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The Executive Editor of "The New York Times" Evaluates Donald Trump's Relationship With the Media; Baquet Discusses "The Times" Reporting Instances of Sexual Misconduct as Some of the Proudest Work They Have Done This Year; Walter Isaacson Discusses His Recently-Published Book about Leonardo da Vinci. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:05:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight 2018 shapes up to be another banner year for Trump verses the press. I sit down with the "New

York Times" the executive editor Dean Baquet about how we stay un-bowed and un-towed. Plus lessons from Leonardo, Walter Isaacson joins me with his

rave review new biography of one of the greatest geniuses of all time.

Good evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York. There is no more important news paper in America perhaps even

the world then the "New York Times". No one else gives themselves the sweeping mandate to cover as many topics as definitely as New York's paper

of record.

From politics to business to the arts and science, and at the helm of it all is Dean Baquet, himself a life-long print reporter. The executive

editor tells me that journalism remains under threat and that it's more important now then it's ever been. Dean Baquet welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: In the ongoing Trumpian war against the press this week, the President has once again opened the front that he's threatened before and

that is opening up the liable laws.


AMANPOUR: He threatened again to revisit America's liable laws. Is that just rhetoric? Do you fear that that might happen?

BAQUET: It's hard to know whether it's just rhetoric with this President. He - I honestly think he's already done a certain amount of damage to the

American press with the constant attacks. I think he certainly has some influence in power to change liable laws. A lot of politicians in

Washington will probably like that.

I like to think that there are enough that will oppose it. I like to think there are enough politicians like the John McCains of the world who

understand the role of the press. So I'm hoping it's just bluster. But he's done some damage as it is.

AMANPOUR: So what damage would you say specifically?

BAQUET: I think that the constant attacks on the press, the constant discussions of fake news. Just the constant relentless daily drum beat has

hurt our credibility. And we don't deserve it. I think that he has, he has almost systematically tried to go after some of the independent

agencies that are supposed to monitor government.

Whether it's the judiciary or the press, and I think it's harmful to us, especially when the press, the American press is doing its job. Which is

to fairly write about him and cover him, and I think it's unfair and it does damage to us.

AMANPOUR: And particularly the "New York Times" obviously "CNN" as well with the favorite whipping voice, he calls you the failing "New York Times"

all the time.


AMANPOUR: Yet, yet your reporters are amongst the very few that he actually speaks to outside his "Fox News" sort of (superfantic) court room.

BANQUET: Yes, I think he has an odd relationship with the "New York Times". I mean he is a boy from Queens who wanted to be embraced by the

Manhattan elite. So he moved his family real estate fortune to Manhattan. Built a big building, and I think if you want to be embraced by the

Manhattan elite I think that includes the "New York Times".

So I think some mornings he wakes up and he looks like he hates us. On the other hand he talks to us. He talks to our reporters; he's actually more

accessible than his predecessor. I think he has a weird, and I will not psychoanalyze it, I'll accept it.

AMANPOUR: But it's actually amazing because being more accessible than his predecessors is a really good thing.

BANQUET: It is, no it's true. I mean look this President answers his own phone. He talks to reporters. Of course he doesn't always tell the story

as straight as one would like. But you cannot accuse him of being inaccessible.

AMANPOUR: You talk about the damage the President has done in this one year.


AMANPOUR: And yet your subscriptions are up, subscriptions of other major news papers, certainly the ratings at "CNN" and the other cable channels

are up. So how much damage has he really done? And journalism seems to have got a whole new life breathed into it.

BANQUET: Yes in fact I should retreat a little bit on the damage. It's been more complicated than that. Yes it's damaging when the President of

the United States attacks the press constantly. On the other hand there's been a remarkable awaking of civic interest. Our numbers are up

dramatically, "CNN's" numbers are up dramatically, "The Post's" numbers are up dramatically.

I think people care about government I think people are about this dramatic amazing story. I think people understand that the press can tell it. What

makes me nervous is whether the constant attacks chase away from us the people who are his supporters. And I think we have something to say to



I think we have something to say to them about government about tax reform. I think we have coverage for them, I really do and that bothers me because

I don't want a monolithic audience.

AMANPOUR: Well I agree with you and it should bother you and everybody that actually audiences are being tribalized and polarized.

BANQUET: That's right.

AMANPOUR: So they're going to not just maybe away from you but towards a "Fox" or a friendly network and therefore perhaps don't get the full

rounded information.

BANQUET: No that's right. That's right, look I will be frank, anybody who watches only "Fox" and friends is not getting an honorable news report. I

mean it, I will just say it. I think it's sycophantic. I think it's not objective thoughtful coverage. Whether you like us or not, whether you

like "CNN" or not you are getting a thoughtful news report from people who are striving to be balanced and fair. And I don't think that's what you

get with "Fox".

AMANPOUR: You just mentioned "The Post". "The Post" the film

BANQUET: It's not the New York Post, right?

AMANPOUR: No, no it's about the "Washington Post".


AMANPOUR: Are you green with envy? Do you think is should be "The Times", given that it's about the Pentagon papers and "The Times" printed them


BANQUET: I am but I'm starting to grow up a little bit. My first reaction was just outrage. Partly because -

AMANPOUR: --- outrage?

BANQUET: Well outrage, look and then I'm going to turn around and say why that was an immature reaction. The most capacious - Katharine Graham made

a courageous decision. "The Washington Post" is a remarkable institution. It was then, it is now. But the first really courageous decision was made

by Arthur Sulzberger. And in publishing them and in (inaudible) in letting reports spend three months verifying them, his was the most courageous


I think I got my back up especially when the producers reached out to me and wanted to talk about how, how the film was also going to portray "The

New York Times".

AMANPOUR: Which to be fair it did and gave a lot -

BANQUET: -- I haven't seen it.

AMANPOUR: All the due credit to - you haven't seen it?

BANQUET: No in fact I've been quoted saying I'm not going to see it, but I'm going to change - Andy Rosenthal was a friend who's Abe Rosenthal's

son. I was railing to Andy one day and as he often does with me he said Dean grow up it's just a movie. So at some point I'll go see it.

AMANPOUR: And of course it comes out at this time in history. Not only during an unprecedented sort of second phase of a war against the press

after the Nixon times.


AMANPOUR: But also the MeToo movement. And of course "The New York Times" has been dramatic in exposing so much of this. The Harvey Weinstein --

BANQUET: It's some of the proudest work we've done this year.


BANQUET: Yes I think, I mean the genesis the first story we did was about Bill O'Reilly. It was early in the year and we had put together a group of

reporters and we took a hard look at Bill O'Reilly's record at "Fox" and it lead to his being forced out of the company.

After that a group of us sat down and said I think we've hit on a larger issue here. And we asked reporters, I asked reporters to start looking at

other institutions and Harvey Weinstein came up pretty quickly.

AMANPOUR: How did he come up pretty quickly when everybody had let this happen for so many years? And people say well we didn't know, we didn't

know. How did it come up so quickly then?

BANQUET: When you - when we dug, when the two reporters dug deep into Hollywood and said are there stories we should be telling like the Bill

O'Reilly story? I won't go as far as saying it was an open secret because that makes it sound like the work was easy. But people talked about it.

People raised him as someone who was worth looking at. And they did and it was - I mean the story of how they did the story, the convincing - because

remember these were not cases in which the women were well known on the record. This was a very powerful man. There was a moment when we also

knew "The New Yorker" was working on the story near the end and it was competitive. And they did a fabulous story.

AMANPOUR: (inaudible)

BANQUET: There was a moment when we had women, some women on the record and a mix of women off the record and we had some movie stars off the

record. And the two reporters, Megan Touhey and Jody Kander insisted that we needed some celebrities. Not to make the story cool but because they

thought that would change the conversation.

I was so nervous about "The New Yorker" that I said it's time to go we got to publish. And then one evening we're sitting there in my office me and

their editors and we're going through the story and Jody walks in with tears in her eyes. She had just gotten off the phone with Ashley Judd.

Who had said I'll let you go tell my story on the record.


BANQUET: And I'm convinced that the reason that this story had so much power, because after Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and other came. Is that

suddenly men who would be skeptical of these stories, for reasons that we can discuss but not good reasons. Suddenly saw, oh my God I know these

women, have seen these women in movies. This is powerful.


This is not some unknown woman who's accusing Bill O'Reilly and he denies it and he's a big star. This is something different. And I honestly think

that's one of the reasons it became such a large movement. Even thought of course it doesn't involve just women who are celebrities and who are


AMANPOUR: So where else are you looking? Where shall we expect your hands to lead us next?

BANQUET: We did a terrific story near the end of the year that I also thought was just as important in which you went to two Ford plants in



BANQUET: And the purpose of those stories which were really powerful to show - was to show this was not a case involving just women who were

wealthy and celebrities. These were women who worked on factory floors and their stories were awful.

AMANPOUR: So it must break your heart when all of the sudden a reporter, a star reporter of "The New York Times" was, you know, faced the same kind of


BANQUET: Of course it did. Of course it did. But I came away from that with two lessons. This was the story of Glenn Thrush. We did two things

first off. We suspended him quickly. We launched an investigation into his behavior to make sure that the decision was just.

I put together a group of about dozen of the most senior editors in the news room half men, half women, different backgrounds including different

racial backgrounds. And we had two days of debate. Real full bodied debate, we did an investigation, we talked to 30 people. And in the end we

decided to suspend him. Not to fire him.

"The Washington Post" actually just confronted something similar. Sure it was painful. And it was a difficult decision. But I don't think -

AMANPOUR: To suspend, or you mean it was a difficult decision not to fire him?

BANQUET: Not to fire him. It was a difficult decision because -

AMANPOUR: Because I have heard it was quite divisive in the news room.

BANQUET: It was.

AMANPOUR: With different generations having different ideas.

BANQUET: Yes and what we've done by the way is since we made the decision. Because we knew it was going to be - look the easiest thing would have been

to say, you know we did the big story lets fire him. But that's not just. That's not leadership. Leadership is you take an allegation, you examine

it. And you try to match the crime if you will to the punishment. And that's what we did in this case.

AMANPOUR: So what was the crime?

BANQUET: I've said this, I'll say it again the stuff we found that Glenn did while working at "The New York Times" involved comments that he

shouldn't have made. There was a story in "Vox" that described other activities, mostly from his life, his previous life in another publication.

I have to focus my attention, we looked at that. But I had to focus my attention on my work place. And I didn't find that kind of activity in my

work place. That doesn't - I'm not raising questions about the "Vox" story, far from it. It prompted this investigation. And then I had to

make the decision based on what kind of employee I thought he would be.

AMANPOUR: So I ask you because obviously we're at a moment where there is a big spectrum of malaises and wrong doing. So what is the responsibility

of a boss right now in any profession to figure out and to define what is a suspend able offense, what is a fire able offence, what is not an offense?

BANQUET: Yes, I think the reasonability - your first reasonability is to your employees. The other employees, it's to ask whether the person that

I'm, lets take Glenn out lets just make it abstract, whether the person creates a work environment that's uncomfortable for other people, in these

cases uncomfortable for women.

If you're a journalist, if you run a journalistic institution you have another reasonability which is to your readers. How do you make sure that

what happened does not make your readers think less of you? And then you have a responsibility to larger society if you're a mission driven

organization like "The New York Times" or "CNN".

Which is - how does this fit into this larger discussion of punishment. But I don't think all - I don't think all punishments should be the same.

I don't think that's - some people will disagree with me, I'll accept that. I don't think that's wisdom, I don't think that's justice.

AMANPOUR: Dean Banquet, thank you very much indeed.

BANQUET: Thank you, thanks for having me.

AMANPOUR: Dean Banquet there on how to keep focus on the truth. And now here's a question for you what made Leonardo da Vinci one of history's

greatest geniuses? A new biography by Walter Isaacson whose previous subjects include Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs says that it was Leonardo's

relentless curiosity that allowed him to make an astounding range of scientific discoveries and painterly master pieces.

I sat down with Isaacson here in New York to find out more about the ultimate Renaissance man.


Walter Issacson, welcome to the program.

WALTER ISAACSON, AUTHOR: Great to be with you Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Yet another genius is the subject of your latest auto - biography Leonardo da Vinci. What is it about this Renaissance man that

attracted your attention?

ISAACSON: He was interested in everything from anatomy and botany to zoology to painting of course and sculpture and how water flowed and how

fossils were formed. And so he's the most curious person about everything which allows him to see patters. And to me, history is about figuring out

patterns and so is creativity. So whether you're looking at the curls of the Mona Lisa or the way the river curls and swirls and comes down from the

mountains and hits your body, you can see all of Leonardo da Vinci's diverse interests and that's what makes him so exciting.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned all the others who you've profiled. What did they have in common, these geniuses?

ISAACSON: It was not until I did Steve Jobs that he kept telling me, there's a pattern in this which is to be able to stand at the intersection

of the arts and sciences. Nowadays most of our friends, they either love the arts or they're kind of engineers, but Steve Jobs said, "If you're the

type of person who can love both, that will make you creative." No realize that's what Ben Franklin was, you know, flying his kite in the rain to

figure out electricity while he's doing Poor Richard's Almanac and being a great writer. Likewise, even Einstein plays Mozart when he's trying to get

general relativity right. Steve does beautiful designs and artwork while he's doing his iPods or iPads. And then, of course, the ultimate of that

and the symbol of that is Vitruvian Man, the guy standing in the circle and the square, that wonderful drawing of the guy spread eagle, and that's a

self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. And you know, you look at it and you say, "I get it. This is a work of great art and a work of great science, a

work of great math, and a work of spirituality."

AMANPOUR: I want to draw now on some of the specific curiosities which to us seem ordinary now because we know the answers, but to him in the 1400's

et cetera, were probably amazing. Why is the sky blue? How are clouds formed? Why can our eyes see only in a straight line. What is yawning? I

mean, he really was the minutia that he was trying to get to the bottom of.

ISAACSON: And there was also things that you and I see every day and we pause and then we move on and we're not curious about it. And you know

what, you say we all know the answers to those questions, but why is the sky blue? And you know, Leonardo does all sorts of tests with sprays of

water. But you get to Newton, you get to Lord Graley (ph), even Einstein writes in his notebook, "Why is the sky blue?" Then he does the scattering

of light formulas for molecules and atoms, so it's not an easy answer but it's a beautiful answer, and Leonardo, you know why do people yawn as you

say. And my favorite, in his notebook one day he just writes, describe the tongue of a woodpecker. Now, why would anybody wake up one morning and

want to know what the tongue of a woodpecker looks like. I mean you don't need it to paint a bird or do a flying machine, but he needed it because he

was Leonardo da Vinci, curious about everything and, it too, turns out to be interesting.

AMANPOUR: It is really remarkable. And you also talk about him as a flamboyant character, dressed in pink often. And, and he was gay. Was

that OK back then?

ISAACSON: It was interesting because Florence, in the late 1400s had a great moment of tolerance, diversity, respect for everybody. And Leonardo

as a really young kid, a 12 year old, comes from the village of Vinci which is near Florence, and he's left-handed, he's illegitimate, he's gay, he's

distracted, he's totally unfocused, but you know, flamboyant and such, and he's accepted totally in Florence. I mean Florence under Lorenzo de Medici

and all, had a republic in which you could be coming from the Arab world because Constantinople fell and you're bring the algebra from the Arab

world, you're accepted. And so, it's a lesson for us today which is sort of loving the diversity of people around us often helps become a form of a

cradle of creativity.

AMANPOUR: Let's get to some of his great paintings. There's obviously the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, of course there's Salvator Mundi which we've

just seen. I want to ask you first about, again his incredible curiosity and his unbelievable research. I read that he went to morgues, peeled back

the skin of cadavers to figure out the connection, the anatomy of a smile.

ISAACSON: Absolutely. The Mona Lisa is the best example of the combination of art and science. There are other people who aren't critics

who've written about Leonardo who say it's a shame he wasted so much time on anatomy because he could have painted more paintings.


Well no. He may have painted more paintings but he wouldn't have painted the Mona Lisa. If you look at her smile, he has over, you know a period of

about three years, dissected every muscle and every nerve in the human face, drawn it in his notebooks, and at the very end of all that study,

he's starting to sketch faint smiles that becomes the Mona Lisa smile. He also has dissected the eye to know that detail, black and white detail hits

the center of your retina, and that's where the (inaudible), but on the edges of your retina you see colors and shadows better. So if you look

directly at the Mona Lisa smile, the details go straight, she's not smiling. But if your eye wonders a little bit, the smile flickers on

because the colors and shadows go up. So it's so many things like that just in the smile of the Mona Lisa.

AMANPOUR: And he's probably one of the most dissected to coin a phrase, smile in the history of art.

ISAACSON: It show inner emotion being reflected in outward facial expressions. This is something that Leonardo gifts to the world.

AMANPOUR: And now with Salvator Mundi, you have a similar smile, a similar look, and a similar, you know, experience of viewers that say when they're

moving whichever way they think Jesus Christ is looking at them.

ISAACSON: Right. The eyes of the Mona Lisa, the eyes of Salvator Mundi, Christ is Savior of the world, they, of course, move. That's the famous

Mona Lisa effect. These are the type of things Leonardo not only did but I just said about expressing inner emotions on outward expressions, he also

could make a two dimensional panel look three dimensional. So these are the wonders when you combine science with art. Leonardo da Vinci did a

Salvator Mundi that was with the British Royal Family until the 1700's and got lost. And this is it, this painting.

Now as with any Leonardo painting, it's somewhat collaborative. And so some of his students and others may have worked on it. Worse yet for this

painting, it had been over painted a bit, restored a lot, so it had to be brought back to its original condition. But it is a gorgeous, haunting

work that's clearly of Leonardo's hand.

AMANPOUR: What do you think he would make of the world we live in today when there is argument over even facts over whether it's climate change,

whether it's science, whatever it might be. In today's world facts would become politicized.

ISAACSON: he said that he was a disciple of experiment. He said I'll never take received wisdom or believe in dogma unless I find a way I can

test it. And he was a religious person, but the biblical account of the flood. He looks at it and then studies fossil layers and says well it

couldn't have happened the way it says in the bible because it happened over thousands of years and layers were built up. So he loved applying

facts to things received wisdom. That is what takes the human race and about the middle of the 1400s and creates all of (inaudible), this notion

of let's look at the facts and let's figure out how things work. That's what the Renaissance was about, the Scientific Revolution was about, and

that's the legacy that we have today. And you're right, we're sometimes destroying it; we're sometimes not honoring it. And I think Leonardo would

be appalled that we don't get driven by facts, we get driven by ideology.

AMANPOUR: So switching and fast forwarding or reversing/rewinding to when you were CEO, president of CNN. That was in the 9/11, post 9/11 world and

during the war in Iraq. It was a very fraught ideological period. I wonder what you make all these years later of trying to maintain CNN as the

sort of objective, centrist, mainstream media with this sort of ideology by Fox News at the time and others, who were considered cheerleaders for the

then administration at a time that the administration went to war. What do you make of the politicization of news today?

ISAACSON: That was something that really distressed me when I was in journalism and right after 9/11 and the Iraq war, you began to see cable

news, the internet, talk radio, the blog is here, suddenly become partisan and ideological. And this is a very dangerous thing when we don't have a

set of facts or places that we can trust to say they're trying to get it right, and I hope that at some point this notion of the politicization of

journalism can be brought back to what CNN's great heritage was and what CNN still tries to do generally today.


AMANPOUR: And going all the way back, you know, so many hundred years to the Renaissance and to Leonardo da Vinci, what would you say the legacy is

for today?

ISAACSON: Well one of the things that happens the year Leonardo da Vinci is born is Guttenberg opens his first print shop. This allows a kid from the

village of Vinci who had never been to college or university to start reading books. By the time he's 21 years old, Leonardo has 300 books in

his personal library. He also is doing all sorts of experiments whatever. But the printing press helps break the lock of, you know, certain church

dogma on people. They can read their own things. They can read the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle. You have the Reformation that comes out of that,

Martin Luther comes out of that. So does the Scientific Revolution, starting with Leonardo da Vinci, culminating with Galileo comes out of

that. We are in that same type of period. The internet has opened up to every person who has a connection, the ability to get information from

anywhere to disseminate facts or lies anywhere. And so this is like the printing press written large in Leonardo da Vinci's time, it was used to

create a scientific revolution and a reformation, we have to make sure it's not used to destroy democracy.

AMANPOUR: Walter Isaacson, thank you so much.

ISAACSON: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: A legacy to live by. And that is it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at and of course follow me on Facebook and twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.