I’ve never tried to compete with American Idol, whether I was at CNN or whether I’m here now at ABC. I think that’s a false dichotomy. I’m not saying news or international perspective competes with entertainment or any other mass audience program on television. But I strongly believe—and I know it to be true—that there are now markets for this kind of information. On TV, and especially in the news, there is a lot more niche marketing going on. Hopefully, I can step into it and fill that gap.
When it was announced you would be joining the show, there was some criticism that you weren’t the right choice—some of it implying your experience as a foreign correspondence, and your foreignness itself, made you inappropriate for a Sunday show. How do you deal with that criticism?
Yes, there was some negative carping about me taking this position. And I think that has died down. Let me be frank. I am foreign: I’m half Iranian, I’m half English, and I have an English accent. I was told when I first started in this business twenty-seven years ago that I had a name that would never make it in television, I had the color hair that would never make it on television, I had an accent that would not make it on American television, and that all-in-all I should basically pack up and think of doing something else.
Well, I don’t take no for an answer when I have an ambition and a strong belief. Nor do I roll over in the face of what some people say. I’m used to people having low expectations; and frankly I don’t think that’s a bad thing [laughs]. And I’ve always said, and I will continue to say, that I will simply let my work speak for itself. I’m not political, I’m not a performer on television; I am a journalist and I’m a reporter and I have been for twenty-five years and I continue to do that. And I say that there is still room for that, particularly on a Sunday morning, which is devoted to real substantive hard news. That’s why I felt I would try to make a go of it on this particular piece of real estate in the broadcast media. If I have a chance anywhere it’s there.
Your former network, CNN, has been struggling of late, while more ideological cable news channels Fox and MSNBC are enjoying success. What do you think of this trend in cable news?
The truth of the matter is that I left CNN, I left on extremely good terms, I started my career at CNN, I’ve been there for nearly twenty-seven years, and I don’t really want to talk about their programming or the situation in cable news right now.
Other than to say that I strongly believe that there is still space, whether it be on cable or on broadcast, for fact-based reality and the pursuit of truth—the pursuit of in-depth investigation and being there as a differentiator between the ideological left or the right. I strongly believe there is a place for that and that great journalism will triumph, that it still has an indispensible role in our world and in civil society. I’m on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, where I chaired a panel between really heroic Mexican journalists who every day are putting their lives on the line to bring the truth about what’s going on in Mexico. Good journalism is alive and well, and it’s something that those of us who believe in it put our lives on the line to defend.
I know that this is hard, what I’ve chosen to do at ABC is hard, and for ABC it was a leap to bring me on board. But when you believe in something and you’re prepared to put yourself on the line and you’re prepared to take the slings and arrows and the criticism, all you can do is do your best and do what you believe in. That’s what I’m going to do and that’s what I am doing.
Objectivity is constantly being tested today by new technologies like blogs and Twitter, which encourage reporters to communicate directly and can then punish them for it, which is what happened with Helen Thomas and Octavia Nasr at CNN. Is there a new line that journalists have to be aware of in guarding their objectivity?