Daniel W. Drezner

Can international relations and Beltway gossip mix on television?

Last week, ABC announced that foreign policy correspondent extraordinaire Christiane Amanpour would leave CNN to take over This Week Sunday morning talk show come August.  Yesterday, Washington Post‘s Tom Shales wrote a sloppy, badly edited story which closed as follows:  From many angles, it was a bad choice — one which could create so much consternation ...

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Last week, ABC announced that foreign policy correspondent extraordinaire Christiane Amanpour would leave CNN to take over This Week Sunday morning talk show come August.  Yesterday, Washington Post‘s Tom Shales wrote a sloppy, badly edited story which closed as follows: 

From many angles, it was a bad choice — one which could create so much consternation that Westin will be forced to withdraw Amanpour’s name and come up with another “nominee” for the job. That would hardly be a tragedy — considering how many others deserve it more than she does.

A bunch of bloggers and commentators jumped on Shales, accusing him of anti-Iranian bias and poor reporting/framing of the story.   The first charge is a stretch, but the second charge holds up. In a chat, Shales reveals his preference even more blatantly, writing that, “I think Christiane is one of the most over-rated and hyped personalities of our day” and suggesting she’s had a bad-hair year. 

Sweeping away the silliness, the question I find interesting is whether a This Week-style Sunday morning talk show can pivot more towards foreign policy and still generate ratings/buzz/interest. That certainly seems to be ABC’s intent

Amanpour, in an interview, said she intended to increase the focus on foreign affairs on the Sunday-morning program. Previous host George Stephanopoulos made his insider’s knowledge of Washington the show’s hallmark.

The challenge for Amanpour will be to strike a balance between international and domestic policy debates while continuing to satisfy an audience that has come to expect large doses of inside-the-Beltway skinny and analysis of U.S. politics. If Amanpour can attract new viewers — those who normally don’t tune in to the Sunday-morning news shows — it would be a boost for ABC News, which has lost ratings momentum for some of its key programs….

In announcing her hiring, ABC News President David Westin said: “All of us know how much the international and the domestic have come to affect one another – whether it’s global conflict, terrorism, humanitarian crises or the economy. And our international reporting has long been a hallmark of ABC News, part of the legacy Peter Jennings left for us.”

Westin hinted to Washington insiders that, though their importance to the show would not be diminished, “This Week” would attempt to depart from the worn format of left/right political debates.

Christiane will bring the international and the domestic together,” Westin said. “Our audience has come to us for years to see differing points of views expressed in intelligent and compelling ways; now the different points of view will be expanded beyond partisan politics alone.”

As an world politics wonk, I really, really hope this works. The Sunday morning talk shows started to blur together long ago in my eyes, so anything distinctive is welcome.  Anything distinctive and focusing on foreign affairs/international relations is even more welcome.  Amanpour might have the celebrity to attract the kind of viewers who long to watch as many ADM commercials as possible see a civil discussion of the connections between America and the world.  If everyone else does generic inside-the-Beltway stuff, This Week might find a nice sinecure for itself on the international front. 

That said, I’m skeptical that it will work, for two reasons. First, most Americans just don’t care that much about foreign policy — particularly right now. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just saying that it’s true. 

Second, I’m not sure that the number of foreign policy wonks who ordinarily wouldn’t watch This Week but might tune in now will compensate for the drop in those uninterested in foreign affairs. Last year, This Week attracted 2.3 million viewers, while Fareed Zakarias’s GPS show attracted less than 200,000 viewers. There are numerous reasons for this, but one of them might be that world politics wonks don’t watch much television about world politics.  (full disclosure:  I haven’t watched This Week since having children David Brinkley left). 

Still, I’ll be rooting for Amanpour to succeed, and will even offer one nugget of advice — put Laura Rozen on the roundtable the moment you take over the show. She’s a great bridge between the substance of foreign policy and the machinations of the foreign policy community. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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