CNN's Woman at the Front
That is the sort of spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants journalism that Amanpour, 35, thrives on. And it's what some 140 million viewers in more than 200 countries have come to expect from this Iranian-reared, U.S.-trained reporter whose husky voice resonates with a distinctly British accent. Since first earning her stripes in 1990, with her unflustered coverage of the Persian Gulf War, Amanpour has steadily advanced to the front ranks of combat correspondents. Says one admirer—and one of Amanpour's idols—ABC anchorman Peter Jennings: "She's brave, she's intelligent—she should work for us!"
Her bosses, naturally, would prefer to keep her. "Christiane's fearless," says Ed Turner, CNN's executive vice-president of news gathering. "Somalia, Russia, the gulf, Bosnia—she's done it all. But she worries me because she thinks bullets bounce off her."
That's not quite true: Amanpour does wear a helmet and flak vest at the front lines. Still, in a 20-month-old war that so far has claimed the lives of at least 35 journalists, Turner's concern seems justified. In July of last year, while Amanpour was taking a few days' R&R in Paris, a Serbian sniper's bullet hit her camera operator, Margaret Moth, in the face. Now mostly recovered after reconstructive surgery, Moth, 42, is back at work in CNN's Paris bureau. "What happened to Margaret made me realize how vulnerable we all are," Amanpour says. "But it never made me have second thoughts about doing my job here. I love my work."
She may love it a little too much. Amanpour, who has turned down anchor assignments that would lake her away from the front, admits she is fascinated by the "intensity" of war reporting. "It's pure adrenaline," she once said, "something that gives you a chance to confront your fears." Such as the night she had her closest brush with death. While asleep in her room at Sarajevo's darkened and war-damaged Holiday Inn, "I heard this awful whistling noise," she recalls. "It was a howitzer mortar shell, apparently misaimed. It landed in a room two doors down from mine—but it didn't explode. Otherwise, it would have been over for me."
Her 18 months in Bosnia have proved harrowing in other ways too. Amanpour remembers wailing in the city of Tuzla, 50 miles north of Sarajevo, last April for convoys of Muslim refugees lo arrive from Srebrenica some 45 miles away. "We weren't prepared for what happened next," she says. "[The drivers] pulled back the canvas covering a truck, and all of a sudden we saw bloodied, wounded children." She adds: "I know it's not a sexy story anymore. After so many months, people arc tired of it. But there's still a human drama here. Other correspondents before me had World War II or Vietnam. Well, this is my Vietnam."
Amanpour has been caught up in the drama of war since 1979. That was the year that the Khomeini-led revolution forced her parents, Mohamed Amanpour, an Iranian airline executive, now 78, and his English wife, Patricia, 60, to leave their home in Teheran for London, where Christiane—the eldest of four daughters—had been born 20 years before. "My father lost everything," she has explained. "We had to start over. But I remember I wanted to have a reason to be in the middle of things, with all the movers and shakers. I wanted lo be a foreign correspondent."
Fortunately, Amanpour's maternal grandmother helped pay her tuition as a journalism major at the University of Rhode Island, where she had friends. She graduated in 1983 and continued an internship at WJAR, an NBC affiliate in Providence. That September, at 25, she got an entry-level, gofer job on CNN's foreign desk in Atlanta. "She said she wanted to be a star," recalls one of her supervisors, Eason Jordan. "We all smiled."
But her prowess at writing anchor copy in the New York and Frankfurt bureaus demonstrated Amanpour's potential, and in August 1990 she was asked to help cover the brewing gulf crisis. She also joined Peter Arnett briefly in Baghdad, then covered the Kurdish refugee crisis in northern Iraq before returning to Iran as a reporter in 1991. "It helped that I spoke Farsi," says Amanpour, who is also fluent in French, but she hated to wear the required veil in public.
Though she is a rising star in a highly visible profession, "she is not a prima donna," says Dave Rust, 42, her cameraman in Sarajevo for more than a year. "She genuinely likes people, and she doesn't think her [gender] makes her anything special." Indeed, Amanpour, an exuberant presence of-camera, belies the romantic image of the foreign correspondent. "I don't have a trench coat," she says, and prefers to work in jeans, sweaters and boots, usually without makeup. About 10 days ever)' few months, she retreats to an apartment in Paris, where she often escapes to the movies. Intensely guarded about her personal life, she says, "I'm happily with someone—and that's as far as I go."
As for her spartan accommodations in Sarajevo, a hotel room often lacking electricity and running water, Amanpour knows things could be worse. "I could be like all the refugees," she says. "Winter's coming, and a lot of people are going to die. I'm just here to report it. Let's see if others will do something about it."