On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour takes the stage at South By Southwest to chat about her new book, “Sex and Love Around the World.”
You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. Today we’re gonna play an interview I conducted at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. I talk to Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent. We talked about journalism in 2018, the #MeToo movement and her new series, “Sex and Love Around the World.” Let’s take a listen.
There’s so many people here, we don’t have mics [for the audience], and so any question you’d like, we’re ready to answer. [instructions on how to submit questions]
Christiane Amanpour: Any question.
Any question. We were just backstage and I was just thinking, this is about sex, which is good, because we’re in a particular naughty mood, possibly dirty. Right up to inappropriate, but we will not cross that line.
Okay. We can. All right. So tell me about this show. “Sex and Love Around the World” is not something I’d expect from you.
No, I didn’t expect it from myself, either. You can imagine my bosses didn’t expect it either because I can synthesize North Korea and Russia and take all that stuff in and Iran and the Middle East and put it out in a palatable way for the viewers. But “Sex and Love” was much more of a voyeuristic journey. Was much more of a learning curve for myself as well.
You’ve had sex, right?
Occasionally. At least once. I have a kid.
Right. Okay. Well.
It was nearly 18 years ago. He’s gonna be 18 in March.
So, yeah. I was learning a lot of new stuff on the road.
Okay. Good. Okay.
Which was great for me.
I just wanna establish that. You never know.
I have to be honest and authentic. So now you’ve completely thrown me off my game.
That’s my job.
That’s okay, Kara.
Yeah. That’s my thing.
You and I go back a long way.
So where did you get this idea?
I got the idea brushing my teeth at my sink getting ready to go to work, listening to a radio program about three years ago at the height of the Syria war and at the height of the crisis of all these refugees coming across from the bloodshed in Syria. And trying to find a place to live and to be dignified and civilized and continue their humanness, continue trying to be people.
So you were listening to a radio program about the crisis in Syria and you thought, “Fucking.”
Didn’t exactly think of it like that.
But what I thought was ...
Because that wasn’t working for me.
She really is going on crossing the line. Trying to drag me across it as well.
No. What I thought was, “Self, you have done all this extreme living, extreme reporting, extreme experiences, in the most extreme parts of the world in the most extreme circumstances. And you’ve watched and reported individuals cope with sniping and shelling, genocide and disease and famine and natural disasters. And you’ve told that story. You’ve been inside the humanity of people who’ve managed to stay sane or try to and alive, during those kinds of situations.”
But as I was listening to this radio thing, I said the myself, you know, what about women and girls? What about how you live? How you maintain your dignity? How you maintain your intimate relations? How do you keep your partnership going? How does a mother keep her daughter safe and not off to some forced marriage? Do they talk about sex between mothers and girls in villages in Afghanistan or wherever it might be? So all these thoughts kept coming. And how do you do all that in a flimsy tent where everybody and their brother listen to you and see you and know what your business is?
You had written about this issue of women. You’ve talked about it. You’ve reported on the Congo, for example. Okay.
Yeah. But I haven’t done it in this way.
I’ve done it ... Rape as a weapon of war, for instance.
I reported that in Bosnia. I followed it to the international criminal court. It became a law. But I haven’t done it in this way where it was much more of, you know, you’re not going to see the victims. You’re not going to see the horrors. You’re not going to see the catastrophes in this series. And I did that deliberately along with ZPZ and Anthony Bourdain, CNN, and all those who we talked about this. This was much more a journey to see the flip side of what I’ve been doing all my life.
Right. What their real lives were like.
Yeah. What their real lives were like.
Using the lens of love and sex.
Which is also extreme in many, many cases. And what I found way before the #MeToo movement exploded — because I was shooting this months before that started — was that yes, there are many parts of the world where it’s very dangerous, very ugly to be a woman. But even in those parts of the world, younger women, women of the generation of many of you in this room, whether it’s in India, whether it’s in China or Japan or elsewhere, are taking their own rights.
And you wanna know, literally, in a society that considers women less than human or second- or third- or fourth-class citizens, where women are slaves, where women literally don’t have the right to say, “Boo,” to a dog, how does a woman say to her husband, “You know that sex? I want to be satisfied too. I want to talk about this. I want to have fun. I want to be fulfilled. I want to be emotionally, spiritually, physically satisfied as well.”
That is crucial for women all over the world in any socioeconomic demographic. And it was fascinating to watch the women who I’ve reported on — as I said, in the other way — to be talking about this. And the other thing that was fascinating was how open they were to talking.
To talking about it.
Men and women were really open to talking. I didn’t find anybody who clammed up and said, “No.”
So the range of places you went. I was reading your thing, which made me laugh out loud last night.
The essay you did about it.
Oh, right. Yeah.
You know, about hymenoplasty, which I really do need to ask about.
It went from Berlin, where you had a bondage ...
Yeah. I did a lot of things, naked Ping-Pong. Guys, that’s something to watch out for. You see, I’m an incredibly controlled human being. My eyes, straight. And it was all naked. Not me.
Maybe, not me. Well, because I didn’t think I’d get it past the censors. Plus, I didn’t want to shock too many people.
All right. Okay. So, naked Ping-Pong. Give me a range.
So, bondage in Berlin.
Which seems to go together.
Well, it does. Berlin is known as the sex capital of Europe.
Right? It’s the edgy capital. It was really during Hitler’s time, they called it degenerate and all the rest of it. And they really, really have been ... They fought for that part of their culture for a long time, but you know, I found in 2017 that a lot of it is a little bit, sort of ... yoga.
But I ...
I’m with you. I live in the Castro of San Francisco.
Yeah. And a lot of it is not quite as edgy as I expected. So there I am very seriously trying not to be too voyeuristic watching these couples do their thing and there’s all this breathing and it’s about this and it’s about that. And all of a sudden, the guy comes up to me and he throws these ropes over me. And one of the things I’ve learned in my life, is when the awkward situations — we can talk more about this in regard to #MeToo — when there are awkward situations, I tend to pretend it’s not happening.
So they throw ropes over you. And you’re like ...
Yeah. Throw ropes around me. Here I am thinking, A) “I don’t look very good with the ropes the way they’re thrown around me.”
They throw it on you? Or did they bind you?
And then bound it. But not as tight as the others. No.
Okay. All right. Okay. And then your reaction?
My reaction, you’ll see. It’s a tease.
Wow. I should have brought ...
You’ll like it, Kara.
Now I feel regretful that I didn’t bring my ropes.
So you went there, but you also went to serious places like in India with marriage, forced marriages, for instance.
So in India, who knew, but there’s also a flourishing kinky sector as well where there is BDSM. Obviously it’s not the majority of Indians, but a small group in New Delhi do it. But why was it so interesting? First for the visuals, because of the stories people told me as I was onstage. In any event, they were very interesting stories.
But most importantly, they wanted to be absolutely clear that this is all about consent. There’s a safe word and woe betide you if you go across that line. But of course, that’s massively important too, because a month after I did that shooting — well, not physical shooting, but the shooting — came the Harvey Weinstein stuff, which was all about non-consent.
Oh, we’re getting to there.
So, yeah. It was, you know, unbeknownst to me, without an agenda of that type, it was unfolding before my eyes. And then many, many interesting things. You know, the DYN of the tech world. Who knew that in the Muslim world where women, as I said, are barely able to join the workforce, in the last decade, another 55 million women have joined the workforce? That’s a 155 million women and guess what? Their powering it.
A lot of these entrepreneurs in their hedge jobs — not the men with the hoodies and this and that who we see here in the West. The women in their headscarves are pioneering a whole entrepreneurial tech employment for themselves and based on — this is what I read in the latest article I saw about it — something like a trillion dollars worth of disposable income that women in that part of the world have. So, it’s unbelievable. Like in Saudi Arabia and Iran, 38 percent of women are doing tech stuff. That compares to just 30 percent here in the United States.
Right. Less than.
Or less. As you would know better than I do. But it is remarkable. So the series is also about how women, wherever I went, are grabbing their rights as well.
At the same time, it’s pretty depressing for women across the globe too. Did you try ...
I didn’t do that side. I’ve done depressing all my career. You know? I mean, do you know what? It was actually nice to have a break from the depressing, from the crazy, from the frenetic, from the current political environment around the world and in the United States. It was quite nice to have a break and see a real slice of life that we often don’t focus on. This is not manufactured. This is not just a little elite group that I went to talk to. This is a real slice of life.
What was the most surprising?
I would say the most surprising was the generational difference, because you expect ... I mean, I didn’t know this, but I went there finding out what maybe a lot of people know, that Japan, for instance, is very, very sad when it comes to sexuality.
Oh, yeah. Japan. Yeah.
I mean, there are sexless marriages. There’s women who once they’ve had their children move out of the marital chamber, out of the bed, and go to be in the same bedroom as their kids. So their husband, who’s the office man — that classic title of male workers. [to Kara] Hey, man. Turn off your phone.
Just kidding. So, that was weird.
I’m completely ignoring her.
That was really, really weird to see that. To talk to some of these women who, honestly, honestly ... There’s a bar scene when I talk to about four or five women, and one of them almost has tears in her eyes.
Talking about ...
Yeah. When I ask if she’s happy and she’s not. Is she happily married? No, she hasn’t had sex with her husband in 10 years. Just this thing. And, you know, she’s found herself somebody and she’s happier. But can’t really talk about it because that’s not done. And then to find that younger women are trying to bust out ...
To change this. To change this role.
And then also to find that there’s a small group of people, men and women, who want to change this and have created, what was it? The Adoring Husband Society.
Right. Where they yell, “I love you.”
Where they actually yell, “I love you.”
And they actually make a big deal. It’s performance art. So, hopefully, life will follow art. And that’s what they do.
So they show up in various public places and yell, “I love you.”
Yes. Frankly. Yeah. And they’re doing things that you and I would take for granted. They’re not staying at work until 11:00 pm. They’re coming home at maybe 9:00 pm or 8:00 pm or 7 to have dinner with their wives and actually talk. Go play golf when they have disposable non-work time. Finding some hobbies. It sounds ordinary, but in that society, it’s completely extraordinary. So that was really fun and interesting.
What about the U.S.? Did you do ...?
No. We made a conscious decision not yet to do the United States. I don’t know whether we will, but we didn’t do the U.S.
Why is that?
Well, because this was around the world. I’m a foreign correspondent. I just wanted to ... I do want to do the U.S. and generally the West. But what you see also is almost from the East all the way to the West, catching up. So the West has been way ahead in their various sexual contexts. China, Japan, all those countries, Africa are catching up. For instance, in the West, women have much more economic freedom, economic independence, etc. And they have been trying to explore their own sexuality, their happiness, all of that, for a long time.
In Shanghai, it’s only just starting, to the point that for many women, young women, millennial women, the concept of dating doesn’t even exist because for millennia in China it’s been arranged marriages. So, you know, you marry who your parents tell you to marry. And family is it. Family rules the roost. And the idea of dating and trying to make your own decisions is very novel. At the same time, China has — or rather Shanghai has — the highest concentration in the world of female billionaires and millionaires and that sort of thing.
So they’re massively empowered.
To do things.
Yeah. So they have whole new economic sector called the dating sector. Where people are teaching young women, young men how to actually court and date.
What was ... Explain this hymenoplasty.
So that was in Lebanon.
Because at the same time as women are ...
Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Hymenoplasty. Yeah. Should we explain what it is?
No? You think it’s obvious.
It sounds like what it sounds like. Yeah.
It’s not a face lift, if you know what I mean.
Okay. All right.
It’s a something else lift.
Okay. Explain that.
So, here. Why is this important? It’s important because at the same time — and this is why women all over the world are so just hit by every bit of culture and the patriarchy — virginity is a must wherever you go. It’s a must, particularly in the Muslim world. So that even though they are losing their virginity, dating, doing all this kind of stuff before marriage, they have to be virgins at the wedding night. So there is a thriving business in hymenoplasty.
In other words, sewing up so that you can appear to be a virgin on your wedding night. And actually, it was kind of, almost really sad because some of these girls are not used to dating. They’ve actually never slept with somebody, some of them who are not there for hymenoplasty but just for advice from this sex therapist. They have been told, it’s been drummed into them, whether it’s in India or Beirut or whatever, that, “Don’t sleep, don’t sleep, don’t sleep, you mustn’t go sleep with your boyfriend.” And then on your wedding, “You go to do it and have children.” Right?
So they go from nothing to being expected to be machines in bed, right?
At the same time, they’ve been told they have to value this thing that they have, which is their virginity. So these women, many of them are going to their marriages needing this therapy before they go because they don’t even want to lose their virginity to their husbands.
They have been told it’s so valuable.
Right. Oh, wow.
So there was a lot to talk about.
What’s your favorite story?
I have lots of favorite stories. You know, it’s like children. I can’t tell you that I have a favorite episode. I learned so much. As I said, I’ve gone out into the world and been experienced in all the other political ...
Did it translate into your life?
You know, it’s translating. Yeah. You know, my view of life is a constant lesson, learning all the time. Yeah.
Yeah. Wow. What would you do if you went to the U.S.? I mean obviously ...
We are in the U.S.
Go ahead. What? I’m sorry.
Oh, you mean, to cover the U.S.
Well, some of the stuff that Esther Perel has been talking about. You know, open ... You all know who she is, right? She’s the fantastic Ted speaker, sex therapist and psychologist who has great podcasts as well as great speeches. You see, in the West, you have couples who are bored. You have all the stuff that happens after long, long marriages. And you have this whole new thing coming out, open marriages. That seems to be a thing that’s being talked about now.
Oh, it’s all over Silicon Valley.
There you go. Well, you know more than I do. Silicon Valley.
And when they start talking about it I’m like, “La, la, la, la, la. I don’t wanna hear about it.”
So, everybody’s trying to figure out ...
It’s all yours, Christiane.
What I really want to do more than necessarily the West or whatever, I’d really like to explore this from a perspective of men and boys, because obviously this was done through my lens and exploring it through the perspective of women. But I’ve always been convinced — and this program made it more obvious for me — that we as women are not going to have totally satisfied lives, whether it’s in the bedroom, whether it’s in the work, whether it’s wherever it might be, unless men are on side with us, unless they also are liberated, to respect us as actually human beings. To enjoy us even and not to be intimidated and to be with us in this struggle, which is a once in a moment’s struggle, which we find ourselves in right now.
Yeah. Let’s get to that because I think, you’ve taped this before and needless to say, you got your job because of your other job at PBS because of #MeToo, although, utterly ...
So talk about that.
I’m not gonna talk about the specifics of the individual, however.
His name’s Charlie Rose.
Okay. However, I’m going to tell you that with great pride as a competent woman, I have taken that spot or that slot, for the moment.
Well, I’ll be honest, you should have had that slot.
Well, whatever. I work for CNN. Thank you. But I’m proud of it. I’m glad they gave it to me as a woman. I’m glad.
What happened? How did that occur?
Well, I think ...
We’ve got this issue with this Charlie Rose situation.
Well, it’s the genius of my boss Jeff Soukas. So you have to ask him about it.
He’s here in the audience?
Yeah, he’s here in the audience.
Yeah. Well, we delivered a sterling product at a time when they needed it.
And we’ll see where it goes.
What did you think when you heard about this?
What did I think about the whole thing? No. What did I think about the whole thing? He’s one of many, right? That started at Fox News, that went on to Hollywood, that’s come now into journalism and other parts of our professional space, cultural artist, wherever. Sports. I mean, those female, American female gymnasts. It’s just a horror. It’s a horror.
And I’ll tell you what I thought. I thought many different things and at different times. You know, I was shocked but not shocked, but I was shocked at the extent of it. I myself have not had that level of sexism and misogyny and harassment and abuse, by no means. I was horrified.
I mean look, a few weeks before it happened at CBS and PBS, I was giving a speech at the Committee to Protect Journalism. I was hosting that evening, Meryl was there, she was a keynote speaker, Meryl Streep, it was great on behalf of freedom of the press. And I looked out and obviously the Harvey Weinstein thing was in full flow. And I looked out and I said to the men in the audience, I said, “We are your sisters. We are your friends. We are your colleagues. We are human beings. You have to help us. You can’t keep hurting us like this.” And then a few weeks later, this happened.
But the thing is, as I say, we cannot do this without the support of our male relatives, our male bosses, our male friends, our colleagues, whoever it might be. This is not women against men, men against women. This has to be the beginning of a real joining at the hip to win this struggle once and for all.
And nobody needs to point out that the more women, the more equality, the more parity, the healthier every aspect of society is, from the GDP of a nation, even like the United States, to your state, your city, your community, your workplace, your home, it makes a difference. And I tell you ...
You might wonder why I’ve got this on my lap. So this is GQ, the British version, and on the cover is Naomi Campbell and a grime artist called Skepta. And I’ve got it because I wanted to read why they were on the front. Don’t tell me I’ve lost the page. Anyway, I’ve lost the page. But I tell you why I picked it up. I picked it up and read it throughout the flight to Austin. And I was so impressed by the articles, by the editor in chief’s article, by Skepta and Naomi’s interview, by all the guys that were writing articles for guys in this magazine, because they were sympathetic. They weren’t whining and crying about the backlash and snowflakes and I don’t know what else.
They went, “Yeah. Yes, ladies. Yes, girls. This is your moment and this is the right time.” And yes, they may be a little over-egging of the pie. Maybe some people get caught up. But for a long time, this reckoning has been coming. And this has to be addressed, has to be addressed.
Let me read you what Skepta says. He’s a young man, right? He’s like in his 20s. He basically said ... So, “Is there a pressure on a man to live up to a certain archetype of masculinity? was the question. He says, “I watch the National Geographic a lot. Even without the volume on. I just love watching animals because we’re animals. Sex is an urge. We want to have sex, but now people are just going to have to respect sex.” That’s pretty intense. That’s very profound.
From a man’s point of view, a young man’s point of view. Okay? Where masculinity is all sort of wrapped up ...
It’s kind of low bar. “Please don’t rape us.”
No. No. This is not just about don’t rape us. This is about everyday sexism. No, seriously. This is also about everyday sexism, which has also been written about, but that’s the bar that many people, including myself, have had to deal with.
When you said, “I was shocked but not shocked.” What does that mean?
Because you know what’s going on. I mean, I don’t know the details, but as I said, there’s everyday sexism.
So you see it.
There’s a continuum.
Like, “Why don’t you smile?” “Don’t you look pretty?” to the ...
But not just that. How often am I the only woman in the room? A lot.
Yes. Yeah. Right?
How often am I asked what it’s like to be a woman war correspondent? When I thought I’d won that battle in 1990 at the Gulf War. But they’re still asking us.
What do you answer now?
I say we’ve won that battle, but now we need to move up to the executive suite.
When women are in positions of power to make these decisions about women and men, it’ll be different.
I think we both have sons, right? I have two sons. You have one son. Why is it up to women to clean it up? That to me gets ...
Who said that? I just said it’s up to all of us.
It’s up to all of us, but the idea is when women are in power. Why can’t men in power do it now?
No. It’s not that. It’s when you have parity.
It changes the dynamic around the table. That’s all I’m saying. Parity changes something. You know? It’s not just a empty word. Equality is not an empty word. It changes the dynamic. It changes the flavor. Even in peace processes.
Do you remember the ... Well, the first two female, Nobel laureates around a peace accord was in Northern Ireland. It was two women who ages ago in the ’70s, way before there was a peace process. But women also pushed that process. If you look between Israel and Palestine right now, the Israelis have a very strong female contingent of peace warriors, if you like, who have their like-minded sisters on the Palestinian side. It’s not got anywhere yet, but they are there pushing this agenda.
If you look at Liberia, years and years of warlordism and dictatorship and dreadful stuff. It was the wonderful Lama Boie about whom “Pray the Devil Back to Hell ...” It’s fantastic. Go and see it. They did the Greek mythological thing. They withheld sex from their men until there was a peace accord around that table as well as many other things. Then, they banded together and elected and made sure the first woman was elected president — this was eight years ago — of an African nation and of that nation in particular. And it made a difference.
A hundred percent.
One of the things ... I just interviewed Sheryl Sandberg at an event in San Francisco called Lesbians Who Tech, of all things. It was great.
Lesbians who do what?
We’re gonna bring you there next week to talk about sex. But we were talking about that idea of what happens now about the backlash. And one of the things she said is it’s not enough to stop the sexual harassment, which should be the lowest bar. It’s pay parity.
It’s power parity, which she was worried about is it stops at everybody just talking and stopping one thing that shouldn’t be happening.
No. One of the things I talked about on my program for PBS and for CNN International are this last week when it was International Women’s Day, was that I actually went over and talked to women ... Not went over, but by satellite, women ... an Egyptian American activist and also an Afghan female member of Parliament.
And while they’re still fighting for basic rights, we here in the West, we have our rights. They are enshrined. They’re just not enforced. We have our rights. Like every organization has its HR policy. Just got to enforce it. Anyway, I’ll come back to that in a minute. But what we still don’t have in the West is equal pay for equal play. And that is another massive thing that we have to achieve. It is under no circumstances okay for a man to be paid more than a woman for doing the same job or doing a lesser job.
Under no circumstances.
No. No except ...
No, not except. Except it just happens.
Well, right. But we’re at the moment now.
What has to happen? Tell us about this moment.
More women in the executive suite, maybe.
Tell us about this moment, because what do you imagine happening? There is a pushback. There is a backlash. You know?
But the backlash is not as hard as the momentum moving forward. I don’t believe it is.
Yeah. I don’t believe it is. And we’ve got to keep it moving forward. To be honest with you. We have to take our destiny in our own hands. We really do. It’s like the young kids who decided to do what they think is the right thing after the shooting in Parkland. It’s like the women who decided to march. It’s like what’s going on now. When you see basic injustice and rights under threat, it is up to us to become engaged.
We cannot sit back lazily and say, “Oh, we’ve won. We’ve done everything. Everything’s cool. We live in this rich society.” No. The massive equality gap that keeps widening in our society is really unacceptable. Even the last time I was onstage and I spoke — it was actually in New York, it was a Ted sort of event and it was about false news — and I said, “We have to be responsible. You have to be responsible for going to the right places to get your news information.”
You know? You can’t just blame the bots. You can’t just blame the Russians all the time, although they’re very, very much engaged. We have to be responsible for what we are searching, what we’re reading, what we’re watching and what we’re synthesizing in our brains. I mean, I guess you saw it, Twitter has funded a major investigation or whatever they call it at MIT and they just came out with their results. That something like ... I’m gonna get the actual stats probably mixed up but it’s something like 70 percent more false news gets repeated than real news.
And the other thing they found out was that it wasn’t bots, it was humans. Because human beings actually maybe gravitate to something that sounds so extraordinary and then they want to share it. Well, if it sounds so extraordinary, it probably is because it is extraordinary. And it’s not true.
But it does begin with these ... I’ll get to the idea of that at the same time, whether you have to be responsible when you’re inundated with social media, when it’s part of your ... Facebook being, I think, biggest. Jeff talks about it a lot, that these people are culpable for the systems they built, that created the situation.
And that’s true. And that’s true.
When you say you should be responsible. But sometimes it’s confusing. It’s loud.
Of course it is. But we ... Look, we’re in an existential moment now. We are at peril and at risk if we don’t know the difference between truth and lies. Truth and lies are the only thing that separates us from democracy and dictatorship. And we have to know. We have to know.
So, how does an average citizen do that?
I say read ... You know, watch CNN. Read the New York Times. Go on Recode Decode. And just go to places where you know are trusted sources of fact. Fact, fact, fact, fact. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.
Except that you have such a partisan situation that it’s not ...
Yeah. That’s a problem.
You have a U.S. president that ...
That’s a problem.
What is it? “The failing New York Times.” “The lying CNN.”
You know, do we really believe it?
I think a lot of people do.
Maybe they do, but we still have to keep up the fight.
We still have to keep fighting. What is the option, Kara? We’re gonna sit and just, “Okay”?
No. No. Not the option. But how do you ... Jeff’s talked about regulating the ...
And he’s right.
So tell me about that.
Well, you know, there has to be a code of conduct. Just like there’s a code of conduct around personal politics and sexual harassment and all the rest of it. There has to be a code of conduct around what gets put out on what are media platforms. Let’s not beat around the bush anymore. These are media platforms. If we’re bound by certain rules and regulations, then they should be bound as well. And you know what? What about something ... I don’t know, I’m really asking you now. I don’t know the solution. But what about something like the so-called Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval? What about a whole industry cropping up. I know they’ve tried it in bits and bolts.
Yes. But a whole serious sector, which can put the stamp of approval on what’s real and what’s not. And I think that’s really important. But let’s not kid ourselves that fake or false news is a Trumpian development. It’s not. This has been going on since time immemorial. It’s true that the President of the United States has used it as a weapon to bludgeon us from the White House, the most powerful purge in the world. And has therefore, maybe, lowered the bar of what’s acceptable in terms of treating journalists and treating fact as opposed to fiction.
And has also empowered and enabled the worst kinds of leaders around the world who have no respect for independent journalism or the truth. Right? So, that’s all a problem. Okay. So now we understand that. Now, we have to just keep up the good fight. And we all need to be implicated in this. We all need to be involved in this. And we can’t have ... And I think they are starting to change. You tell me, is it enough? The Zuckerbergs and the Googles.
I don’t know. I cannot get them to say they’re media companies.
They just won’t. I did interviews with [YouTube’s] Susan Wojcicki, who’s terrific.
I said are you a media ... “You are a media company.” And she said, “We’re a tech platform who facilitates media.”
But it’s just bullshit, isn’t it?
Yeah. Well ...
And it’s just lies.
I do think they do think of themselves as a benign platform. And I think, I’m more worried ...
It could be.
But they have to ... Look, when you’re under attack, you have to figure out how to get out of the hole and to fortify the boundaries. I don’t understand why they keep saying that. And why they just keep letting stuff happen to them. I mean, how much bad publicity can they take? How much devastating consequences do they want to be blamed for?
To me, it’s a weird business model. I don’t understand it. You’d think that the first thing they’d do is clean it up.
Clean it up. Right.
They’re the analysts. Aren’t they the brilliant techie minds? These guys have the wherewithal to do it — and they are mostly guys. Maybe there should be more women, Kara.
Yes. Well ... Welcome to my world. You think you know a lot of men? I know a lot of men. And then ended up having two sons. It’s just astonishing.
But isn’t it extraordinary, that the STEM subjects are much more ...
The proportion of young women in colleges, universities, in these majority Muslim countries are studying STEM much higher than here in the West.
Yeah. It’s really quite impressive.
There’s lots of reasons. That’s a whole other thing to go into.
But I want to finish up with this part because one of the problems around the fake news has to do with internationally. Where here it’s a little noisier and there are people who are a little more educated about media, in the Philippines, in certain countries it gets super dangerous.
Yeah it does. I mean, the Philippines is not a good example because you have a crazy strong man. But if you go to France, for instance, the new it-man of international politics is Emmanuel Macron.
He’s the it-man?
I think he is. He’s really out there with a vision. With the courage to campaign and to win from the center. He was under sought from an extreme right, anti-Semitic, racist party called the National Front. And many opponents trying to win would go towards their, rearrange their politics for the moment, he did exactly the opposite, and he won from the center. And not only that, he had a group of his tech group and his digital media people knew the Russian threat and all the rest of it and they had a plan. They actually had a plan. And they beat back the Russians on this.
And that was really smart. And in Germany, they’re doing the same thing. In Britain, the Prime Minister has introduced speeches in Parliament how the government actually now does have to take a stand. This is an assault. It’s soft power, but it’s an assault.
It’s a cold war of a different type.
Not in this country, though. The mud-slinging hasn’t happened.
Well, no, but it should.
Well, yes. It should.
But how does that occur?
I don’t know. I’m not American. I don’t cover American politics. But I’m telling you that it’s possible.
So it has to happen. There needs to be a really ... Leaders like Jeff, others in the media who feel that our facts are being compromised by their lies and their enabling of it. All of that. There just needs to be united we stand, divided we fall.
And that’s often been a problem in the media industry in the United States. Not enough unity and brain power and force of all the presidents getting together and saying, “This is now what we have to do.”
So you’re not covering politics, but you’re affected by it as the international ... First of all ...
I cover the way ...
What does that do? Because CNN is attacked by the president most. I think you guys get the most ...
Yeah, we do.
Right up there.
Does that affect your coverage? How do you look at that?
I don’t think it affects my coverage at all because we absorb it, report it, and keep sticking with the substance, and I spend a lot of time talking to world leaders about how it’s changed. What is it like dealing with this kind of presidency.
What are your observations on what dealing ... Like, right now.
Well, I would say that ... I mean, it’s nothing new, but a lot of people have absorbed ... A lot of world leaders and governments have absorbed the Trump factor. So they’ve learned how to read the tweets, listen to the speeches, but watch what actually happens and base their policy around what actually happens. So let’s just take the latest, which was the tariffs. So, from Europe, the answer was, “Let’s wait and see.” But — and this is, I’m quoting now the head of the European Commission — Jean Claude Juncker said, “You know, if the U.S. can do stupid, we can do stupid and we’re gonna have to do stupid.”
Oh, that’s great policy.
I know. But I thought it was great crazy policy too, however, guess why they do it. Take the Putin invading Crimea model. You don’t stand up to this stuff and the whole field is open for more incursion, more attack, more this.
So they’re saying, if we do nothing over the steel tariffs, if we do nothing, what’s gonna come down the pike at us? We have to. This is my point. We have to, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, stand up against these incursions, whether it’s fake news incurring into our sphere, whether, whatever, governments decide how to react to tariffs and this and that.
So, you know, Eugenes, Harvey Davidsons, peanut butter, but then two days later, you hear, “Well, maybe we’re going to exempt our friends from these tariffs.” So what I’m saying is people are mostly now reacting to what the presidency does rather than what it said. But the saying is still very discombobulating.
Yeah. And really. I haven’t noticed.
But I’m speaking from the other side of the pond.
I don’t even know what it looks like from there. What does it look like from there?
Well, different, Kara.
I need a more descriptor.
Okay. Well, I mean look. I’m used to reporting on American leadership in the world. Right? Whether it’s military, whether it’s soft power, whatever it might be. And now we’re dealing with an administration that appears to say that it doesn’t, is not interested in those kinds of historic American leadership models. That it’s all about America First and economic nationalism and this and that.
And people are concerned, because if America doesn’t lead, who’s gonna lead? China? Yes. Yes. Not Russia. China. Do we want to live in a China-led, a China prism of the world? And actually, this is the most interesting thing about what happens in a North Korea, United States dialogue, because some analysts believe that this is the moment, depending on what President Trump does, depending on what’s on the negotiating table, that North Korea can start really driving the wedge, not just between the U.S. and South Korea, but fulfilling China’s greatest hope, which is to decrease the American presence in all aspects, particularly military, in Asia and the Pacific. And that’s something they’re gonna be very careful about, the United States, in these negotiations if they go ahead.
I don’t think there was any preparation, from what I can garner. Right? It’s just like, “Hey, let’s do it.” Yeah. How did that go over, internationally?
Well, you know, it led the news.
Yeah. Well, okay.
We don’t know. We don’t know. Is it gonna happen? Is it not gonna happen? They say it. Then they walk it back. Then they say it. So we’ve got to wait and see. Look, what we know, Kara, I don’t know how it’s gonna go down. But there are plenty of North, South Korea experts. They don’t happen to inhabit the Trump administration.
Because there is not a U.S. ambassador to South Korea. The state department official who’s in charge of the DMZ and all this north-south stuff and U.S. stuff retired, gone. There aren’t the ... There isn’t the structure to deal with this kind of thing right now. But there are many American officials under George W. Bush, under Bill Clinton, who have in the past been in these negotiations and could offer a massive amount of expertise if the administration wants to take it. So there are people. We did hear a week or so ago that if there was to be some kind of engagement, the Trump administration might go out of house to try to find a freelance North Korea expert.
So that is already being put around.
So, Dennis Rodman, then.
No. And don’t even joke about that.
I am not.
I don’t want this group to joke about this. This is the difference between nuclear war and potential ...
I agree. I’m not joking.
Yeah. No. It’s not gonna be Dennis Rodman.
And if it is, nothing’s gonna happen.
You know, it was Anthony Scaramucci. We were surprised by that. Like, “No.” Who I’ve met since. He’s quite charming.
But here’s the thing. This is the very important thing.
Look, the truth is that North Korea has actually done something pretty incredible. It said that, “We will freeze ballistic missile testing, we’ll freeze nuclear testing. We don’t even mind and we understand for the moment, that the U.S. and South Korea are allied militarily. That there will be military exercises and this and that.” Which they’ve always minded about, but for this moment, they’re saying, “We understand it.”
But the real fact is they — while all this negotiating, bombastic stuff has been going on over the last 20 odd years — they have now pretty close to perfected what it means to be a nuclear weapons power with a delivery system intercontinental ballistic missiles. So, what are they gonna give? And what is the United States gonna give? That’s why it’s so different today than when I covered it and went to North Korea in 2008.
Are you surprised by him moving from the bombastic stuff to this?
No. I’m not surprised, because he ... Who? Which one, by the way?
Oh. I thought because the other one was equally bombastic, Kim Jong-un.
Right. Which one’s more bombastic?
They’re both equally bombastic.
All right. Okay.
But look, President Obama, if we’re to believe what was reported, told President Trump, “Your most difficult and important challenge will be North Korea.” I’m sure that went in. Just like George W. Bush said to President Obama, “Iran is going to be your most important challenge.” And I would just say one thing. Sometimes Americans can be too cute. They believe negotiations is a zero-sum game. That we have to win everything and you have to lose everything. That will never work. Especially with a developed North Korea as we know right now.
Which is why the Iran Nuclear Deal was important. Not perfect, but important, because it involved negotiations, which meant that we had to give something in order to get something. And what we got was nuclear security for a period of years. They’re gonna have to accept that with North Korea, they’re gonna have to give something as well as take something. And for those purists who insist that negotiations are a sign of weakness, nothing will happen if that carries on.
Wow. Because this is an incredibly nuanced and complex president.
Very, very, very. And not only that.
This is not a president who thinks like that.
You have allies like Japan. I mean, the last thing between George W. Bush and Kim Jong-il, his father, sort of collapsed. Well, I mean the guy died, Kim Jong-il.
But before that, Japan was being very hard-lined on issues of reparations and the kind of stuff that emerged from their historic war with North Korea. Japan was actually a spoiler in that regard at that time. So there’s so many different angles that you have to get on board. It’s not just two leaders talking to each other. It’s everybody around. And at the same time, South Korea, which is really an important player, is potentially going to be hit by U.S. steel tariffs.
You know, that’s a problem.
When I spoke to the key South Korean national security adviser, just around the Olympic games, they were pleased that President Trump at least publicly supported and the administrator supported the South Korean plan of trying to move forward diplomatically.
Yeah. Are you hopeful? Because then I wanna get back to sex.
Yeah. I don’t know yet.
No. I’m always optimistic, though.
Are you? Not me.
All right. There was one here. This is question from [the audience]. “Do women in places you visited talk about orgasms with their daughters or each other?”
Not many of them. But for instance, in Berlin, in the episode that I did in Berlin ...
Which? The bondage one or the other?
No. Well, there’s an episode, it has different scenes.
In one of the scenes, you had ... Because here you’ve got a Western culture, very open and very equal, that’s dealing with a massive influx of refugees from the Muslim world, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, all of that kind of stuff. And they are having to teach these men how to behave respectfully and equally to women, including sexually. And we sat in on a lesson that a young German woman was giving to these equally young Syrian men. And they literally didn’t even know what the word orgasm meant, and they didn’t know that woman had them. So there was a lot of talk about how to recognize, respect, do all that.
So what was their reaction when they found out?
They were, “Really?” Yeah. Their reaction was ... “You got to see this. This is hilarious.” So, the teacher had props and things and was showing them various things like the anatomical position of various features. And when ...
They love use of the penis, right?
When they were asking about orgasms, they said, “Should we practice this now too?” And the teacher was absolutely, “No, no, no, no, no. You don’t go out and just go practice this. You have to have consent.” So there was a whole nother round of questioning. It was really sweet, actually. A lot of it is very eye-opening.
One of the things that I was just stunned by, was this wonderful ... One of the top models in Germany is an Afghan refugee. She came 10, 15 years ago. She’s this beautiful woman, young 20s. Really beautiful. And she took Claudia Schiffer’s place as the face of Germany. Really amazing that this happened there. But she introduced me to new Afghan refugees, of whom I was asking quite difficult questions about sex, about happiness, about ...
Literally, the young woman refugee, 20-odd years old, 23, pregnant with her third child, I mean, her eyes just got bigger and bigger and the horror on her face. And she said, “Nobody has ever talked to us like this before.” And my Afghan translator model said, “I’m telling you that these conversations with certain people are flat-out dangerous,” in that they have never, ever talked about their own personal happiness, much less their own sexual fulfillment.
But their daughters will grow up with a complete — here in Germany — with a completely different personal experience.
Sure. I love the whole idea of Christiane Amanpour being the ambassador of orgasm around the world. All right.
“Obviously, the culture in America surrounding dating and sex is deeply messed up. Who should young Americans be emulating? Is anyone doing it right?”
You mean in the world?
Crikey. I don’t know. Emulating.
Not the French? C’mon.
No. The French also have their issues.
Yes. They do.
How about their backlash against #MeToo?
Like, “Oh, this is going to ...” Mind you, it was only a small group of people led by a previous generation of famous people, famous actresses. But the French have a massive spike, of all the developed countries, the French have the highest rate of infidelity.
Yeah. That’s a shock.
Yeah. Well ... And the highest rate of not thinking it’s a moral issue.
And then they also have this, “Oh my goodness. What is this gonna do to flirting?” and this and that. You know? No. I don’t necessarily think the French are models. I think everybody, an amalgam of women all ... To be honest with you, I think the young women coming up now are models because they are absorbing ... And this is why the internet is also good for them. I’m not talking about porn, okay, because we didn’t go into that. Everybody does porn. We didn’t do porn.
Everybody does ...
But they do.
Love that quote.
Every time you see sex on television, if you do, it’s about porn.
So we studiously stayed away from it.
Or sexting or all the other things. We did a tiny little bit, not much.
Tiny bit of sexting. Okay. Good. Okay.
But these women in wherever, in the Arab world, in the Far East, in Africa. We had a great experience in Africa, too, in Ghana. It’s incredible. From the sassy older women to the really wonderful younger women coming up. Even in a city, Accra, that calls itself the most religious city in the world. I mean, every time you stumble out of a shop or your hotel or whatever it is, there’s a church or a mosque or some kind of temple on the sidewalk. But nonetheless, they’re still very active about their own personal space and their own personal life.
Speaking of that: “What will it take to convince mainstream Americans their personal morals are not universal?”
Well, I mean, America First. What can I tell you? You know, America’s got to get used to the fact that it’s a major leader in every aspect, but not every aspect is emulatable.
Not at all. So what will it take?
Okay. All right. Because you don’t live here.
You know what it’ll take?
What? Okay. See, I knew you knew.
It’ll take more story telling.
It’ll take more stories of just ordinary things around the world to come into the space here.
And I think that’s really important because a country as important as America and as powerful — it is still the dominant country, although China is literally, as you know better than I do, in every regard, military, economic is coming up.
And they’re good in sex too. No? Yes?
They’re learning. Told you. They’re learning about dating.
Getting there. Their minds are open. But, look. This is a massive continent. They don’t need to travel. They don’t really need to know about the rest of the world, except they do.
Because there’s tons of stuff that’s happening out there that’s actually kind of interesting, kind of eye-opening. Yeah. More storytelling from around the world.
Just like this program.
So, “What’s the most important thing you learned in 35 years at CNN?”
I tell you, first of all, I’m incredibly proud. Maybe for the young people, I would just say that there’s real currency in starting at the bottom of the ladder with a dream and, whether you’re a man or a woman, and moving up to achieve your dreams.
What was your bottom?
I was a desk assistant. Literally, the peon of the peon.
Yeah. I delivered mail at the Washington Post.
There you go. I delivered Twinkies to my boss and some coffee sometimes. And I will tell you a secret. My first boss was a woman who pissed all over my expectations and dreams. It wasn’t obvious. No. She wasn’t very ... Most of my mentors were men.
Yeah. Mine too.
Which was great, actually, because it was great. And now I’m disappointed that a woman wasn’t as encouraging as I would hope. And I’m very encouraging to lots and lots of young women and men. But I think what I really love is that I started at a startup. CNN was a startup in 1980. By the time I got there in 1983, it was still kind of a startup. You know, all the people of my ...
Yeah. Well, Ted Turner is a hero in my view. He’s an American hero, an American original. He is revolutionary.
You know, cable changed the world. Cable did something. It democratized information. It democratized news. Not just here in the United States, but around the world when we went international. Countries that only had state-sponsored news and information, suddenly if you had a satellite dish or whatever you could, you could see CNN. You could see that there was other possibilities from around the world. It seems quaint right now, but this was in 1980 and then ’90 and etc. And it did actually change the world.
And I love being in a place that ... We’re always complaining of the demise of TV and the demise of ... Look at us. Look at us. This is CNN’s moment. And we’ve had many moments. But after a trough, this is like a major, major moment. And I think people rightly look at us and know that they’re gonna get the facts and they’re gonna get the news and whether they’re here in the United States or around the world today, this is a major, major important bit of currency. Very, very important. And so I think that’s fantastic.
How do you look at the cable scene? Because some of it’s screamy.
Well, some of it is. Of course it is. But not everything. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, in my view.
Time for two more quick questions. “Were there any global trends you saw when it came to women in ‘Love and Sex Around the World?’” Any global trends?
Yeah. I think the global trend is the young people are bursting out of the confines of their culture, of their context, of their religious mores, and it’s a story — and particularly young women. This, I think, is the most important thing I learned because, anecdotally, I’ve picked up in many places that I’ve been to that over the last decade or so, women make up more than 50 percent of university students in let’s say Iran or Saudi Arabia or wherever it is, in the places you’d least imagine.
This whole #MeToo movement in the West, is happening as it’s quietly been happening around the rest of the world. Not defined by #MeToo but by education, by economic empowerment, by pushing through. By no means is it settled. And obviously over there, they do worse off than people over here. But they’re still pushing and pushing the boundaries. And you will see that the future in many of these countries will be built on the back of women. And it’s a dramatic shift, a dramatic cultural shift. And I hope that it’s one that ... And so that’s what I saw in the bedrooms when I was doing this program.
And in the bars, in all these other places where I went to talk to women and young men. The great thing about my son’s generation, he’s about to be 18, is the level — and all of you who are young people — have a level of tolerance and acceptance of gender and the relationship between men and women than, certainly, my generation and the previous generations had. And I think that’s really, really important.
Absolutely. So the final question I have. There’s a lot of others here, but, “If you had to give, Christiane Amanpour, a piece of sex advice to this group?”
I don’t think my team can handle it.
No. I think I’m just not gonna.
One? She’s gonna handle it.
You know, I hadn’t prepared for that question. Okay. Know your rights, especially if you’re women and if you’re men, respect your partners, respect the girls. Old-fashioned courtship is gonna come back.
Christiane Amanpour. [applause]
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.