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First-Ever Joint Interview with Tina Brown and Harry Evans

Aired December 25, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, journalism in the digital age. Are we in the midst of a brave new world? And who will be the guardians of democracy in the future?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

We're living and constantly debating the dramatic changes in our media landscape all over the world. Witness the social network phenomenon after the disputed elections in Iran this summer. It seemed that new media had cemented its place. As for old media, newspapers, often on the cutting edge of democracy and reform, are falling now like a house of cards. Thousands of jobs are being shed.

And what effect does that have in critical fields such as international and investigative reporting? What does all of this mean for our societies, our world?

We'll ask the royal couple of old and new media, Sir Harry Evans and Tina Brown, each trailblazers in their own right, as CNN's Mary Snow now reports.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): October 1967, the headline told of a blockbuster spy revelation. That spy was Kim Philby, exposed as part of a British ring spying for the Soviet Union. He came from within British intelligence.

After years of suspicion and denials, Philby's identity was only revealed when the Sunday Times and editor Harold Evans broke one of the biggest stories of the 20th century.

Then there was thalidomide, a drug approved by the government, given to pregnant women to treat morning sickness, but it causes horrible deformities in babies. Evans used the paper to lead a crusade, forcing the government to compensate heartbroken mothers.

It was those kind of stories that led the queen to later knight Evans for his service to journalism, but his storied career wasn't all accolades. In 1981, Rupert Murdoch bought the Times of London with Evans as editor. The two were soon on a collision course.

SIR HARRY EVANS, JOURNALIST AND EDITOR: The differences between me and Mr. Murdoch should not be prolonged. I am therefore resigning tonight as the editor of the Times.

SNOW: Evans left the famous newspaper he had built up over 14 years.

EVANS: The last thing in the world Rupert Murdoch wants is an editor who doesn't take orders, "Aye, aye, sir." He's an "Aye, aye, sir" man.

SNOW: Evans moved to America and reinvented himself, heading up the Atlantic Monthly, founding Conde Nast Traveler, and becoming president of Random House, overseeing memoirs by Colin Powell, Marlon Brando, and in 1995, a young author named Barack Obama. That's before writing his own books.

And Evans was not alone as a journalism luminary. His wife, Tina Brown, has been just as much a star in her field. She turned a 300-year- old British magazine, Tattler, into a hot commodity, quadrupling its circulation. In the U.S., she shed Vanity Fair's staid image with celebrity covers like this one, showing actress Demi Moore very pregnant, but not very dressed, and then brought some dazzle to the very literary New Yorker. Her changes were controversial, but she boosted numbers.

In 1999, a brand-new venture, Talk magazine, its launch party of A- listers showed the kind of splash Brown hoped to make.

TINA BROWN, JOURNALIST AND EDITOR: Very eclectic, but at the same time, driven by a point of view and a smart take and fresh voices and intimate access.

SNOW: By 2002, the magazine folded, but her newest venture, the online Daily Beast, is a thought leader in journalism, showing that Brown, like her husband, has had a knack for reinventing herself and her industry. As Web sites like hers gain viewers, newspapers and magazines where Brown and Evans made their fame are struggling just to survive. But in journalism, Harry Evans and Tina Brown still take starring roles together.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


AMANPOUR: So joining me now are Sir Harold Evans, who chronicles his life and career in his new book, "My Paper Chase," and Tina Brown, who as you just heard is the founder and editor of the Daily Beast.

Welcome to you both. And I think we should note that this is the first time you've agreed to appear together, and we're very grateful. We're very happy to explore some of this.

EVANS: Beauty and the beast.

AMANPOUR: Well, there you go. We said old and new, but we didn't mean that chronologically.

EVANS: I know.

AMANPOUR: We meant in the media landscape.

EVANS: Of course.

AMANPOUR: You know, I want to ask you, Harry, I was watching you watch that report, and when you came up resigning during the tenure of Rupert Murdoch at the Times, you looked quite wistful. Take us back to that moment, what it means to you personally and professionally.


EVANS: Well, it was a setback, no doubt. Maybe I made some mistakes, but I don't want to dwell on it too much, because it was a very adventurous time. Nobody has ever edited both the Sunday Times and the Times, so I was very glad to edit the Times even for a year before the guillotine came down.

I was wistful because it meant I was going to say goodbye to a lot of wonderful colleagues and people, but I'd no idea that I was going to have what Scott Fitzgerald said was impossible, a second act in America. So I have no regrets looking back; I mean, the United States gave me an embrace.

AMANPOUR: Embraced you.

EVANS: And I've put down roots here. You have a job (ph) to pick me up again.

AMANPOUR: And embraced Tina, as well.

EVANS: Well, metaphorically.

AMANPOUR: I'll say. I'll say. It's just been one success after the other, except for Talk.

BROWN: Well, I have had the most amazing time in America. You know, and actually what was exciting for us both was to come here together, sort of in a strange way in equal terms, because in England, of course, Harry was the huge superstar in English journalism. When we came to America, we both came as sort of new -- new immigrants, really, and we've had this adventure together, and it's been the most remarkably, fabulously, you know, exciting time.

AMANPOUR: What is different for you being a journalist in America rather than back in Britain?

BROWN: I think that the -- in England, Britain, you do always feel the boundaries, you know? I mean, in America, there's this wonderful sense of a free place to conquer, in terms of audiences that are ever growing. There's a sense of -- of freedom of reporting. I mean, not until I worked in America did I understand how tight the legal laws are in England and how constrained you are and how this whole atmosphere of sort of class and -- and just the establishment...

EVANS: And the law. And the law.

BROWN: ... and the law are actually...

AMANPOUR: And the law, in terms of libel?

BROWN: ... are actually, you know, just something that British journalists accept, and I hadn't felt imprisoned about it when I was there, but working here, it's a very different phenomenon, which I think you feel.

EVANS: I did. When I joined the Sunday Times as editor, I mean, I joined it earlier and put up my hands in an exclamation, "This should not happen," I found there was a wall here and a wall here, and it was a legal wall saying, "You cannot say this. You cannot expose the thalidomide children. You cannot campaign for the thalidomide children. You cannot investigate"...

AMANPOUR: So how did you do it?

EVANS: Well, a certain amount...

AMANPOUR: With all those pushback?

EVANS: Well, first of all...

BROWN: You -- you broke down the walls. I mean...

EVANS: I broke down the walls. How did I break down the walls? First of all, I had a very rare thing, a lawyer who believed in publishing the truth.

You (inaudible) truth in the (inaudible) OK, say you'll appreciate that. And he showed me how I might challenge the law in a -- not just by saying, "Oh, I'm going to defy the law." There's nothing -- I believe in the rule of law. So we had to do things as legally as we could, but challenge.

And he gave me the -- and, secondly, the support of a proprietor, Roy Thompson (ph), who totally believed in investigative journalism, who totally believed in challenging authority. In fact, when I took the job, the chairman said to me, "You'll be totally free so long as you don't criticize the queen." I said -- I said, "So it's OK to criticize her government?" "Yes, go ahead."

AMANPOUR: So you -- thalidomide had an effect, breaking of that story meant that that drug was no longer given to women.

EVANS: The greatest effect -- we got compensated for the children, which was being denied to them, and secondly, the British government, when I won the case in Europe, had to change the law affecting contempt of court, which said that as soon as the case is before the court, nobody can comment. That doesn't apply in the United States.

AMANPOUR: And what about the effect on investigative journalism in today's world, not just in the new media world, the digital world that you're in now and pioneering, but also in the world where you see resources slashed and certainly not enough rein given to investigations?

EVANS: Well, I'm sure Tina will agree with this. We both constantly talk about this. And the fact is that, as soon as you stop investigating - - that means finding things out which somebody wants to conceal, you are going to face disasters.

Now, do you want some examples? The financial meltdown, not discovered, not detected, not reported in the newspapers. The war in Iraq, the real reasons for going into Iraq not investigated, not -- Katrina, to a lesser extent. So -- maybe Afghanistan, which you know a lot about. So we're actually living a life of what it's like to be without the press.

AMANPOUR: So, Tina, can the digital media actually take the place of traditional media and all its resources and all its time and all its original reporting?

BROWN: Well, let me, first of all, say, I think there is a bad rap, in a sense, that digital media has ruined, as it were, journalism for the mainstream media. I would say the mainstream media, so called, has been ruined by the greed of management, because actually the greed of management was what has disemboweled newspapers and, frankly, killed off investigative reporting long before the digital world. I mean...



AMANPOUR: But now that we're in the digital world -- and you're absolutely right about the resources and the profit motive -- what can your media do to fill in if we're not going to have traditional investigative reporting, which is so vital in local and national...

EVANS: Let me say this. She did a marvelous piece on the Beast which showed -- which no newspaper did, an investigative piece of how members of Congress were bribed by Fannie and Freddie, the housing behemoths who led us into this terrible crisis (inaudible) and on the Web site, the Daily Beast, they showed which -- which congressmen got how much money.

AMANPOUR: But do you think it can have the same effect, Tina, when you look down the line?

BROWN: Well, I do. You see, I actually do think it can. I think, unfortunately, we're in this very scary transition right now from one kind of media climate to another. It's kind of like the industrial revolution applied to media, so there's a kind of scary sort of hiatus right now, when the money isn't -- seem to be in either place.

I actually think that we will be able to protect investigative journalism. I think financial models will be found to make Web sites profitable enough, which will simply mean allocating resources. And actually, I think there's so much journalistic excitement amongst the young now, so much desire, in fact, to cover stuff, and so much ease of starting up things that I actually do think ultimately investigative journalism can prosper.

AMANPOUR: So it's interesting to hear you speak like this about investigative journalism, because you're no more for the glossy, for the high brow, low brow, which you sort of brought into the -- the journalism lexicon, whether it was at Vanity Fair, New Yorker, Tattler, et cetera. I -- I sense you being a little harder in your focus. Is that right, Tina?

BROWN: Well, you know...

EVANS: Well, can we say this as her defense? I mean...

AMANPOUR: No, that wasn't...


EVANS: But when she -- when she -- when you investigated, when you investigated how the princess of Wales' phones were tapped, everybody else had passed it by. You said, who tapped her phones? Were they tapped? Was it paranoia? And you investigated that right in your book about the princess of Wales.

BROWN: Well, I did, but that, of course, took me many months to investigate, to -- to Christiane's point. I mean, the kind of stuff -- I think what makes people very excited when they read "My Paper Chase," Harry's book, is that they do have a feeling of a world in which the money was there to support a journalistic ethos, which does feel like it's evaporated. I mean, the kind of stuff that you did at the Sunday Times, it took time, it took passion, it took a big staff. I mean, you know, your investigations had a staff of...

EVANS: Well, when you say a big staff, just hang on a second.

BROWN: Well, how many people were on your investigative team?

EVANS: Well, look, I had 135 journalists on the Sunday Times when the New York Times had more than 1,000. I mean, the Washington Post had more than 1,000. We didn't have a large staff. Where did you get that idea?

BROWN: I mean, comparatively thinking...

EVANS: No, but, seriously, where did you get that idea?

BROWN: I mean, seven people, you know, investigating thalidomide and collecting materials.

EVANS: Yes. Yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR: So what did you have? If it wasn't a huge staff, what made the difference that we don't have today?

EVANS: Well, first of all, I -- I only appointed geniuses. They had to come in with an IQ -- no, seriously, they had to come -- we had a very disparate staff. We had antique dealers. We had former embezzlers, former military people. We had former spies. We had every -- every former you could think of, so we had a variety of talent. Very important. They didn't come out of a homogenous background, you know...

BROWN: So Harry's -- Harry's anti-journalism school, and that's...

EVANS: Well, I was in that sense, not in the sense (inaudible) we had that. We had the -- the confidence that if we did expose something, the proprietor and the chairman would stick up for us and not wilt at the first complaint from an advertiser.

AMANPOUR: And we will pick this up right after a break. More with Harry Evans and Tina Brown when we return.




RUPERT MURDOCH, MEDIA MOGUL: Some rewrite -- at times without attribution -- the news stories of expensive and distinguished journalists who invested days, weeks, or even months on their stories -- all under the tattered veil of fair use.

These people are not investing in journalism. They're feeding off the hard-earned efforts and investments of others, and their almost wholesale misappropriation of our stories is not fair use. To be impolite, it's theft.


AMANPOUR: That was the News Corp's Rupert Murdoch, Harry Evans' former boss and one of the world's most powerful media barons today, strongly criticizing, as you heard there, new media. Joining me again, Sir Harry Evans and Tina Brown.

Do you agree? He said "theft."

BROWN: I know. It's funny, because a day later, he -- the Wall Street Journal, which he owns, took a big piece out of something that I wrote and, you know, quoted it at exactly the kind of length that we do when we quote the Wall Street Journal. So I don't know.

There's a little bit of overhype about theft in this sense. At the Daily Beast, anyway, we link to people. I mean, we -- we summarize and we link, and then we have -- 70 percent of it is our own commissioned material, which is paid-for content ourselves, so we're not the actual kind of theft model that he's really talking about. I understand the business...

AMANPOUR: Does he have a point in terms of -- of -- of their content, newspaper content and others, being online and not being paid for?

BROWN: Absolutely -- of course, I mean, newspapers have just -- the horse has bolted, in that sense. I mean, they opened the door, gave away their content, and then were amazed when they weren't making any money. I never understood that theory in the beginning at all.

EVANS: I think...

AMANPOUR: Is it possible to reverse it, do you think?

EVANS: Well, I think the test is...

AMANPOUR: Will people pay for online content?

EVANS: Here's the question. If Rupert Murdoch does as he's doing now, create at the Wall Street Journal a first-class newspaper -- there's no doubt about it. It's a first-class newspaper, and he and his editor have done that.

And if people find things of unique value that they will be prepared to pay, just as people come to your Beast because you have unique things there, when Christopher Buckley leaves the Republican Party, that's unique to you. People would have been prepared to pay. You were letting them have it free, and I think that's right as you build up the business.

AMANPOUR: Harry, I want to ask you -- I want to go back to your early days when you were a kid -- and it's documented in your book -- it's a beautiful story of when you were some 12 years old and it was that terrible evacuation of the defeat from Dunkirk. What did you see on the beaches of England?

EVANS: Well, I was a kid of 12, and I wanted to build this sand wall to keep the Irish Sea out and the Irish, too, if we could, because they used to take too many deckchairs on the beach. My father insisted we went for a walk, and then I saw these men sprawled...

AMANPOUR: Just lying...

EVANS: ... all beyond the pier, totally inert...

AMANPOUR: As if they are dead.

EVANS: Today I would have thought they're homeless. Why doesn't somebody take them to a shelter? But they weren't; they were soldiers who the day before had been pounded on the beaches of France by Stuka dive- bombers, the German Panzers closing in, and they were -- my father squatted on his haunches, gave them -- my father was 39 and a Stoke locomotive engineer -- and talked to them.

And he -- and he did something I should have done. I was -- I was so irritated he was talking to these men. He did something I should have done: asked questions, listened, listened. And when he came back, he reported to the people in the boarding house what Dunkirk had really been like and why the men felt betrayed. You didn't find it in a newspaper anywhere.

What the newspaper headlines were, were, "Bloody marvelous," "Our troops can't wait to get back." It was a total lie.

AMANPOUR: And it was, yeah, a lie and a defeat.


EVANS: ... that made me think about journalism. I realized that it was necessary to keep up people's morale -- and Tina knew my dad, and he was (inaudible) so blunt and forthright. At the same time, I thought that, once you start shading the truth in a newspaper, you're in trouble. And the -- we were already in trouble.

Don't forget. In 1939, the British people and the world had been denied the truth of what was happening in Hitler's Germany. We denied the truth that Britain was almost defenseless.

AMANPOUR: So, Harry, Tina is pointing to the indispensable role of -- of just basic reporting and basic truth through journalism.

BROWN: Well, never believing what you're fed without questioning. And I think it's very difficult, particularly for journalists -- you know, we're always hearing about how difficult it is for people in public life now to deal with the media, but how about how difficult it is for the media to deal with politicians now who are so canned, so on message, so utterly fed with the party line, they never speak truth to journalists at all. I mean, frankly, it's just one big spin machine out there.

EVANS: Quite right. It used to -- I used to...

BROWN: And it's very difficult to get any -- to get anyone in public life to actually speaks candidly about...

EVANS: Totally right.

AMANPOUR: Do you think we're too celebrity-focused? Are we too struck by the trappings of power and fame?

BROWN: Well, I have to say that I think that, particularly during the lead-up to Iraq, I mean, people just fell on the floor and slobbered over the Bush administration in ways that were just appalling. I mean, that's something -- you know -- you know, as -- as a profession, to be forever ashamed. And I think that a lot of that's about the power of access. It's about the desire to kind of get those cameras in, you know, and if you get shut out, it's like you failed.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, because obviously your papers, your magazines have been fairly celebrity-dominated, and you seem to be having an evolution of your thoughts, of your journalism. Tell me.


BROWN: Well, I have to say that I think -- actually, when we began Vanity Fair and the celebrity covers, they actually did give us access and gave us some interviews.

EVANS: You had a lot of foreign affairs stuff, a lot of...

BROWN: Oh, yeah, we did. And we did a lot of hard reporting in Vanity Fair. I always regarded the celebrities as the packaging. I mean, we did terrific pieces, you know, by people like T.D. Allman and -- and -- and Alex Shoumatoff and so on reporting on, you know, Haiti and Noriega and all those stories that we did that were hard...

EVANS: And the...


BROWN: ... the hard things. I mean, we've done a lot of investigation at Vanity Fair, and -- and the covers were the way in. But I think -- I mean, I just wouldn't bother now with doing that kind of celebrity interviewing, where you just sit, and everything is set up in a hotel room, and you get two hours of this. It's just a waste of time. You're better off with a smart piece.

We do a lot of commentary now that's really well informed, from the inside of -- of -- at the belt -- you know, the whole political spectrum, where people are actually only writing if they have something to say.

AMANPOUR: Obviously, one of the most famous covers -- we saw it in that piece -- was the Demi Moore pregnant, nude cover.


AMANPOUR: Is that even relevant these days? I mean, was it just of its moment?

BROWN: That cover -- that cover was a wonderful breakthrough cover. No one had shown a pregnant woman's stomach on a cover before with a celebrity. I was pregnant at the time, and I felt rebellious. I felt, "I'm tired of -- of, you know, dressing in maternity clothes. Let's just let it all hang out." That was a blow for women.

EVANS: That's my fault.

BROWN: I'm very, very proud of that cover.

AMANPOUR: Your -- you -- in your book, you say you fell in love with Tina because of what?

EVANS: Well, first of all, she was quite brilliant, of course, and she made me laugh like a lot, like she did when she writes today. She can make people laugh. And she was very brave and very passionate about journalism, about wanting to write things, and that made me...

BROWN: I also stalked him.

AMANPOUR: You stalked him?

EVANS: She did.

BROWN: Yeah. I mean, Harry was such a glamorous journalist, I mean, I was in love with journalism from the age of 12, so for me to see Harry in action, when Harry was doing the front page, I first saw -- walked in and saw Harry laying out the front page at the Sunday Times. I mean, it was like watching Nijinsky dance, as far as I was concerned, in terms of newspapers. And I've always -- my biggest regret, really, was -- was that I haven't been, you know, able to work for him on a newspaper in America.

EVANS: Well, I'd like -- I'd like to work for you on the Beast. Please -- please take me on the Beast.

BROWN: I would have worked for him in a heartbeat.

AMANPOUR: So you love this so much...

EVANS: Oh, yeah.

AMANPOUR: ... you love each other so much, where is journalism going? Are we going to love what we do in the next several years?

EVANS: Yes, we are, because, in many ways, it's a golden age, because we can retrieve a lot of information, can't retrieve understanding, and a lot of information has to be (inaudible) but, for instance, the other day, I -- I was asked by the Guardian to write on the Gaza war, so I wanted the Goldstone Report. I didn't have to walk down to the U.N. Bang, bang, bang, bang, I called (inaudible) and then I knew what I believed about the 500-page report. It's fantastic.

AMANPOUR: What would you tell young people today who ask -- I'm sure you, they ask me all the time, how can we get into journalism? It's so difficult today. How can we do what you do? What would you tell them?

EVANS: First of all, admit ignorance and therefore enflame your curiosity. And if your curiosity is enflamed when you ask questions like, "Why have we still got 10 percent unemployed people? Why? What's happening? What's happening to the loans? What's happened to small businesses?" And then try and find an answer, and then go to somebody like Tina and say, "I have a piece. I think this is missing in the small- business puzzle. This is why people are not being taken on. Would you like a piece? Would you like that piece, Tina?"

AMANPOUR: And what would you tell them, Tina?

BROWN: I would say write it immediately, and I'll pay something for it, not as much as I would have paid if I'd been Harry at the Sunday Times, but at least it's a great foot in.

I do think that what Harry said is absolutely right. So many young journalists are not actually going in with a question and a desire to have it answered.

That is the best way to get published is to actually supply an answer from shoe-leather reporting. And I don't think there's an editor around who's going to say no to it.

EVANS: That's right. Don't -- don't think you're going to be a great writer. Find things out. Find out. Find out. Find out. Find out.

AMANPOUR: And on that note, thank you both so much. This has been a lot of fun.

EVANS: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you. And I hope young people are listening, because it's a great profession, as they know.

Join this debate on the future of journalism. Go to our Web site,, and we'll also have a special webcast there, much more with Harry Evans and Tina Brown.

And next, a new form of protest in Iran that's got the attention of old and new media, when we return.



AMANPOUR: Now, our "Post-Script." The continuing protests in Iran and the use of social networking sites to get the message out, places like Facebook, Twitter, and other Web sites. Now, anti-government protestors are using sites to highlight the arrest of student activist Majid Tavakoli. He was taken in December the 7th.

The pro-government Fars News Agency has showed pictures of him in custody dressed in a woman's chador. The opposition say it's an attempt to humiliate him. And within hours, Iranian men began posting pictures of themselves on the Internet wearing women's headscarves.

One pro-democracy blogger wrote, quote, "It's ironic how the headscarf, which was traditionally seen as a symbol of women's oppression, is now being used by men to show membership in a liberation movement."

And that's it for now. Thank you for watching. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.