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Interview with Aaron Sorkin and Elizabeth Shackleford. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired December 14, 2017 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the Oscar winning screenwriter who panned the script for A Few Good Men and was the master of dialogue
behind The West Wing. Now trying a hand at directing, Aaron Sorkin joins me to talk about Molly's Game and the real life fanatical drama happening
in The West Wing.
Plus, my exclusive conversation with an award winning U.S. diplomat who quit her job after sending Secretary Rex Tillerson a blistering resignation
letter, Elizabeth Shackelford's story.
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AMANPOUR: Good Evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christane Amanpour in London. Aaron Sorkin is ore than just a screen writer. He's
an adjective with Sorkineque representing the smart, sharp, rapid fire dialogue that drives some of Hollywood's most successful movies and TV
And now he's taken on a new challenge as director and writer of Molly's Game, nominated for two Golden Global awards this week. It's the story of
Molly Bloom who lead an adrenaline filled life as the so called poker princess of New York and LA, targeted by the MOB and the FBI. Take a look.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you understand nobody gives a shit about your good name -
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me why!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it's all I have left.
AMANPOUR: Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba there and once again, Aaron Sorkin taps directly into the headlines portraying a powerful woman in a
world of hostile men. Aaron Sorkin, welcome to the program.
AARON SORKIN, DIRECTOR OF MOLLY'S GAME: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: So you are making your debut as a director with Molly's Game, I'm definitely going to get into that in a moment but you are a little bit
of a cultural, social, political Zellique. You're everywhere with your work. So let's just take West Wing and ask you to drill down on your
analysis of what just happened in recent elections, Alabama and a like.
SORKIN: First of all, the whole idea of behind The West Wing was by in large in popular culture, our leaders, our elected leaders are portrayed
either as Machiavellian or dolts and the idea with The West Wing was that we were going to show a group of very competent people.
The show was to be romantic and idealistic and people responded to that. And I think in the same way people responded Tuesday night when Doug Jones
won the election in Alabama. There was just a sense that Alabama had joined the coalition of the decent and it was a cause for jubilation.
AMANPOUR: Do you think that it is more than just about Roy Moore being a really bad candidate at this time. Do you think it has bigger cultural
political implications for the United States?
SORKIN: I can tell you what I hope it is which is that it's the end of the beginning of - or the beginning of the beginning of something new. We
spend the last year just feeling horrible about ourselves and that we're climbing our way out.
AMANPOUR: So just let me push you a little bit on The West Wing, you said it resonated with a lot of people and of course it did, it was massively
successful and it was about competent people doing things that were good and results driven. But it was very progressive and they say, I wonder
whether you agree that the whole Trump Election, the backlash amongst a certain demographic in the United States was precisely against that
progressive, liberal sort of Hollywood defeat culture that the look at and despise.
SORKIN: I think there's no doubt about it. I disagree that Trump was elected because he somehow managed to connect with working class Americans,
I never once heard him talk about working class Americans. I've never heard him talk about anything but himself and his enemies.
I think that what makes Trump popular amongst a certain group of people is that he's an excellent stick with which to poke liberals in the eye. They
just get very happy when Hollywood and New York get sad.
AMANPOUR: But he did poke them in the eye and he did use that stick to great effect, must greater effect than Hillary Clinton did. He actually
had a message, whatever you might think about it, make America great again, using that stick against liberals, talking about jobs was a message. And I
ask you because even after Alabama, some democrats are saying, listen, we've got to get it strait, we've got to get a message, we can't just keep
focusing on Trump. Do you think the Democratic Party or those anywhere who oppose President Trump have got their act together?
AARON SORKIN, WRITER/DIRECTOR, MOLLY'S GAME: Now we need to get our act together. Just being against Donald Trump isn't enough to attract voters.
Now I do think it's - I understand people who are saying this is an emergency, Trump is a huge problem. He's a guy with an observable
psychiatric disorder who doesn't know anything and doesn't seem curious about anything.
That is a dangerous situation so first things first let's stop the bleeding, but to win elections the Democrats are going to need a message.
AMANPOUR: So I heard you say that before about a psychiatric disorder. Obviously, I'm not going to get in there. Nobody has diagnosed him or even
examined him but...
SORKIN: Yes, Christiane and I know that people would respond to what I just said by saying where's your medical degree? You don't need a medical
degree to put your hand on your child's forehead and know that they have a fever or to see that someone's bleeding and know to call 911. You don't
need a medical degree to know that there is a serious narcissistic personality disorder going on with this man.
AMANPOUR: Can we talk about another serious disorder and that is the disorder of the social abuse scandal that has roughed your industry in
Hollywood and of course ours and many others, including politics. And I ask because your new film Molly's Game is most definitely about a strong
autonomous woman who's not going to be pushed who comes from sort of a disadvantage and makes a poker game for the Hollywood elite and others and
becomes very - very rich.
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AMANPOUR: Is that - I know you had the idea obviously way before this scandal, but it comes at an incredibly important time.
SORKIN: Yes, the move which you're right is about a woman navigating a world of very powerful men. Many of whom don't treat her very well. Many
of whom get upset when she doesn't show sufficient respect for their power and they have to ruin her because of that. It turns out that the movie was
more relevant than any of us expected it to be. God knows I would happily trade the fortuitous timing for a world where it wasn't quite as relevant.
AMANPOUR: Do you think though things are changing? Do you feel the tipping point? I guess how much did you know about what was going on in
Hollywood, the whole Harvey Weinstein sort of cascade that it's unleashed?
SORKIN: I knew nothing. I hate to sound like Sergeant Schultz, but everyone was saying that everybody knew everybody knew. Everybody didn't
know. I didn't know, I knew that Harvey Weinstein was a guy with a bad temper and that wasn't something I wanted to collaborate with, but I didn't
know about any of the - what ranges from sexual harassment to straight up rape. I didn't know about any of it, it's horrifying I'm horrified and
heartbroken for the victims.
And I think that the silver lining is that the dam has burst. I mean this is almost like a biblical flood that's happening. And my hope is - I can't
predict what's going to happen, but my hope is that any sexual harassers in waiting that are coming in how business will be sufficiently scared to
death by what's happened to the people - by what's happened to the assaulters. They've gotten the death penalty in Hollywood.
AMANPOUR: Yes, and again he's denied quite a lot of those allegations, but I do want to push you on that. Do you think - because now some people said
they sent it Al Franken some of the journalists who've just been fired say that they deny some of the stuff that has been alleged against them and
they're very dismayed about losing their jobs.
Do you as part of the cultural observer, are you concerned about a backlash, are you concerned that it may go too far?
SORKIN: Here's what I'm concerned about. I think that I'll read from time to time that all of the alleged victims deserved to be believed, that all
of the women deserve to be believed and I don't agree with that. I think that all of the women deserve to be heard, I think that all of the women
deserve to be taken seriously, but I think that the accused to be heard and taken seriously too, otherwise, what we have is a mob. And my second point
is that, we're risking the movement petering out, we're risking progress stopping if those who are opposed to progress in this area, sense that
we're being (ph) about stuff.
AMANPOUR: The great actress, Jane Fonda, told me that when it comes to standing up for women, not just on the sexual harassment front, but on the
pay disparity in Hollywood and particularly on ageism in Hollywood, men her Hollywood brethren in have to stand up for her as well.
SORKIN: There's no question about it. Men have to get off the bench and get in to this fight, but we must be allowed in to the fight. Another
words, you know, women, this can't be, you know, women good men bad, all right? We're, people need to recognize when they're on the same team.
AMANPOUR: The star of your latest film is the phenomenal, Jessica Chastain, whose not only a brilliant actress, but she is a card carrying
SORKIN: Jessica is a phenomenal actress and she is phenomenal in this part. It's a tour de force performance. She straps the movie to her back
in the first scene and she doesn't let it down until the end credits roll. Jessica is outspoken about the things that she believes. The things that
she believes are the things that I believe. I think that she's on the side of the angels. I admire that she uses her platform to help people who
don't have one.
AMANPOUR: What made you take on this project? What attracted you about it? How did you come to know about it?
SORKIN: I came to know about it when, an entertainment lawyer, I know a little bit socially, sent me the book. Said, would you read this book and
then meet with my client, Molly Bloom? And I said, sure and I read the book, the book is a fun read, it's a wild ride, I would recommend it to
anyone. It is the story of, of how Molly went from, about a hundred yards from making the US Olympic ski team, to becoming the biggest game runner in
And I, I read the book, I loved it but I wasn't thinking it was a movie that was quite in my wheel house, until I met Molly. And Molly was not who
I was expecting she was going to be. She's a brilliant women, she is strong as a tree, she's got a wonderfully, kind of sly wit, and she built
out of integrity. And it tuned out that the book was just the very tip of a very large ice burg. Much more complicated, much more emotional, and
aspirational(ph), and inspirational than I imagined and that's what really got my attention.
AMANPOUR: And just to talk about another, you know, issue that obviously you've been, presumably dealing with, is the whole fake news issue that has
just buffeting the world for the last year. And as, you know, the producer, the writer of Newsroom, I wonder what you make of that? Because
it does challenge everything, right? I mean, if everybody believes that they can't believe anything, it's going to really unbalance the world.
SORKIN: Yes, it absolutely scares the heck out of me. What a good job the Trump administration has done undermining our faith in journalism. You
know, of course, CNN and the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal; of course, they're going to make mistakes. But from what I've seen, when
they make a mistake, they absolutely own up to it.
Compare that to the fusillade of lies that come out of the White House, that come out the White House press briefing room. And the fact is, you
know, one day the Trump administration will be over, whether it's seven years from now, three years from now, or three months from now.
When that happens, we are still going to be left with a significant portion of the population that doesn't believe things that are provable true, and
does believe things that are provably false. And since, a well informed electorate is critical to the health of a democracy, I don't know what in
the world to do about that.
AMANPOUR: Aaron Sorkin, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us tonight.
SORKIN: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: Now nobody had ever heard about my next guest until she resigned last week, but her scathing resignation letter to U.S. Secretary of State,
Rex Tillerson, where she accuses him of undercutting the State Department and damaging America's influence in the world has been making serious waves
in diplomatic circles, in part because she also urged Tillerson to follow her out the door if he couldn't show better leadership.
Her name is Elizabeth Shackelford. She served as diplomat for seven years in South Sudan, Kenya, and Poland, and she joins a wave of departures from
the Korea Foreign Service triggered by Tillerson's drastic cutbacks and overhaul of the department. She joined me from Nairobi for her first
interview since she resigned.
Elizabeth Shackelford, welcome to the program. You basically, in your letter, accused the Secretary of State and the administration of showing
"stinging disrespect" for the Foreign Service diplomatic work which is as you say necessary to avert global disaster in increasingly dangerous times.
So just walk us through what you mean by that.
ELIZABETH SHACKELFORD: Well I don't think that anybody has missed the comment that President Trump has made about our role in diplomacy and the
State Department itself. I mean after President Putin expelled a lot of our diplomats from Russia, President Trump thanked him for doing so.
We're out there on - in a lot of very difficult and dangerous places. I think what's been even harder to take, however, is that you haven't seen
Secretary Tillerson standing up for us in any of this, and what's moving forward right now with the huge attempted budget cuts and staffing cuts it
just makes it really obvious that the value of the people who are doing this on the ground he doesn't appreciate.
AMANPOUR: So let me just read you some of the statistics and some of the complaints in Washington that actually match and mirror yours and almost
bipartisan complaints from senate panels and other foreign policy panels. So a letter to Secretary Tillerson last month from the Democratic members
of the House Committee on Foreign affairs deeply concerned by the exodus of more than 100 senior Foreign Service Officers from the State Department
since January. The number of Korea ambassadors has dropped by an astounding 60%, and John McCain, the ranking Republican in the Senate said
that that exodus of talent undermines America's - not just it's diplomacy, but its welfare and its security.
SHACKELFORD: Absolutely. I mean it's very true and I think what we're seeing now, we've been watching over the past years as the higher ranks of
the Foreign Service have been leaving and that does affect us immediately in the near term in terms of our influence and our ability to steer the
situation across the globe and global security which affects us at home. I think what people are starting to notice is that we're also losing and
beginning to lose people in the middle rank, so by losing so many people at the middle levels right now, the people who are supposed to be in those
ranks 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, we don't have that. So we're losing not only our influence right now, but our ability to have influence overseas in
AMANPOUR: Just give me and idea, for instance, so that the American people - people around the world know what people like you do in the field that
perhaps doesn't get written about. You were in charge - responsible for a mission in South Sudan shortly after it became an independent nation. And
I think you were there, you got an award citing your leadership and your crisis management skills. Tell us about that.
SHACKELFORD: There are two different areas where we play a really big role that does affect Americans. There's our foreign policy which impacts our
ability to travel and trade and engage in business overseas, and then there's helping American citizens out in difficult and far pulling (ph)
What I did in South Sudan as a counselor officer there was engage in instances to American citizens, and that is - it's incredibly important
work that most people back home, particularly if you don't travel, don't see. But when the war broke out in December of 2013, it happened very
rapidly. There were many Americans in the country for a variety of reasons, and we had to organize very quickly to help get them out of harms
So part of my role then was to organize our evacuations of American citizens and others, and you don't really have a manual for how to do that.
You just come together, look at the problem, and figure out how you can organize to get as many Americans to a safe place as quickly as possible.
AMANPOUR: So with you resignation and with the huge exodus that I just laid out, do you think that those kinds of on the ground, you know, mono e
mono, face to face, really like and death operations are at risk?
SHACKELFORD: I do because well we might have the interest in continuing to help American citizens for example you have to have resources on the
ground. Every day of our work is not about a crisis or an election in a foreign country or something quite that consequential but you can't sweep
into a place where you don't have relationships and find a way to problem solve.
So, I do think that our ability to react like that quickly and decisively to avert disaster whether political or assisting American citizens in those
situations it is definitely going to be impacted by losing so many people with these skills - skill sets and assess.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Tillerson says, "The department is making sure that we have the staff we need" according to the State Department's statement.
And, "The department has never had a comprehensive employee led review of its functions and there's no better time than now to see how we can improve
them. That's obviously a Trump administration mantra. Does he have a point though?
SHACKELFORD: Well, first of all every secretary comes in and assesses the situation and engages in some kind of - some kind of review and some
changes. So, no, I don't think this is the first time anybody has looked and taken a complete review of the system. I think every secretary does
And, I think that frankly Secretary Tillerson does not yet fully understand all of the roles of the State Department. He's been very focused on this
reorganization but I'm not sure that he understands fully what we're doing at our different embassy's abroad. So, I'm not sure that he's in a very
good position to be judging that.
Particularly as he is advised not by a lot of people who have a long term experience with the department. I think the difference with what's been
happening is that we on the inside do not get the feeling that the changes that he's making and pursuing are being done to make us more effective. On
the inside it feels like those changes are being made to make us less relevant.
AMANPOUR: Even the Secretary of Defense former General Mattis has said on Capitol Hill many times that look I need the State Department. I need
diplomacy to do the work that otherwise I will have to do with bullets and more ammunition. So, he definitely supports diplomacy and Rex Tillerson
himself is always talking about the diplomatic root.
I mean standing in quite stark contrast to President Trump himself and often getting sort of pushed down. For instance when he talks about
diplomacy with North Korea. It's a little bit of a cognitive dissidence isn't it?
SHACKELFORD: It absolutely is. And for us on the inside it's very difficult or formerly on the inside it is very difficult for us to
understand why it seems to be that only the White House does not understand the importance of what we do, the importance of diplomacy and of soft (ph)
Our military colleagues do appreciate it and I believe that Secretary Tillerson appreciates it I don't believe that he seems willing so far to
push back against the White House to ensure that we are able to have the resources that we need to play the role that we need to play.
AMANPOUR: Now, as you know, as you look around there are still no U.S. ambassadors under the Trump administration appointed to quite a lot of
global hotspots right now including South Korea. No assistance secretary for that region and practically nothing is more dangerous and alarming than
the North Korea situation. Give us an idea of what it means not to have an ambassador.
SHACKELFORD: It simply means that we don't have - we don't have the rank and we don't have the same authority. Particularly at a time like now
where people know that the connection directly back to the president is critical in order to be able to trust what people are telling you in a
Not having an ambassador means that when we are meeting with our counterparts and we're telling them what our position is and we're
advocating for something they un - we're unreliable because every one knows that by tomorrow all of what we've said could be undone unexpectedly by 140
Having an ambassador right now doesn't guarantee against that by any - by any stretch but not having an ambassador means that you don't even have
that direct line.
AMANPOUR: I was speaking to the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright earlier in the week and she was lamenting this cut back, this
culture right now in the State Department particularly she said as she sees it affecting her foreign policy students at Georgetown University.
People suddenly dropping off in terms of their ambition to go into the Foreign Service. From your perspective, that can't be good for America in
the future can it?
SHACKELFORD: No, it certainly isn't. And again, we're like the military. People start in a low level and they work their way up. And during that
period they learn the art and the science that is involved with being a diplomat.
You can't bring people in overnight. I actually have a cousin, a younger cousin who asked me a few months ago for advice on taking the Foreign
Service exam. I am sorry to say that I advised him against it at this time. I think it is a very personal decision. I still think it is a
But this is not the most promising time to be entering into the career because of how little investment there is in it and how - and how much we
are removed from the table of the decision making and influence.
AMANPOUR: You know you mentioned it, the tweet diplomacy vis-a-vs North Korea or the idea of potentially ditching the Iran nuclear deal.
SHACKELFORD: You know, the challenge for us in the field right now, one of the many challenges is that we don't have consistent messaging and we are
not able to control consistent messaging.
We don't know what foreign policy we are supposed to be implementing because it changes and we are not given direction. It makes it very hard
for us across the globe to be able to effectively implement anything or even have the same kind of trusted relationships that we had before.
AMANPOUR: Elizabeth Shackelford thank you so much for talking to us this evening.
SHACKELFORD: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can listen to our podcast anytime, see us online at amanpour.com and follow me on
Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching and good bye from London.