Days after the story ran on Radio Liberty’s website, Ismayilova’s bureau chief received a call from the government asking why she published such provocative stories and whether she wanted to be “dealt with.” But nothing else came of it.

The same is true of her other big scoops. She investigated the family businesses of Emergency Situations Minister Kamaladdin Heydarov, highlighted the government’s efforts to artificially lower the infant mortality rate, and has reported on major environmental problems in some of the country’s cities.

Ismayilova doesn’t spend too much time worrying. She’s still freelancing long-form investigative pieces for and translating The Kite Runner, one of her favorite books, into Azerbaijani. All of this, of course, is in addition to the work of presenting a daily two-hour talk show with only one other full-time staffer. Mornings are spent scouring the news for topics, identifying potential guests, and sweet-talking them into coming onto the show. In the afternoon, she does her research and prepares questions. And then she’s live from five to seven.

After one recent taping, she and her producer were talking through the next day’s show. They had booked a popular comedian and actress for the second hour. The producer warned Ismayilova not to talk about politics with the actress. “It’s not her thing,” he said. At first, Ismayilova agreed. But then she paused. “If she starts praising the president, then it’s fair game,” she said.

On her show, no political claim goes unquestioned.


Amanda Erickson is a senior associate editor for The Atlantic Cities. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic.