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President Trump Is In Fighting Form And The Main Focus Of His Ire Is The Work Of Course Of One Robert Mueller; According To Reporters Without Borders, The U.S. Became One Of The Most Dangerous Places In The World For Journalists. Aired: 11p-12m ET
Aired December 18, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ANCHOR, CNN: As President Trump conjures up enemies at home and abroad hello, we get warnings from the award-winning
Presidential historian, Michael Beschloss about past Presidents at war.
Then, how can the media win back people's trust in this age of fake news. Alan Rusbridger, former editor of Britain's groundbreaking "Guardian" joins
me with his new book "Breaking News." Plus, the Lebanese filmmaker who forged her craft in the fire of the Civil War, Golden Globe nominee Nadine
Labaki talks about her latest work casting refugees.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. President Trump is in fighting form and the main focus of his ire is the
work of course of one Robert Mueller. The man whose investigation into Russian influence into the 2016 election has seen five former Trump
advisers indicted today including the former National Security adviser, General Michael Flynn.
He was back in court today for a sentencing hearing for lying to the FBI over this matter and the judge told him that he had arguably sold out his
own country. At the last minute, that sentencing was delayed after a request from Flynn's attorney.
As the Mueller investigation unfolds, Mr. Trump has also been taking aim at China, suggesting the United States could use the arrest of a top executive
from Chinese tech giant, Huawei as a bargaining chip in trade talks upping the ante in a trade war which has already helped erase the U.S. stock
market's gains for the year 2018.
These bouts are just the latest in a presidency that's gone round after round with real and conjured enemies since Inauguration Day.
Joining us now is the award-winning historian, Michael Beschloss. His latest book is called "Presidents of War," and it came out earlier this
year. He's joining me from Washington to try to dig down into all of this robust rounds as I said, these bouts that keep going on coming from the
So Michael, welcome to the program.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, AWARD-WINNING HISTORIAN: Thank you, bouts they are.
AMANPOUR: So put in historical context a little bit, what's going on right now in the sentencing hearing and what this means in fact to President
Trump, the administration and as you said, his sort of predisposed nature to reading you know, go round after round?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, that's for sure. You know, go back Christiane, as you were saying to the summer of 2016, in the middle of the Trump campaign who
was closest to him, his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, his campaign manager Paul Manafort; and his foreign policy advisor who was introducing
him at all sorts of campaign events, spoke at the convention about Hillary Clinton saying, "Lock her up," Michael Flynn who was the chief news of this
day and now the three of these people are in big trouble that the earlier two sentence, the last one in big criminal trouble with his sentencing to
be determined either today or later on.
And the thing is that from Donald Trump's point of view, you're absolutely right. This is a guy who uses the metaphors of war. You remember, he was
talking not long ago just after 2018 midterm election and he was saying, "If the Democrats in the House go after me, I will be in a warlike
posture." This is the way he has sort of run his career and that is a real worry if he makes that concrete because one thing we've seen in the history
of the presidency is that at times, presidents who have big domestic trouble are tempted to get involved in unnecessary wars to distract the
public and regain their popularity.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean that is really an alarming thing to recall and one that we'll dig into in, in just a moment. But first, I want to ask you
about the specific nature of the judge and what he said to Michael Flynn. I just want to read you what came out in the early hours of the sentencing
Remarkable exchange between Flynn and Judge Emmet Sullivan. This is the judge, "All along, you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country
while serving as the National Security adviser to the President of the United States. Arguably, you sold your country out." He goes on to say,
"I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain for your criminal offense," and Flynn just replies, "Yes, Your Honor."
I mean just put that - is there a parallel in American history for that kind of back and forth between a judge and the - what was a sitting
National Security adviser accused of you know going over to the Russian side so to speak?
BESCHLOSS: Not really. Can you imagine that, Christiane? We've never seen something like this. I mean, Manafort and Cohen, they had the roles.
They were not National Security adviser to the President with access to all of our national secrets under suspicion now with having advanced a secret
relationship with a hostile power, Russia - between Russia and possibly President Trump. That's something we haven't seen before.
If you're looking for the nearest historical parallel, go back to Iran- contra under Ronald Reagan. There were two national security advisers. You remember the names as I do -- John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane -- they
were both convicted of in one case lying to Congress; another case, withholding information from Congress. One was pardoned by President
George H.W. Bush; the other had his sentence reversed, but even those things as bad as they were, you know they were not under this rubric of
this question that we were still trying to find a final answer to it, which is - is there an illicit relationship between the sitting President of the
United States, Donald Trump and the leader of a hostile foreign power, Russia?
That's a question we have never asked about any President before ever in our history.
AMANPOUR: So, let us just - in the context of what we're talking about and given that you've written book, "Presidents at War," the fact that it is so
wrong to be in cahoots with Russia is because Russia is not after a hot war with the United States, but after destroying or trying to subvert American
and Western democracy and all the liberal institutions that go with our free world, is that correct?
BESCHLOSS: No, just that just as it was during the 45 years of the Cold War and the current Russia is not the Soviet Union, but the leader of the
current Russia, as you know better than anyone has said that he thinks that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst geopolitical development of
a long time and he would like to reverse it.
AMANPOUR: So this President - President Trump is not involved in a hot war at the moment, unlike - well, a little bit, I mean he has got troops in
Syria and they were fighting ISIS, but in general, there are wars that he has inherited whether it was in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, but there are
other so-called wars. He's called the wars trade wars, tariff wars that is going on, not just with an adversary, China, but also, with allies such as
the E.U. that's going on.
The war with the media and generally, the sort of cultural war that's going on, put that in context with the historical Presidents who you profile in
in your book and in terms of the actual wars they went for.
BESCHLOSS: Well, the problem here is that Donald Trump, you know, almost likes to go to war as he breathes and by war, I'm talking about the things
you just mentioned. Things like trade wars or when he was a real estate mogul, wars with other moguls.
You know, this is someone who likes conflict; not everyone in life does. And the problem here is that we've got a history in the United States of
presidents getting us into wars for selfish reasons, for reasons that were not necessary.
James Polk against the Mexicans; McKinley against the Spanish, claiming that they sunk a ship in Havana Harbor, the Maine, which they did not.
Lyndon Johnson in 1964 claiming that there had been an unprovoked attack on an American ship, which there was not, led to the whole nine years of the
So the problem is that nowadays, a President can get us involved in a real war, a major war, almost single-handedly, almost overnight especially
because Congress is so complacent and the reason why that keeps me awake at night with Donald Trump is that, this is someone who said two things
Number one, he notices that the great presidents in history have generally been those involved in major wars, not a great idea for president to be
linking in his mind, you know becoming more popular with historians later on and getting involved in a major war.
And the other thing is that he tweeted more than once in 2011 and later, predicting that Barack Obama would get us involved in a war in order to get
reelected. So this is someone who is very conscious of the political advantages of getting into a war.
I hope as he gets more deeply into this this personal crisis of what Mueller finds, I'm going to be basically sleeping with one eye open, very
vigilant and very nervous about the possibility that he may see this be tempted to see this as one way out of this troubles.
AMANPOUR: Okay, so let's dig down into that --
BESCHLOSS: I am not predicting it, I am just saying it's a worry.
AMANPOUR: Right, and let's dig down. To be honest with you, some people have actually posited that this administration may deliberately all bumble
into a war with Iran given what's going on in the Middle East, given the alignment of powers between the U.S.-backed, Saudi, you know, regional
rivalry with Iran given that many members of the President's administration talk about or would like to see a regime change ...
AMANPOUR: ... and there has been a lot of worry around the idea of a potential third disastrous Middle-Eastern war. But let me just go back to
what you just said because we have that tweet that you mentioned.
And it was in October of 2012 when Donald Trump basically said, "Polls are starting to look really bad for Obama. Looks like you'll have to start a
war or major conflict to win. Don't put it past him." Well, what happened after that? Did President Obama - I mean, he didn't intervene in Syria.
There wasn't any sort of relaunch, but there was the U.S. ramping up almost to wartime levels the war against ISIS for instance in 2014, and Iraq -
just put that into that context of that tweet.
BESCHLOSS: Yes, sure, it was, but hard to make the argument that that was done to increase his poll ratings or win the 2014 midterms, if that was his
strategy, it sure didn't work because the Democrats did not do very well.
What I'm worried about is that a selfish and a craven and if necessary, an unpatriotic President will look at a couple of other things. George H.W.
Bush whose poll numbers had been you know, not that impressive before he went to war in 1991, wins the Gulf War and comes out of it with a poll
rating of 91% or George W. Bush after 9/11 at the time that we're beginning to move toward wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has similar high poll ratings.
I am just worried that a President will be tempted by that as a hypodermic way of getting himself out of a crisis. People worried about that with
Richard Nixon as well.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes, and I wanted to get your - get a few stories of the past, but look, President Trump has a 39% approval rating and the stock
market has erased all its gains as we said for the year and it possibly is on track as the worst December since the Great Depression.
So given that, given your worries, just go back and lay out for our viewers you know, going back to the Spanish war, the Spanish-American War et
cetera, some of the deliberate, I guess, misconstruing of the facts on the ground at the time and that led to war.
BESCHLOSS: Yes, there is this history with a case of James Polk, I'm sorry to go really prehistoric, but he wanted to add about a million square miles
of Mexican territory to the U.S., so he provoked a border skirmish in Texas, got a big Mexican war that did that, lied to Congress and also did
that for slavery by the way.
And William McKinley misconstrued the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor and LBJ did the same thing while he was running for election against Barry
Goldwater. He got this Gulf of Tonkin resolution out of Congress on which he and Richard Nixon waged the whole Vietnam War for nine years based on
this non-existent incident.
So what I'm worried about is that a president may not necessarily know all this history, but know that if you've got problems, people unite in a war-
like crisis. People around Richard Nixon were worried in the last days of Watergate that he would do something like this. His Defense Secretary
James Schlesinger gave an order that incase Nixon issued an order, certainly, nuclear weapons but even to do something like deploy the 101st
Airborne, any order like that had to be countersigned by Schlesinger, the Secretary of Defense to make sure that it did not happen. And as it turned
out, Nixon did not do that.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about basically, you call it a broken system or the system seems broken because the Founding Fathers laid out specific
ways in which you know, a president couldn't just go to war, to guard against using, well to use going to war as a boost to their own domestic
BESCHLOSS: Right, that's exactly what they're worried about.
AMANPOUR: And so --
BESCHLOSS: Yes, they are worried - I'm sorry, please go ahead.
AMANPOUR: No, no just - they worried about it, but why isn't it working then? How come they've all managed to go to war?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, because Congress has become too lapdog. The last time Congress declared war as the Constitution requires Congress to do, not
presidents, but Congress, 1942, have we had any war since then? Major? I'd say we've had one or two.
And so the problem is that Congress doesn't assert itself and modern presidents, they sort of weasel their way into it by saying, "I'll ask
Congress for a resolution to use force." That's what was done for the major wars all the way back to Vietnam, the last number of decades and the
problem with that, Christiane, is members of Congress will vote for the resolution, the war then occurs, the war doesn't work well and then these
people who voted for the resolution say, "Well, I had no idea that was for war. I was just, you know, voting to authorize the President to use
BESCHLOSS: The whole idea of the Constitution of the Founders was, if there's something important enough to go to war, you know, get Congress in
on the beginning so that the war becomes unpopular, Congress remains at the president's side, because they had cosigned.
AMANPOUR: So I was fascinated actually. I am always fascinated by the human toll and the human story behind these elected officials and you
describe, you know, a series of presidents who you are mentioning in this regard, who really, I mean became ill. I mean it affected their physical
and mental health. Give us a few examples, because it is remarkable.
BESCHLOSS: Every single one of these presidents I write about which eight or nine who waged major wars back to James Madison, they either have a big
physical breakdown or an emotional breakdown almost without exception. Lincoln suffered from depression. Woodrow Wilson had a stroke. Lyndon
Johnson, I had listened to these tapes that he made of his private conversations, he got weirdly paranoid and furious in the last years of the
Vietnam War and he was almost hallucinating. He was saying on these secret tapes, "Did you know that Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King are paying
rioters in the cities to embarrass me by having riots," and "The Soviets and the Chinese are paying American college students to demonstrate against
me in Vietnam."
So again, when you're thinking about a president possibly going to war and particularly if we're talking about the current president, Donald Trump,
not everyone thinks that he is the most well-adjusted person on earth. Remember that in wartime, that's only the beginning. It gets worse.
AMANPOUR: So let's just quickly ask you what you think will be the reaction to a series of cascading events. What happens after the
sentencing of Michael Flynn? And you know, continuing pressures with the Mueller investigation? What about if the economy goes south and poll
ratings you know, go even worse? Which some are predicting, as I said, you know, December potentially could be the worst since the Great Depression.
What about these very real issues? What kind of an impact do you think they might have on the occupant of the Oval Office?
BESCHLOSS: I agree with you that Trump is likely to have a very bad year coming up and I just pray, I do not predict, I hope that he does not listen
to people around him who we may say, "You know, the way out of your problems may be to escalate or even involve ourselves in a war that is not
going on right now that may not be absolutely necessary."
We have a tragic history of that that goes all the way through much of the last two centuries and we sure do not want to live through that ever again,
especially with nuclear weapons.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes, you know, it's interesting. You ended your book before the Iraq war. I mean, arguably, the war that has had a cascading
effect that you could almost draw a straight line from the Iraq war to the populist policies and the dissatisfaction of ordinary people around Western
democracies today, but you don't mention it in your book.
BESCHLOSS: Only because I would have loved to write about it, but as a historian, I think you need about 30 or 40 years to really understand
something in history. We don't yet know - you know, we can't get access to the documents that George W. Bush saw, plus we don't have the hindsight
that we'll have in 30 or 40 years, but, remember - I will cite one fact, which is that in the 2004 election, there was a poll of Americans - was
Saddam Hussein behind 9/11?
An amazing number of people said yes, at 40, so remember that and you know this very well, in situations like this, we really have to rely on a
president to bring some sanity and balance and rationality. I hope we can do that this time.
AMANPOUR: You know, a lot of people have said, great leaders listen to their friends, their allies, people who really care about them who are on
site, but yet can offer constructive criticism and commentary. You quote Benjamin Franklin saying that, "Critics are our friends. They show us our
faults," but that's not in vogue anywhere that we can see anywhere today. How much of a problem is that? In context with what we're discussing right
BESCHLOSS: Well, I think if we're talking about Donald Trump, sadly, I don't think he would say my critics are my friend. He is the one who says,
my critics are enemies of the people. That shows how opposite he is from Benjamin Franklin and the other thing is that leaders in history are the
great ones, every single one of them learns from history.
Harry Truman said he had no idea how anyone could aspire to be President of the United States and make tough decisions without knowing American
AMANPOUR: Michael Beschloss, thank you so much for that perspective.
And we turn now having talked about enemies of the people, few have been more consistently targeted by President Trump than the press, and this year
the American media has seen itself literally under attack.
AMANPOUR: According to Reporters Without Borders, the U.S. became one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists after five - five
journalists at the Maryland "Capitol Gazette" were killed in their own newsroom in June and while trust in mainstream media is tentatively
recovering after an all-time low in 2016, it is still under threat.
Something that my next guest knows all too well. Alan Rusbridger was at the helm of Britain's "Guardian" newspaper for 20 years and he helped break
some of the biggest and most important stories of our time.
At the end of his tenure he wrote, "News, the thing that helped people understand their world, that oiled the wheels of society, that pollinated
communities, that kept the powerful honest news was broken," and his new book, "Breaking News: The remaking of journalism and why it matters now,"
is out and Alan Rusbridger joins me here in our London studio. Welcome.
ALAN RUSBRIDGER, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GUARDIAN: I'm pleased to be here.
AMANPOUR: Couldn't come at a more opportune time especially given the conversation we've just had with historian, Michael Beschloss. Let me just
start by asking you in context of this administration, the President which has called us the enemies of the people. Did you ever in your wildest
imagination dream that the United States would be among the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, literally that five journalists
were killed in their own newsroom in the United States of America this year?
RUSBRIDGER: It's a kind of catastrophe. I mean, it's a catastrophe for America, but the ripples around the rest of the world in a way that tin-pot
dictators and not such tin-pot dictators are taking in the Trump rulebook and are now playing this in their own countries is really terrible and it's
a really, really worrying time for journalism.
AMANPOUR: So I'm going to get to that in a second. You know, it's now very, very huge. It's something like 251 journalists all over the world
are imprisoned as well. But one of the other things I mentioned leading into you was that there have been tentative small baby steps towards the
mainstream media regaining some of its credibility.
A new Gallup study suggests that efforts to bring transparency including attempts by journalists to publicly defend their work - I mean, whole sort
of journalistic activism that's risen really may be in response to the elections of 2016 around the world, you know, 45% of Americans have a great
deal or a fair amount of trust in the mass media to fully accurately and fairly represent - that's a recovery from the all-time low of 32% in 2016.
Does that encourage you?
RUSBRIDGER: I think good journalism is going to be okay. So I was in the States last week and the sense in which the very best of journalism was all
we have. You know, the Congress had gone missing. We don't know about the Supreme Court, but the best journalists are the people who are going to
hold this administration to account and our friends, not our enemies was very powerful.
The trouble is that so many journalistic organizations have already been hollowed out or have lost sense of their mission or are on a mission to
profitability that is not producing good journalism and I don't think the public admires or really wants that and certainly, won't pay for it.
AMANPOUR: Well, and here we come, almost perhaps to the crux of the issue or one of them and that is the whole pay the payment scheme if you like
regarding the economic model which has being so sort of bloviated and that's causing so much problem.
So how did we get them and "Breaking News" does talk about that, how does - how did we get to this moment and how does one move out of the real
economic constrictions on journalism?
RUSBRIDGER: Well, really, we had three revolutions in one. We had a technological revolution, we had an economic revolution and an editorial
revolution and they are all related and the technological one we know that what was scarce is now completely abundant and four billion people can talk
to each other on the internet and they no longer feel they need tablet of stone being handed down to them from people who own printing presses.
And that has led to them being distrusting the people who used to have the printing presses and it's led to them feeling that they can do with enough
social media and we shouldn't dismiss that because a lot of social media is really fantastic and to be frank, a lot of journalism is not good enough,
but we have to try and plot our way through and I don't think there's going to be one model of what's going to work for everybody. There are going to
be a variety of models that will see us into the future.
AMANPOUR: One of the things that I really found fascinating is this idea - and you talk about it, I mean, it's philanthropy, and I think when you
were still editor of "The Guardian," you created this sort of system of donations. I don't know what else to call it - from loyal readers to keep
you know the product and the newspaper and online going because "The Guardian" still ...
AMANPOUR: ... doesn't charge of its online content. Tell me about that. Has it worked?
RUSBRIDGER: It seems to be working. "The Guardian" has now got a million people who are paying because they - because they admire the journalism and
in America, I think that's now nearly a half the revenues that the organization are getting.
I mean, there are two models. One is to say that news is a private good and I want to pay for it in order to be able to read it myself, but not for
others to read it. And that was the model really of 250 years and the other is to say news is so important in a society, in a world which is
flooded with false news and fakery that I want to pay for it to be available to everybody.
And it's amazing that "Guardian" readers were able to or willing to put their hands in their pockets and go for the latter model.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it is actually - I mean, it is amazing and it really does give people a lot of hope. I wonder whether you think it can be sort
of replicated or is it because "The Guardian" has achieved a bit of a cult status, not just a newspaper, but certainly in America, it is read online
and I mean, you've branched into America in recent years. You haven't always been online, you haven't always been such a big deal in the United
How much does that partnership bolster the reputation and the knock-on effect for people to want to keep paying for this kind of content?
RUSBRIDGER: Well, I think the opportunity with digital is enormous, so "The Guardian" used to be a circulation of about 400,000 in the U.K. and
it's now got I think 160 million browsers around the world accessing it, so it's a huge increase and my guess is that a lot of people realize that
their lives are international.
Your security and my security, the environment, the economy, immigration -- all these stories are international stories and have to be reported
internationally. So, I think the that's the nature of the opportunity for people who want to be ambitious and take hold of that opportunity.
AMANPOUR: But you think it's just that? That people feel that they're connected to the rest of the world and want that or is it that you know,
that they're recognizing that they need to go somewhere in some proven context for truth, for fact, for evidence, for real investigative work and
frankly, for a long time, for many of the last few years as I said, a lot of the huge stories have been broken by "The Guardian," whether it's
Snowden, whether it was WikiLeaks with Assange at the time, the newspaper hacking -- all the rest of it. I mean, it's also the quality of what's on
RUSBRIDGER: It is and this is a very difficult thing for some newspaper managers to understand that - I mean, Nick Davis, our reporter did about
seven years' work on phone hacking. Now, there's no traditional system of economics that makes sense for that to work.
AMANPOUR: How many years' worth?
RUSBRIDGER: Seven years or work.
AMANPOUR: That's a lot.
RUSBRIDGER: It's a lot.
AMANPOUR: And you allowed that?
RUSBRIDGER: I positively encouraged it. The Snowden story had about 30 people working on it for six months. Now those are batty things to do too
many accountants. Luckily, I worked for a newspaper that saw that actually, if you do that, then that builds the reputation of "The Guardian"
and it ends with a million people putting their hands in their pocket.
They are not going to do that for what Nick described as churnalism.
RUSBRIDGER: Churnalism, which is --
AMANPOUR: This churn out ...
RUSBRIDGER: Yes, a lot of people are sitting just recycling press releases.
AMANPOUR: Okay, so let's just dig down into those because we talk about phone hacking for viewers who may not be you know, still very, very
familiar with that. Tell us what that was about and also where the Murdoch's case - so we know that Rupert Murdoch and his family and his
media empire own so much of the real estate and so much of the political sphere that you have said that you know, people were afraid to challenge
But you went against Murdoch newspapers in this phone hacking crisis. Just explain how that came about?
RUSBRIDGER: Well, people were absolutely afraid of the Murdoch organization. He owned 40% of the British press, politicians, other
newspapers, even the police were afraid of Murdoch.
And so when it turned out that at boardroom level, his company had approved enormous payouts to people in order to cover up evidence of criminality in
his company, something that if that was happening in a bank or an oil company or a car company, we wouldn't think twice about exposing.
I felt we had no option, but to look at that story and it ended with people going to jail and the news of the world, the paper that would be doing most
of the phone hacking closing.
AMANPOUR: What happened to those people? I mean, some of them, Rebekah Wade, for instance is back at the helm of News International. What - you
know, there was the Leveson inquiry, it was really public. There were hearings and you though, "Whoa," you know now some honesty is going to
really take hold in the press at large, and it can't get away with these things anymore. Did that happen?
RUSBRIDGER: Well, I don't think - I would be amazed if anybody was still engaged in criminal behavior in the newsroom, so I think it cleaned up Reed
Street to that extent. We've learned that actually at "The Mirror," there was an enormous amount of phone hacking going along as well. So I think
But what you learned is the Murdoch organization is a very particular kind of organization. Imagine if somebody who had been disgraced in a scandal
went back to run a bank or an oil company, well, it just couldn't happen at a public company, but if you're Rupert Murdoch, you own the company and you
could do what you like.
AMANPOUR: So that's - let's say, let's just put it in the basket of cleaning up our own house, cleaning up, you know, some of the media foibles
in the States, but then there's cleaning up government excesses and this is where Snowden comes in, right?
So Edward Snowden who revealed the extent of surveillance on ordinary people by the National Security Agency. We sort of generally know the
issue, but when you had to stand up and fight for the right to keep printing this and to keep you know, your sources and all the rest of it.
You came across officials of governments who really wanted to close you down. Intelligence officials right here in Great Britain.
RUSBRIDGER: Yes, it's the difference between the national interest and what the government dictates to be the interest of the day. We've
understood from your previous guest that what Richard Nixon thought was the interest of the day might be different from what the "New York Times"
thought, the Pentagon papers, so sometimes, the newspapers have to take their own judgment and my judgment was that Snowden was trying to say,
"Look, you can either be like China where there is no firewall between social media and the big tech companies and the government. The government
has a right to look at all aspects of your life or you can be like what we thought America should be." And we have a choice, but it's right that
people should know what's going on.
AMANPOUR: Except that you did it, and it all went - it came out, but then as I said, British intelligence came to "The Guardian" offices here in
RUSBRIDGER: Yes, well unlike in America where as a result of the Pentagon papers, it is inconceivable that even Donald Trump would walk into the into
the "New York Times" and try and stop publication in advance.
In Britain, we have no such laws and the government basically gave us an ultimatum and said either we smash up all your computers and you stop or
we'll get a lawyer and stop you.
AMANPOUR: We have the pictures of that, but it was quite a remarkable instance where they actually did - we're showing those pictures. So what
did they do? They just came with hammers and tongs and bashed it? What did they do?
RUSBRIDGER: Well, they actually destroyed and we thought it would be unseemly to actually have the government destroy our computer, so we
destroyed our own computers under their guidance and it turns out to be a bit harder to destroy a computer than we might think.
But the point was, we had already got our files to the "New York Times" and published under the protection of the First Amendment.
AMANPOUR: And knew that?
RUSBRIDGER: I told them in advance, so I mean, I think it felt to me like a piece of a kabuki theater that they wanted to be seen to be doing
something even if it wasn't going to actually have a thing ...
RUSBRIDGER: Again, it is actually very interesting because in years gone by, newspapers you know, media organizations would be very jealously
guarding their scoops. But in several of these big ones that you've launched and subsequently the Panama papers et cetera, they've sort of been
collaborative efforts. Why and I see now why it protected you because you could give the actual information and storage in the United States and it
would be safe there.
RUSBRIDGER: Well, there's no point in just publishing a story unless you could defend it and sometimes you need the law to do that and the First
Amendment is a very good shield. Sometimes, you just need sheer numbers.
In the times where our media organizations are a bit weakened, it helps to have two of you or ten of you or with the Panama papers, whatever it was,
130 of you because then you're a bigger target and you can't be picked off and I think again, this is one of the encouraging things about the current
AMANPOUR: So going back to Snowden and there was a public inquiry and you had to you know, hold before them and you had to you had to ask a question,
I'm going to read this out, but you know, this idea of the enemies of the people, it didn't just start with Donald Trump. It's really been going
gangbusters for a long time that many in authority, if you don't walk the walk or toe the line, they question your patriotism, your - you know, your
rights as a citizen.
I mean you also testified and the Committee Chair, you said, "We've not been going for long when he lobbed what felt like a fizzing grenade in my
direction. You and I were both born outside this country," you said, you were born in Zambia in Africa, "But I love this country. Do you love this
country?" For a split second, you write, "I was speechless. I recovered to say that my patriotism was rooted in the idea of a Britain that allowed
a free press that could report on such matters."
AMANPOUR: Discuss. Because many of - much of the press particularly since 9/11 has been sort of intimidated by raising questions of whether they're
terrorists loving, unpatriotic scum.
RUSBRIDGER: Yes, I mean, astonishing to me that this - you can't be a journalist interrogating your own country and holding it to account and
scrutinizing even its national security arrangements and not be a patriot.
This is really a dangerous thought and please, and it's always been there for 300 years. People have been willing to try and attack journalists for
being disloyal or a danger to society, but this is what's so insidious about the Trump attack, to repeatedly try and delegitimize proper
journalists and try and make them out to be the enemy. It's very dangerous.
AMANPOUR: Do you think that journalists which has had a whole sort of resurgence of life, I think, in the post Trump age, do you sometimes worry
like Bob Woodward, for instance said that he thought journalists were way too over emotional, too vested in Trump, the person and that was you know,
could cause, well overly emotional coverage?
RUSBRIDGER: I think that's there. I think you have to keep your cool. You have to remember what the craft is and the craft is about verification
and it's about putting facts in front of people. You can't beat facts and you can't operate a society without facts and so, we should stick to our
washing and just stick to what we know, and then I think people will realize there's a need for that. You can't have a society without facts.
AMANPOUR: Well, precisely which leads me to finally asking you where you think the press is failing on people and society and the existence of our
planet? I mean, I think you've said very clearly that on climate, the press is failing. The mainstream media is failing on the public on
climate. It's really rising as a major issue especially for young voters and young people right now.
They, you know, brought Australia to a close a few weeks ago demonstrating against, you know, a lack of environmental policies. We've seen it in
France, we've seen it in politics, in Germany, greens are rising. How have we failed? What should we do?
RUSBRIDGER: Well, it's obviously the biggest story of our time. This is an existential threat to our species. There's no story that's bigger than
that and it's a rather urgent story and yet, you don't see it very often on the front pages or the bulletins.
And even when you do see, it's often dripped in - the sketches is all about the evidence. So that's a failure of journalism and the reason why it's so
dangerous, you've sort of seen on the streets of Paris. Political leaders are going to have to do uncomfortable things and if the population have not
been in any way prepared for that story or worse, of being told to disbelieve it. That's a kind of disaster for democracy and the species.
And so I think, journalism has to step up to the plate and take the story more seriously.
AMANPOUR: What do you feel right now? I mean, do you feel optimistic? Do you feel the press has regained its rightful place? It's regained its
footing? I mean, look, we saw this year, you saw that words have consequences. CNN and other organizations and individuals were targeted by
these pipe bombs, and you know, there was a lot of pointing fingers at the words that have come out of this administration and of course, as you said
those words that action is reproduced and permitted then around the world.
RUSBRIDGER: I do feel optimistic for good journalism. As I said, the journalism that counts this is in the public interest that serves as a
public service. I think people recognize that that is necessary and they will support it. Journalism that is ignoring harsh truths or is dishonest
or is unethical or is shallow, I'm afraid there's no future for them.
AMANPOUR: On that note, we certainly agree or that. Alan Rusbridger, thank you so much. "Breaking News." So just as we rely on journalists to
bear witness, we often rely on film makers to bring important stories to life. The Lebanese director, Nadine Labaki's new film, "Capernaum" does
just that. It tells the story of Zain, a 12-year-old street kid in Beirut who is trying to sue his parents for having him.
The actor playing Zain, Zain Al Rafeea is himself a Syrian refugee and was illiterate when filming started. He is one of several non-actors featured
in the cast, and all deliver astonishing performances. This month, "Capernaum" secured a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language
Film, and our Hari Sreenivasan sat down with Nadine Labaki earlier this week to discuss it.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
HARI SREENIVASAN, ANCHOR, PBS: First, what's the film about?
NADINE LABAKI, LEBANESE FILM MAKER: In brief, the film is about a boy who sues his parents for giving him life and for bringing him into this world
that is not giving him any chance to survive or any tools to survive.
LABAKI: Symbolically, he doesn't have papers. He's not been registered. So symbolically, he's a nonexistent child, a child that is almost invisible
that we don't see.
SREENIVASAN: He's almost representing not just a forgotten individual, but a lost generation of kids. We have seen in this migration out of Syria and
also the global migration that is happening, what happens to these kids? There's no school. There's no prospect of a job.
LABAKI: They don't have the right to anything unfortunately. Yes, since the moment they are born, in a way, since the moment zero, they don't have
the right to anything because most of the time, unfortunately, these kids are not registered because it costs money to register a child.
So it starts from there. So it takes place in Lebanon because this is what I know, this where I live. This is where I tell my story because this is
something that I know very well. But this is not only happening in Lebanon, this is happening almost in every big city of the world. This
"Capernaum" that we are talking about, Capernaum means chaos, it also means also chaos and miracles at the same time, and so this is the story of any
big city of the world right now, unfortunately.
SREENIVASAN: You were able to get into parts of the city that if I was a tourist, I'm never going to see.
SREENIVASAN: How did you get the buy-in from the neighborhood, from the street because a lot of times, people in dire straits, they say, "You know
what, I don't want you to show this side of my city or country."
LABAKI: It wasn't even a choice for me, it was sort of a duty. At some point, it was my duty to show it. Because this is a problem that is coming
- becoming almost part of our daily lives. The sight of children on the streets, children begging, children working, selling gum and carrying heavy
loads. Children who are deprived from their most basic rights.
These children are paying the highest price for our faults and our conflicts and our wars and our stupid decisions and stupid governments, and
failing systems. And so I thought it was my duty in a way to talk about it.
I was collaborating in this crime if I was going be to be silent, and I started researching and going to those places. You know, you imagine this
kid's life and his family but you don't know that behind the scenes really, where does this kid go to when he disappears around the corner and you
don't see him anymore, what is his life? Who is his family? What is his every day struggle? What is he feeling towards this injustice that he is
And it started like that, wanting to know more, going to those places, meeting children, talking to children and talking to their parents, because
I needed to understand also the point of view of the parents. And then talking to lawyers, to judges, trying to understand the point of view of
justice, going to courts. Trying to understand where is the failure? Where is the failure of the system?
SREENIVASAN: Let's take a look at a clip. One of the several clips you have from the courtroom scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. How old are you, Zain?
ZAIN, CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE "CAPERNAUM": [Speaking foreign language]. I don't know. Ask them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Your Honor, Zain has no birth certificate and has never been registered with the state and his
parents apparently don't know his exact date of birth. Here is the medical examiner's report that states that Zain was approximately 12 years old at
the time of the incident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. So he's 12 years old?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Where do you live, Zain?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. Roumieh Prison for Juveniles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Arrested on June 15, you're serving your sentence. Do you know why?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. Because I stabbed a sonofabitch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. You stabbed someone?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. Yes, sonofabitch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Really? You're insisting? No laughing in court. What's all this fuss you've caused? On
TV and the media, your phone cal from prison. Know why you're here?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Why?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. I want to sue my parents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Why do you want to sue your parents?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. Because I was born.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: Tell me a little bit about Zain, the actor who plays him. We don't see as much in this particular scene. But it is a remarkable
performance by this young man.
LABAKI: He's a miracle boy. He is truly a miracle. Zain is a Syrian refugee. He's been living in Lebanon in very, very difficult circumstances
for the past eight years. He fled the war in Syria with his family, so he was living in one of those very difficult neighborhoods.
LABAKI: His situation was even more difficult than what you see in the film. The only difference is from the film is that Zain has loving
SREENIVASAN: In real life now?
LABAKI: In real life, yes. In a way they knew how to love him. And Zain never went to school. So at the moment, when we were shooting the film, he
was 12. He didn't even know how to write his own name which is only --
SREENIVASAN: But he's quite smart.
LABAKI: Very smart. Very smart because Zain obviously, he learned in the school of life and the streets and this is where he learned everything.
This is where he had to be an adult to survive because he had to struggle every day to exist and when you see those kids fighting, when you see those
kids struggling with life, they're not kids anymore.
You understand it when you hear him talk and his foul language and his body language, Zain is smaller than his age because of malnutrition. He was 12,
you would think he's eight or nine maximum when you look at him.
He has these sad eyes that show - that explain to you everything he's been through. It shows that his eyes have been witness to a lot of things, a
lot of abuse, a lot of mistreatment. He's seen other kids being mistreated and abused. He has seen his neighbors getting married at 11 or 12 years
old - sold, I am not going to say getting married, they are actually sold under the excuse of marriage.
So he knows everything he is talking about and in he is those kids and he knew, he understood that he was in a sort of a mission that he was becoming
the voice of those voiceless kids he was representing. So this gave him also a lot of strength. It gave him - we were all collaborating in a way.
We felt like a team and he was part of that mission.
SREENIVASAN: Is this why you chose the type of cast that you did? I mean, you were casting as you were shooting the film.
SREENIVASAN: And these are not professionals. There was not a casting agency, not an audition that went out.
LABAKI: Yes, the casting department was just amazing. They would go everywhere in Lebanon, go to the most dangerous and unfortunate places,
interview kids, interview the parents. Zain was found in the streets. He was playing next to his - in his neighborhood and the casting director saw
him and interviewed him. As soon as I saw the interview, it was obvious two minutes into the interview that I had found him.
SREENIVASAN: So you're telling me that basically, their real life experiences started in forming your script.
SREENIVASAN: So what they have already lived through added a layer of authenticity to what you were trying to document.
LABAKI: All the time. Yes, absolutely. All the time. Of course, we had a very solid script to start with. Because it is impossible to improvise
if you don't know your material very well. So that's - our script was our solid base. It was our starting point and our landing point every time in
But in the meantime, we are open to whatever life is going to give us also and to whatever the actors have to say or have to give or have to add.
I felt like I don't have the right to impose anything on them or any reality or anything I had imagined. When I was researching, I knew that I
have to draw in whatever I was seeing, that reality and then in a way, transpose it in the script.
I don't have a right to imagine that story. I have to be the vehicle for them to express themselves, for them to tell me their real story. So it
was a collaborating process the whole time.
SREENIVASAN: Another character in the film that was really quite a good performance was Rahil. Tell me a little bit about him.
LABAKI: Rahil is also - she is from Eretria and she ended up in Lebanon, in very difficult circumstances. She lost her parents at the very young
age. She was an orphan when she was very, very young, she had to take care of her siblings. She had a very, very difficult life.
And then she ended up in Lebanon at some point and in Lebanon, also under the sponsorship system the situation is very difficult. It is almost like
modern slavery in a way. She had no papers, so she was living illegally because she wasn't obviously happy in the house with the employer she was
working with, so she decided --
SREENIVASAN: She was working as a maid?
LABAKI: Yes. Yes, most of them work as domestic workers in houses. And she was working at a house and she was not happy, so she left and she was a
runaway in a way. So she was living illegally in Lebanon.
When we met her, when the casting director saw her also and interviewed her. In the beginning, it was difficult because she was scared also who
are these people ...
LABAKI: ... interviewing me. Why? I am in an illegal situation. So it took time to build this trust relationship and you know, she's magic. I
mean, you see her in the film. She is magic because she's been through very difficult circumstances and she knows everything she's talking about
in the film. She knows that suffering. She's been there. You don't need to explain it. You don't need to act it in a way. She is that person.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: [Speaking foreign language]. How many brothers and sister do you have?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. A lot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: [Speaking foreign language]. Do you miss them?
ZAIN: [Speaking foreign language]. I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: There's a certain universality here in the importance of papers, of identity. You can talk about it to a character that is a
refugee from Syria or Eretria or the undocumented that are living in the United States every day.
LABAKI: That was a very important theme in the film. If you - if you analyze it, almost each one of the characters has the same problem for
different reason. And I wanted really to talk about the absurdity of having to have to a paper to prove that you exist, where you are here, your
own flesh and blood, you exist. You really do exist. But you have to have this piece of paper and if you don't, you don't have the right to anything.
SREENIVASAN: There's no sugarcoating this film. I mean, it is a hard film to watch. That's the point. Is there anything that we can hope for
because you get out of this film and --
LABAKI: Thinking it is --
SREENIVASAN: Pretty bleak.
SREENIVASAN: I mean, not like you should make people feel good if it is not the truth, but what?
LABAKI: I think it's - you know, that's smile at the end of the film, the fact that Zain looks at you, this only time for the first time, looks at
you as a viewer in the eyes, it is a way of engaging with you and saying, you know, "I'm here, I exist. Look at me. Stop being oblivious."
We're not talking about hundreds of kids or thousands of kids. We're talking about millions of kids across the world. They say there's over 280
million children across the world in those situations. Children working to feed their families, children deprived from schools. Children hungry. And
this is what this look at the end of the film for me means. We have to look at the problem. We have to look at those children and we have to
acknowledge the problem.
Otherwise, we are on the verge of a big catastrophe. It is going to explode in our faces. These kids are very angry and one day they're going
to grow up.
SREENIVASAN: As a fallout from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the neighboring countries are picking up the brunt of this weight and their economies in
some ways can't handle it.
LABKI: Yes, it is unimaginable to think that only ten countries in the world have you know, almost 60% of the burden of this crisis of the Syrian
refugee crisis. In Lebanon, one in six people is a Syrian refugee. In Jordan, one in 14, in Turkey there's 3.5 million refugees. It is really
the neighboring countries and unfortunately, they are in their own economic crisis.
Each one of those countries is struggling with their own economic situation. In Lebanon, when -- ever since we were kids in school, the
teacher used to tell us, you see that visible dot on the map. This is Lebanon. This is your country. So this invisible dot on the map is
actually hosting in proportion with the population in Lebanon, it is hosting the highest number of refugees in the world. It is almost half the
population. This cannot be the burden of one or two or three countries. This is a shared responsibility.
SREENIVASAN: Nadine Labaki, thanks so much for joining us.
LABAKI: Thank you for having me.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: This is a film with an important message for the moment that we live in. And good luck with Labaki's film at the Golden Globes next year.
That is it for us for now. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast. You can see us online at amanpour.com and you can follow me on Facebook and
Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.