Amanpour, Guest Compare Trump to Joe McCarthy; Were Hamas Rallies ‘Pro-Peace’?

News & Politics

On Monday, the interview show Amanpour & Co., which airs on CNN International and taxpayer-supported PBS, aired a conversation between host Christiane Amanpour and Jelani Cobb, the dean of Columbia Journalism School, both fretting over the perils of Trump and bringing the Joe McCarthy era into the discussion (you know it’s serious when journalists bring up the Red Scare).

The show included this laugher of a line fromAmanpour: “And yet, most journalists, most — I guess, mainstream media would say, it’s not our job to tell people how to vote.”

Cobb agreed in “yes, but” fashion, insisting journalists must make the “Joseph McCarthy” level dangers of a second Trump administration clear. Interestingly, Trump’s name was barely mentioned, as if he was Voldemort, but it was clear who Amanpour and Cobb were fretting over.

Last year, Cobb awarded Amanpour the Columbia Journalism Award at the school’s graduation ceremony, and she made a fiery liberal speech in which she also suggested the media treat Trump like McCarthy. Cobb and Amanpour are clearly like-minded liberals, “mainstream” or not

That “threat” of course, was a five-letter word that starts with T. Amanpour suggested the press treat Trump like McCarthy and ignore him:

Switching to the campus protests at Columbia, Cobb surprisingly admitted there were “some people who were legitimately dangerous who found their way onto campus.” Yet, the dean of the journalism school found no threatening left-wingers, even though protesters forcefully occupied a campus building and at least one student protest leader was banned from campus for threatening to murder “Zionists.” He was talking about “far-right” Proud Boys as the true threat. Some journalism!

Amanpour dropped a stunning bit of news – those pro-Hamas contingents at Columbia and elsewhere, harassing Jews and taking the side of terrorists, were actually “pro-peace”:

Amanpour & Co.


1:37:33 p.m. (ET)

AMANPOUR: So, what do you make of the challenge for all of us, and for you, as the dean of the major journalism school of what’s happening right now, as I said, this avalanche of disinformation right around yet another important election?

COBB: Yes. So, I think this is not a new problem.


COBB: No, obviously —

AMANPOUR: But it’s getting worse.

COBB: It’s getting worse. And the problem that I think we really confront is the learning curve for us, you know, socially, you know, as democratic societies and professionally, particularly in the journalism world, we have not quite figured out the formula that we need in order to address how we operate in a disinformation ecosystem. And all these things are coming to a head as we see this wave of elections around the world and this is going to be a defining issue in the coming —

AMANPOUR: And you’re in London and you’re meeting with a lot of likeminded people.

COBB: Sure.

AMANPOUR: And from here, you can really see the rest of the world and all the elections that are going on. But my question, Jelani, is you’re also a journalist. We’re not quite up to it, but it’s been — how long has it been since Trump was first elected? And we still haven’t got it right. How would you think the mainstream media, let’s just say television since we’re on television, is covering Trump in a — now, you know, taking everything that he says live and all the rest of it?

COBB: So, I mean, I think that we see things like still treating him as if he were a normal candidate. Still reporting on him, you know, and the kinds of protocols you would use for a normal candidacy. Not kind of drilling down on facts. Being susceptible to the distractions.

If he says or does something outrageous and, you know, we chase after it like a pet chasing a shiny toy as opposed to drilling down on fact after fact after fact, doing the things that are boring, quite frankly, the things that are less spectacular, but the things that really go to the heart of saying who this person is, what he actually stands for, what the threats, the potential threats to — in the United States, our democratic system and the — by implication, the threats globally, that could be a product of his presidency if he were to be elected again.

Like that’s the work that I think that we have to really emphasize.

AMANPOUR: I mean, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw a headline that — I’m paraphrasing — Trump declares the FBI was locked and loaded ready to kill him when they were searching Mar-a-Lago for these, you know, classified documents that shouldn’t have been in his possession and that he was actually not forthcoming about. So, that’s the kind of craziness that we’re dealing with.

And yet, most journalists, most — I guess, mainstream media would say, it’s not our job to tell people how to vote. Are those two connected?

COBB: Yes. I don’t think that we have to be in the business of telling people how to vote. But at the same time, we really should be in the business of pointing out things that are exceedingly dangerous. You know, we don’t tell you what to wear in the morning, but we do tell you that it’s going to rain. And so, you know, these are the things that we have to, you know, really seriously, you know, foreground in our work. And we’ve seen some of it, you know, the eight years since this threat emerged, but I still don’t think we’re necessarily where we should be as an industry and as a profession.

AMANPOUR: Are there historic examples that you teach at the Journalism School or that we should be aware of? I mean, I remember reading, and I’m just going to get this a little fuzzy, but I think it was one of the main national newspapers back at the height of McCarthy’s lies, basically.

COBB: That’s right.

AMANPOUR: And his red scares and his blacklists and destroying the lives of people. They decided that they would not any longer print stuff that did not, what, reach the level that could be defended in a court, right?

COBB: And so, here’s the amazing thing about this, the parallels with the Joe McCarthy era and in American history are astounding. One of the things that began to happen as a result, and McCarthy would say outrageous things and newspapers would just print them or put them on the headlines, they had a built-in conflict of interest because if you said something outrageous, you knew that people were going to pick up the paper and buy it. But over the time, as people began to see the corrosive effects of what they were doing, they began to correct him in headlines, parenthetically, McCarthy accuses a congressman of being a communist, parentheses, no evidence this is true. And so, there was a learning curve where they recognized the real danger of what they had been doing.

AMANPOUR: And what did that do to his — the potency of his lies and his red baiting?

COBB: Well, it certainly made it more difficult for him to be able to do that. And the other part of it was that, just as he had been a product of

the news media, it was television media that brought him down. You know, and so, it was a kind of almost immune response.

AMANPOUR: People like Edward R. Murrow.

COBB: Edward R. Murrow, that’s right.

AMANPOUR: And his forensic digging into it all.

COBB: And that is exactly the case study that we used. Yes.

AMANPOUR: OK. But we know that we’re not there anymore. We’ve got multiple television organizations. We’ve got multiple, multiple online silos and social media platforms. How is anybody meant to know which has the so- called good housekeeping seal of approval in terms of journalism?

COBB: Well, I think one of the problems is that, you know, we on, you know, the broader kind of regulatory side, you know, that’s an environment that was infinitely more complicated than it was in the 1950s in the United States.

But we haven’t come to any real conclusions about what should be done with disinformation, about whether protected speech includes lies. You know, that’s a really complicated area of American law. So, some of this is in the realm of what journalists have to be, you know, thinking about. Some of this is in the realm of governments and policy and judiciary and legislatures. You know, this is really a multifaceted, layered problem that we’re trying to grapple with all at once.

AMANPOUR: And you are, as I said, the dean of Columbia Journalism School and a practicing journalist. How did you grapple with what was happening on your campus, the protests, calling in the police, essentially the struggle between protest and speech?

COBB: Sure. So, you know, at the Journalism School, we kind of looked at this in a slight — I think maybe slightly differently from other – some of the other institutions at Columbia, because this is something we would report on. And so, we followed the protocols of any news organization. Youknow, we were proponents of the free press, proponents of free speech, and went out and covered the story. And it was a really amazing moment to see, you know, our faculty and people who were literally in their classes out working shoulder to shoulder and reporting on what was going on.

And so, you know, there were complicated kind of issues around, you know, whether there were threats, you know, there were some people who were legitimately dangerous who found their way onto campus, you know, who —

AMANPOUR: Outsiders, as the police said?

COBB: Well, some far-right groups, actually, you know, who were Proud Boys and they we’re kind of a presence there. And so, those are things that complicated the scenario. But for us, you know, we err on the side of free speech and free press at every turn.

AMANPOUR: What do you think the lasting fallout will be? Because it really was an upheaval on American campuses and in this — the domain of free speech versus hate speech, or intimidating speech, or even acts of violence. Because I read that UCLA, which called in the police to stop, actually, a pro-Israel group attacking the pro-peace group.

COBB: Sure, sure.

AMANPOUR: Now, the — UCLA has dismissed some of those — their own law enforcement officers and things. So, what do you think the fallout is going to be on campus?

COBB: It’s hard to say. Honestly, we can’t predict. The one thing that I can say is that this story seems to have abated because, you know, schools are in recess and graduation has taken place. By no means should we presume that that means the story is over. That the implications and ramifications of this will likely continue into the next academic year, if not beyond.

AMANPOUR: And globally, where do you see journalism as a defender of democracy? Obviously, truth, but that’s a pillar of democracy.

COBB: Well, it’s really disturbing because, at the same time, we talked about all these threats of misinformation and authoritarianism and so on. It is disturbing to see that we have had — even if we exclude, you know, Gaza and Israel, we have had an astounding number of journalists die in the course of conducting their work. Certainly, in Ukraine, in Latin America, in Africa, the Committee to Protect Journalists has been all over this story and pointing out the tremendous uptick.

And so, I think the general climate of anti-democracy has translated into very real dangers for us as we go about doing this work. And the fundamental reality of it is, is that we believe, optimistically, that the world is a better place when we know what is going on around it, so much so that we’re willing to risk our lives to provide people with information. If nothing else, that’s a banner an indicator of how important democracy is.

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