CNN has suspended a journalist after she sent a disapproving tweet about the House of Representatives passing a bill seeking to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the US.

Global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has been stood down for two weeks after tweeting out a CNN story written by Deirdre Walsh and Ted Barrett with the comment: “Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish.”

Within hours, the post had been retweeted more than 1,000 times and liked more than 2,000 times.

Eight hours later she apologised, saying her social media post was “inappropriate and disrespectful."

It's a sure bet that one of those "likes" did not come from Amanpour.  Whatever the rationale for suspending Labott- and this Washington Post blogger has inquired of the network- CNN policy presumably prohibits employees from offering opinions on topical, potentially partisan, matters.  In another context, CNN Jeff Zucker previously had differentiated his network from FOX News and MSNBC, which he labeled "two partisan networks, that are looking out for their viewers."

But that does not apply to every employee- or given the network's acceptance of controversial remarks from anchorperson Don Lemon, not every opinion.  Conservative website Newsbusters has both printed a portion of the transcript of, a conversation among a terrorist expert, Amanpour, and CNN anchorperson Anderson Cooper (video, below):

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, if anybody was expecting to hear in the — in the passion and eloquence and — and speech patterns of President Obama a tipping point — they did not hear that today — and, as you say, defensive when he was asked questions about American leadership; dismissing the notions of American leadership as mere slogans — seeming not to take into account the very palpable fear among citizens — certainly, here in France; to an extent, in the United States; certainly, in the United Kingdom — everybody bracing for the worst of the worst to happen again.

He said something that was pretty incredible — according to many of the military experts here and around the world who I've spoken to — that our strategy is working. People do not believe that to be the case. The only strategy that's working is the strategy that he tends to dismiss — and that's the ground troop strategy. Sinjar, Tikrit, Kobani — those are the only ISIS strongholds that have been taken back by a combination of American intelligence and air power, and local ground forces — whether they're Iranian-backed militias in Tikrit; whether they're Kurdish Peshmerga and other Kurdish forces in Sinjar and in Kobani. This is a fact.

He's saying that ISIS is contained. This also is — is not actually true. ISIS is not contained, because ISIS attacked a Russian plane; attacked Beirut; and has now attacked here [in Paris]. And military strategists say that the length of time between the ISIS attack on Charlie Hebdo — and the al Qaeda, of course, — Charlie Hebdo and the HyperCacher market, and here — ten months is strategically insignificant. That is no time at all. That means they are not contained.

COOPER: In terms of containment, though, he is trying to stress — and whether it's walking back comments he made before — he's really, in this, was stressing geographic containment on the ground, compared to, the same time last year—

AMANPOUR: Fine. But in terms of ability, they are not contained. They have just slaughtered 129 people in Paris—

COOPER: Right—

AMANPOUR: The death toll may rise very higher, because there are 352 people injured — of whom, 99 are critically wounded. So the question is to have an honest conversation now about a new strategy to destroy.

Amanpour evidently is out of step with CNN policy (for whatever that's worth)- and is also clearly wrong, as Cooper politely and diplomatically implied.  For more on this, let's go to Politifact, which explained

In the context of Obama’s Nov. 12 interview with Stephanopoulos -- the day before the Paris attacks -- it’s actually quite clear that when he says ISIS is contained, he is talking about ISIS’s territorial expansion in Syria and Iraq. Here are the relevant parts of the interview:

Stephanopoulos: "Some of your critics say, even your friendly critics say, like Fareed Zakaria, that what you have on the ground now is not going to be enough. Every couple of months you're going to be faced with the same choice of back down or double down."

Obama: "I think what is true is that this has always been a multiyear project precisely because the governance structures in the Sunni areas of Iraq are weak, and there are none in Syria. And we don't have ground forces there in sufficient numbers to simply march into Al-Raqqah in Syria and clean the whole place out. And as a consequence, we've always understood that our goal has to be militarily constraining ISIL's capabilities, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing at the same time as we're putting a political track together in Syria and fortifying the best impulses in Baghdad so that we can, not just win militarily, but also win by improving governance."

Stephanopoulos: "And that's the strategy you've been following. But ISIS is gaining strength, aren't they?"

Obama: "Well, no, I don't think they're gaining strength. What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria they'll come in, they'll leave. But you don't see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain. What we have not yet been able to do is to completely decapitate their command and control structures. We've made some progress in trying to reduce the flow of foreign fighters."

When Obama said "we have contained them," it’s within a plainly defined scope: ISIS’s territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria. This context is bolstered by the fact that Stephanopoulos asks Obama about the ground efforts in those two countries.

He wasn’t saying, as critics have shorthanded, that ISIS no longer presents a threat -- an assertion that the Paris attacks would have negated. In fact, in the same interview, Obama acknowledged that ISIS might have surpassed al-Qaida as the greatest terror threat in the world, adding that they are constantly looking for "a crack in the system" to exploit to carry out attacks. "I think that one of the challenges of these international terrorist organizations is that they don't have to have a huge amount of personnel," Obama said.

Politifact added that the experts it consulted "all said Obama is accurate when he says ISIS hasn’t gained territory in Iraq and Syria in recent months, though it does not give a full picture of ISIS’s global reach."

Iraq/Syria is the center of ISIL's caliphate. Notwithstanding Amanpour's argument, ISIL has turned to terrorist attacks in the West partly because of its failure to maintain a portion of the territory it considers critical (map below from the Institute for the Study of War, with the crosses where ISIL has a remote "governate"; brick, clay, and yellow where they have ties). She realized Obama was referring to the ISIL's regional strength rather than global reach, but when Cooper noted Obama was "stressing geographic containment on the ground," she responded "fine. But in terms of ability they are not contained." And then she went on as if she hadn't been called out for misinterpreting the President's remarks.

If Christiane Amanpour wants to continue to be partisan, she can quit her job with the network and become a full-time pundit, there or elsewhere. On second thought: she can remain in her present capacity with CNN because the network apparently doesn't mind partisan sniping- as long as it's the right kind.

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