Amanpour Gets The Sotomayor Treatment.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour is a really good reporter who is consistently substantive and interesting, eschewing the irrelevant horse-race jibber jabber common to most cable news programming. This is part of Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales' case for why it was a mistake to pick her to be the new host for ABC's This Week:

'This Week' deals mainly in domestic politics and inside-the-Beltway palaver, an area where Amanpour is widely considered to 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.

So when every news station on television is trying to outdo themselves with inane political speculation and rote repetition of carefully vetted talking points, Amanpour is absent. Shales thinks this is a bad thing.

But Shales isn't content to rag on Amanpour for being, you know, a real reporter. Aside from quoting the guys at Newsbusters -- last seen demanding to know why news organizations weren't citing polls they previously dismissed as unreliable and doing the yeoman's work of trolling Jay Leno for liberal bias -- Shales also finds that there's a Facebook group devoted to people who think Amanpour is biased against Israel. Understand? Amanpour might be a bad host because Shales found some people on the Internet who don't like her.

Where Shales' critique crosses the line, though, is when he starts suggesting that this criticism might be warranted because Amanpour is of Iranian descent:

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 Leslie 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.'

Of course, Shales works at a publication where the in-house media critic Howard Kurtz once suggested black women might not be able to cover Michelle Obama objectively, so it's not entirely a surprise that he wouldn't think there was anything strange about this line of criticism. As Glenn Greenwald points out, few question the objectivity of Jewish reporters covering Israel anymore -- even when they clearly are biased -- because doing so would be seen as anti-Semitic. I'd hasten to add that Jewish perspectives aren't really all that common on television despite the number of Jewish reporters -- instead, you have a reverse Al Sharpton problem, where the "Jewish perspective,"  is almost entirely represented by a minority of public intellectuals who are actually conservative, despite the fact that most Jews are liberals.

Journalism is a bit like being a judge, in that it relies somewhat on a very culturally stilted notion of "objectivity" that in fact privileges the perspectives of white men, who have traditionally dominated the profession. Rather than confronting this notion of objectivity for what it is, a perspective shaped by the identity of the historically privileged beholder, it's treated as an unassailable standard to which reporters must aspire. The loose thread in the whole illusion though, is the suspicion with which anyone who does not fit a gender and ethnicity-based conception of normalcy is treated. Mere actions--like Amanpour's record or commitment to traditional journalistic objectivity for example--aren't enough to exonerate one from the charge of bias. The immutable circumstances of her birth make her suspect. All of this makes it ironic that Shales mentions Stahl, who might have been able to tell him a thing or two about how this works if he had actually interviewed her.

As with Sonia Sotomayor, no amount of personal excellence can calm certain kinds of skepticism, because the question really comes down to one of resources and tribalist rivalry. Amanpour would be the only woman hosting a Sunday morning show on one of the major three networks, just as Sotomayor became the first Latina on the court. Because of her gender and ethnic background, she is another challenger to a professional space traditionally reserved for white men.

So of course she's not "objective." Only white men can be "objective." Which is how you know "objectivity" in this context is anything but.

-- A. Serwer

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