Oprah: When you're covering a crisis such as poverty in Africa, do you feel that your role is just to tell the story?
Christiane: The politically correct thing to say is that it's not a journalist's role to be an advocate, to have an agenda, to agitate on behalf of any kind of political position. But in my work, basic matters of life and death are on the table—whether it's genocide in Africa and the Balkans or violations of human rights. I'm not just a stenographer or someone with a megaphone; when I report, I have to do it in context, to be aware of the moral conundrum. If I'm talking about genocide, for instance, I have to be able to draw a line between victim and aggressor. It would be irresponsible for me and CNN to tell you what the person being gang-raped says, what the rapist says—and to give each equal time and moral equivalence. I can't do that because it means being neutral in the face of unspeakable horror. When you're neutral, you're an accessory.
Oprah: That's right. Where are you headed next?
Christiane: First to Dubai, then to Africa. I really believe our generation can end extreme poverty in places like Africa. If you asked most Americans how much of our budget goes to foreign aid, many would say 15 percent. Only about 0.1 percent of America's gross domestic product goes to foreign aid. Europeans are somewhere around 0.4. I think there's a lot of space for Americans to support their government in giving more aid in places where it can do a lot of good.
Oprah: The reason there's extreme poverty is that the world allows it.
Christiane: True. In many parts of the poor world, there are obviously corrupt governments, and a lot of work needs to be done on that. But you can't say that we'll only help if there's a good government. Yes, we have to lobby for good government, but we also have to help the poorest of the poor. It's our responsibility. We're so rich—we have all the technology, money, power, media. This is our moment. If commitments aren't made now, they may not be made again in our lifetime. I don't believe the conventional wisdom that Americans don't care what happens in the world. Individual Americans had an incredible reaction to the tsunami—much faster than their government's reaction. Americans are a very moral and compassionate people who believe in extending a helping hand, especially when they get the full facts instead of one-minute clips.
Oprah: Do you have trouble getting CNN to allow you to do longer pieces?
Christiane: Fortunately not. I just have to present a compelling case and make sure the story is valid. I'm lucky.
Oprah: I understand that the rest of the media wouldn't have covered the Bosnian War the way they did ten years ago had it not been for your insistence.
Christiane: Well, look, that's a big compliment and very flattering. I consider Bosnia the most important work I've ever done. All during the war, CNN was there every day, and we weren't only covering car and suicide bombs; we did human interest stories. That made a difference. I'm absolutely convinced that had we not been there—not just CNN but every news organization there—perhaps the West might not have intervened.
Oprah: The news was in our face.
Christiane: Americans are concerned with human rights. Their principles and honor couldn't tolerate it anymore. Western democracy cannot sit by forever while a genocide is perpetrated. But let me tell you the flip side of that story—the time when we didn't shine the spotlight enough and the world did sit by.