When I heard that Christiane Amanpour was going to speak at Stony Brook University in honor of Marie Colvin at the dedication of the Center for International Reporting on Tuesday, Feb. 5th, I was overjoyed. I have been a fan of Ms. Amanpour since watching her cover the Iran War in it’s early stages for CNN news. She appeared honest, sincere, and human in the midst of the chaos and carnage of war.
I wanted to meet her and hear her speak. In addition, I wanted to learn more about the new program at Stony Brook and learn much more about Marie Colvin with whom, I regret to say, I was not familiar. My expectations of Christiane Amanpour were certainly met. Moreover, her presentation, ringing themes of seeking the truth, accountability, courage, and “having to be there” by far exceeded that which I anticipated.
I sat glued to my chair for most of Ms. Amanpour’s talk. I was greatly impressed by her candor and humility and for her constant deference to Marie Colvin and the Colvin family who was present at the dedication. This was as it should be, for the event was about Marie Colvin and her courageous work as an international journalist. However, because of Ms. Amanpour’s involvement in international affairs and her “first hand” knowledge of many of the major events and individuals who have changed the world in the last twenty years, the audience was eager to hear about Christiane Amanpour’s thoughts and world views as well.
It was clear from the start of the presentation that being at the heart of the story itself was of primary importance to Ms. Amanpour. To paraphrase the message I received from the presentation, I’d say that “nothing can replace being there,” seeing and feeling the event “first hand” placing yourself along side those who are at the center of the battle, the revolution, the repression, the coup or the killing of innocent civilians.
Additional significant themes rang out in the course of the evening's speech. Ms. Amanpour spoke of “seeking and revealing the truth” as her professional mission. She embraced the ethic of hard work and patience; working your way up to establish credibility in a career as opposed to the prevailing attitude of entitlement. In addition, the speaker stressed courage in the face of adversity and taking the unpopular stance if it reflected the truth. “World leaders can make a difference,” she postulated, people in places of power and influence can and should act to better mankind and humanity. They should be held to account for their actions and it is the job of the journalist to “hold their feet to the fire.” They have a responsibility to help stop oppression and tyranny wherever it may raise its head. As a journalist she responded to another question, posed by a student, you can reach out to help your community, then your country, and then humanity.
In response to another question from a journalism student regarding the growth of the concept of “moral equivalence” as used in the media, she responded that there is no equivalence, there is only what is right and wrong. The rapist is not morally equal to the victim. Soldiers in the streets targeting civilians or perpetrating atrocities against them, are not morally equivalent the villagers and innocents against whom they act. People must be held accountable for what they do. The job of the journalist, as she sees, it is to seek out these stories whatever danger they pose, and reveal the truth about them so the world is aware of what is taking place.
On her closing program with CNN news, Ms. Amanpour said her mission has been to be the “eyes and ears in pursuit of the truth and the stories that beg to be told.” Her presentation at Stony Brook certainly had a similar theme.
The humility Ms. Amanpour displayed on Tuesday evening is an example for all of us to follow. She diverted attention away from herself and invited Marie Colvin’s sister to come to the podium and answer questions. Marie Colvin was an exceptional individual an a fine journalist. “She was known for her moving accounts of innocent civilians caught in the tide of war, and for her courage,tenacity and dedication to truth seeking.” She lost an eye while covering a story and eventually lost her while covering the conflict in Syria on February 22, 2012. She was truly an inspiration and a courageous individual. Ms. Amanpour made sure that was known to the audience, not wanting the spotlight for herself.
I was inspired by Christiane Amanpour. Her message of finding and revealing the truth, doing what you can when you can, standing up for what is fair and just, and not expecting anything at all for your efforts was only bested by her grace and her humble demeanor.