It was with great fanfare and a measure of controversy that ABC News named Christiane Amanpour to anchor its Sunday morning show “This Week” after George Stephanopoulos moved on to host “Good Morning America.”
Since then, the former CNN correspondent’s ratings and audience reception have been underwhelming as the international reporter attempts to take on the network’s flagship Washington-based politics show. The show debuted at No. 3 among network Sunday talk shows, behind perennial leader NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Nine weeks after she took the helm, the show’s ratings fell to their lowest level since 2003.
She has faced criticism from conservatives for bias in her questioning, but also from inside-the-Beltway types who preferred interim hosts Terry Moran, Jake Tapper, and Jon Karl for their deeper familiarity with domestic politics. Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales’ review of her debut suggested “refashioning the show” to fit her “specialty could, in a word, ruin it.”
Indeed, a review of the high-profile hire’s five months on the air yields a variety of biased, tortured, and downright silly questions that don’t exactly have the ring of Tim Russert-like expertise about them.
No. 10: That’s a lecture, not a question.
Amanpour got emotional with guest Rep. Mike Pence over his support for extending all the Bush tax cuts when her other guest, Reagan budget director David Stockman disagreed. It was quite clear which one she sided with in the argument, as she searched for a question in her treatise on income inequality during the Nov. 7 show:
“You all talk about the middle class, but the middle class, we’ve seen their incomes stagnant. Whereas, the huge amount of wealth that’s been accumulated by a very, very small top percent. It’s not fair, is it? Is it?”
No. 9: How can Democrats not be more popular? They’ve done so much!
This is a frequent formulation of Amanpour’s. When interviewing Democratic leaders, she often betrays her bewilderment that the American electorate is not more excited about all the things the 111th Congress passed. In a Sept. 26 discussion with presidential adviser David Axelrod, Amanpour said:
“But really a lot of people — I mean, people from all over the world, frankly, say to me here comes a president with a huge mandate, a huge reservoir of goodwill, huge promises to change, and with all of that, his popularity is down.
People don’t appreciate some of the amazing legislative agenda that he’s accomplished.
Is this a failure of leadership? Has he allowed the opposition to define him?”
No. 8: No, seriously, Democrats are awesome.
Another example of the above formulation, offered to Speaker Nancy Pelosi during an August interview:
“Let me ask you about the mid-term elections. You are, by all accounts, one of the most — if not the most — powerful and successful speakers of — in the history of the United States. You’ve passed so much legislation. The president was elected with a significant majority.
You had control of both houses of Congress. And yet now, people are talking about you might lose your majority in the House. The gap seems to be growing wider between what’s achieved and what’s making an impact with the people. How did this happen?”
No. 7: Colorful hand and eye-glass punctuation
Arguably the most fun part of Amanpour’s tenure has been the interviewing mannerisms she’s brought to the round table, including often energetic hand gestures we’ve taken the liberty of naming “The Claw,” “The Strangler,” “The Hanging Glasses,” and most aggressive of all— “The Stabbing Glasses.”
No. 6: The long and tortured explanation.
Amanpour is clearly more comfortable discussing foreign policy, and though she generally knows the facts of domestic spats, her long-winded explanations can leave exasperated politicos thinking, “Yes, we know. Get on with it!”
This exchange from a September interview with Austan Goolsbee had Goolsbee visibly debating whether he should jump in and finish the thought for her:
“All right, well, he does obviously go on to say that he’s obviously going to do everything he can to fight to make sure that all the tax cuts are extended. But if this does happen and he is going to vote for an extension of the middle class tax cuts, how do you think that those Democrats who oppose what the president wants to do will be brought on board? In other words, will they also go for just the middle class tax cuts and get this done by the midterms?”
No. 5: The “duh” observation.
The “duh” observation on Sunday shows is usually left to flacks who are using them to fill up time because they’ve run out of facts to marshal. On “This Week,” the “duh” observation often comes from Amanpour, as in this exchange, again with Axelrod:
“People are very upset about the national debt and the — and the deficits and all right now.”
She uses the observation as a set-up to a question about whether Obama can manage middle-class tax cuts, but the rather vague formulation, backed with no new or recent poll data, comes off as filler.
No. 4: Repeating the “duh” observation of Meghan McCain
If it is not already a rule of thumb for a Sunday show host not to have Meghan McCain on the show, it should by all means be a rule not to repeat McCain’s assertions as if they are unassailable and wise. Amanpour, Meghan McCain, and George Will discuss a McCain point in this Oct. 17 roundtable:
MCCAIN: I wrote this out of personal experience. I know how I’m vilified on an absolutely daily basis. No matter what the Republican Party wants to think about this Tea Party movement, it is losing young voters at a rapid rate. And this isn’t going to change unless we start changing our message.
Maybe we won’t care. But I still care…
WILL: Twenty months ago…
AMANPOUR: She has a point, right? Young voters are the future.
WILL: Well, that’s — that’s…
WILL: Yes, that’s tautology, but not — not…
WILL: Not an astute political point. No, 20 months ago the question was, does the Republican Party have a future? In the last 20 months, we’ve had two things happen. A, the Tea Party movement has energized the Republican Party, and the Democrats are trying to hold onto one house of Congress right now. I don’t think that’s the sign of a party that’s in trouble.
In this clip, Amanpour poses the provocative Time magazine headline “Is America Islamaphobic?” as a question to Ground Zero Mosque backer Daisy Khan.
In the September Axelrod interview, during a segment of the interview that doesn’t appear in online clips, but does in the show’s transcript, Amanpour asked the Obama adviser a shallow question by simply repeating that Karl Rove was the subject of a New York Times article.
“Big front-page article in the New York Times today about the return of the Republican guru, Karl Rove. What do you think that’s going to mean? You guys can’t get your message out, apparently. They’re pretty good at doing it.”
For a wonky audience, merely asking about recent widely read articles with no context doesn’t cut it.
No. 2: Tell me how you feel.
In this August interview of Pelosi, after wondering aloud why she wasn’t more popular for all that she’d accomplished, Amanpour shifted into the friendly therapist mode known almost exclusively to left-leaning public officials.
AMANPOUR: Are you nervous about November?
PELOSI: No, I’m not nervous at all —
AMANPOUR: Not at all?
PELOSI: No. I’m — I’m —
AMANPOUR: Because people say I know you’re putting on a great face –has you have to
PELOSI: — that’s not.
AMANPOUR: — going into an election. But people say there’s been considerable worry about what will happen in November.
No. 1: Getting jazzy with GOTV.
And, the top Amanpour-ism of the year goes to this phrase, which combines both oversimplification and odd construction in a patented Amanpour domestic policy question. She asked Axelrod in August:
“How is the president — how are you going to jazz your — your — your electorate, your base ahead of these elections?”
In the new year, we’ll see if Amanpour can finally jazz her audience enough to get out of third place.