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A Call to Big Titans to Ban the Use of Social Media as a Terrorist Weapon; Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Rallying the World; Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister, is Interviewed About Online and Violent Extremism and Gun Law; Masha Gessen, Staff Writer, "The New Yorker," is Interviewed About Her New Book and the Mueller Report. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 14, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: There is more work to be done here when it comes to stopping the proliferation of online and violent
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: My exclusive interview with New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in Paris for a summit to deliver her Christchurch call to big tech
titans to ban the use of social media as a terrorist weapon.
And "New Yorker" writer, Masha Gessen, warns not to pin all the blame on the 2016 election on Russia. Donald Trump is 100 percent American made.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELSEY GRAMMER, ACTOR: To dream the impossible dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Award-winning actor, Kelsey Grammer, dare to us dream as he and opera star, Daniel Denis, bring Don Quixote's" Man of La Mancha" to London.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Terrorism, the internet, live streaming on social media, they all collided in the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand. And now, Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern has come to Paris to rally the world.
51 Muslim worshippers were brutally murdered by a White nationalist extremist two months ago. That violence live streamed on Facebook and
spread like a virus throughout the darkest corner of the internet. Now, Ardern, together with French president, Emmanuel Macron, is meeting with
government and tech leaders from around the world, pushing for a pledge to eradicate this kind of extreme content online.
But though Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was in Paris this week, he didn't stay for these talks. Despite representing a country of just 5
million people, Jacinda Ardern has become a political heavyweight, leading the way on this issue as well as on gun control.
I traveled to Paris to talk to her, about what she calls her duty of care.
Prime minister, welcome to the program.
ARDERN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Here you are in Paris, you're going to be co-chairing with President Macron the so-called Christchurch call. What exactly do you hope
to get out of this?
ARDERN: You know, in the wake of the 15th of March, you know, there were a number of things that we as New Zealanders could do to respond to what was
a horrific and jarring terrorist attack on our soil. You know, we could deal with our gun laws and we have. We could look into the way that our
security and intelligences are focused and reviewed and we are.
But when it came to the way that this attack was specifically designed to be broadcast and to go viral, the response to that needed a global
solution. And so, that was why we immediately got in contact with international counterparts, those who are like-minded when it comes to the
notion of an open and secure internet, and use that as the basis to say there is more work to be done here when it comes to stopping the
proliferation of online and violent extremism. So, that was the basis of the call.
It is really an action plan. It's the start of something. It won't be the beginning and end, but I hope the start of preventing this kind of activity
online happening again.
AMANPOUR: So, you have said, and you wrote an op-ed about it, that you can't do all this alone.
AMANPOUR: The corporations have to do their part as well and obviously governments as well. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was here.
AMANPOUR: But he's not here for the conference. He did meet with President Macron. Have you actually spoken to him? What --
AMANPOUR: Has he given you a pledge? Because this is a voluntary call.
ARDERN: It is, it is. And look, there's good logistical reasons for this. This is an action plan that we wanted to start the work on in the immediate
aftermath of the 15th of March. And here we are, you know, roughly two months later pulling together both countries and companies, and that is a
big distinction from what's happened before.
We were all around the table, setting forth the kind of areas of work the public can have a reasonable expectation where things need to change. If
we had gone to a treaty level document, that generally would have excluded private companies and they would have taken a very long time. So, we are
asking for cooperation, and I think it's the least that can be offered in these circumstances.
I've spoken to Mark Zuckerberg directly twice now. And actually, we've had good ongoing engagement with Facebook. And the last time I spoke to him a
matter of days ago, he did give Facebook's support to this call to action.
AMANPOUR: And what? Because, for instance, I spoke to Eric Schmidt yesterday and he obviously is the former CEO and chairman of Google and he
was quite exorcised by the idea that any government would consider regulation or that companies should be broken up for anti-trust or other
He said, you know, "Give this duty to us. We will regulate ourselves. Just give us more time, we'll develop the tools."
ARDERN: Yes. [13:05:00]
AMANPOUR: Do you buy that?
ARDERN: Well, I think this is about acknowledging that actually we've seen to-date a proliferation of domestic regulation, and for good reason. You
know, we as leaders have a duty of care and when we see harm being done and the proliferation of terrorism and violent extremism, people look to us for
answers. So, we have seen domestic responses in that way.
But actually, most of those tend to focus on takedown periods, penalties if you see objectionable material continue to proliferate, we need to get in
front of this before the harm is done. For instance, that video after the 15th of March, it was taken down by Facebook 1.5 million times. It was
uploaded once every second on YouTube for a period in those first 24 hours.
Now, in New Zealand they're not alone, I know 8,000 New Zealanders called a mental health support line because they saw the video and it caused them
distress. So, my view is what can we do to get in front of this? Technology is moving quite quickly. We may not have all of the responses
we need now but we need to work on them and we need to work together.
So, that's why this call to action is not just about regulation, but instead about bringing companies to the table, saying, "You have a role too
and we have expectations of you."
AMANPOUR: To that point, you've written quite dramatically about how pervasive that video was. First of all, you've said the attack was part of
a horrifying new trend that seems to be spreading around the world, designed to be broadcast on the internet. And you've also said that you,
yourself, accidentally inadvertently came across it.
ARDERN: I did. I did.
AMANPOUR: How did that affect you? You've talked about the mental health trauma of those in New Zealand who saw it?
ARDERN: You know, all of that has done is highlight for me two things, really just how available it was. My recollection, because it was in the
first early period, was going to post information out using my social media channels because I manage my own social media and it means I have that
experience of what it is to use these platforms and how they can be used as a tool for good.
ARDERN: And there it was. And so, I know that a lot of New Zealanders and a lot of people globally will inadvertently have seen this video, but it
also then gave me insight into what exactly it looked like. And for me, that just only enhances that since that I have a duty of care, and in fact,
we all do.
Those tech companies, I do not for a moment believe they wanted to see their platforms used for such a vile, heinous act, but I don't think it's
enough for us to say well and accepting that we all want an open and a free and secure internet that we have to accept that these kinds of activities
will happen as a by-product, we don't have to accept that, but we have to put our minds collectively to the solution.
AMANPOUR: And obviously, there's a lot talked about, 8chan.
AMANPOUR: This platform which is host to so much extremist content, including the New Zealand --
AMANPOUR: -- shooter.
ARDERN: It was.
AMANPOUR: And even the synagogue shooter in the United States.
AMANPOUR: Again, that's specific sort of dark area --
ARDERN: It is
AMANPOUR: -- where this extremist content lives --
ARDERN: IT is.
AMANPOUR: and proliferates.
ARDERN: It is. And, you know, we find ourselves now in the challenging space, of course, you know, with the call to action that we're involved in
here, actually we're dealing with those mainstream tech companies. There is -- there are platforms out there who are never going to engage in this
way with government, who are never going to see that they have any duty of care or sense of responsibility, and that's why we cannot take off the
table governments actually looking at the other tools they have, because platforms like that, that was actively used by the terrorists in this
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you about whether you think these companies have become too powerful. For instance, Chris Hughes, who is one of the
co-founders of --
AMANPOUR: -- Facebook has recently said that because --
ARDERN: A very significant piece.
AMANPOUR: Very significant. Because Facebook so dominate social networking, faces no market-based accountability. This means that every
time Facebook messes up, we repeat an exhausting pattern, first outrage, then disappointment and finally resignation.
And actually, your own privacy commission, he tweeted something very, very pointed "Facebook cannot be trusted. They are morally bankrupt
pathological liars who enable genocide," he's talking about Myanmar and the killing of the Rohingya Muslims there, "facilitate foreign undermining of
democratic institutions, Russia, in election, allow the livestreaming of suicides, rapes and murders, continue to host and publish and mosque attack
video, allow advertisers to target Jew haters and other harmful market segments. Refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm.
Now, he did take it down. But nonetheless, that's what he feels.
ARDERN: Yes. And that was our privacy commissioner, obviously, focused on the protection of New Zealander' data and information. And he, of course,
[13:10:00] expressed a huge -- a strong sense of responsibility in those comments. You know --
AMANPOUR: But do you think like he doesn't think that you can actually work with the CEOs, that they're not necessarily going to do the right
thing. They don't have the duty of care that you have.
ARDERN: Well, the alternative, however, is to do nothing. And I do not accept that as an option. That's the first point. The second point, you
know, in the aftermath of the 15th of March, it was only a few days after, I traveled to Christchurch and visited a high school where pupils from that
high school were being affected directly by the attack.
And I asked them, you know, some questions, because one of the student leaders there had been involved in organizing a spontaneous gathering of
young people, and the pack near the mosque where the attack occurred. And that gathering was just a chance for those young people to come together,
show their support for the New Zealand Muslim community and to grieve together. And it was an incredible sight and they did that through social
So, I asked these students who have actually -- who was involved in it, because they saw those messages and joined together and all the hands went
up. And I said, "Who equally has seen things online that they would consider to be harmful, distressing and obscene?" Now, all the hands go
Now, this in one place is a tool that has a huge potential to do good. But at the same time, if left unchecked, we've seen just the harm that can be
done as well. You know, and as someone who has been a user of Facebook since the very beginning, I can see that it has grown and turned into a
hugely significant platform, probably outstripping some of those early founders' expectations. But now, we are therefore having to retrofit a
response as a as a result.
But I don't think it's enough to say that just because it's growing in this unwieldy way that we don't have that duty, and I'm not willing to sit back
and say it can't be done. And I don't think they are either.
AMANPOUR: Yes. They may not be and say that they don't want to see their platforms used that way but they also made a lot of money. They made a lot
of money from --
AMANPOUR: -- the live streaming of this terrible massacre in your country. I wonder whether you feel that you have the moral high ground, that you can
actually -- I mean, I'm not going to say beat them over the head, but nonetheless, exert that moral imperative after what happened in your
country, for the first time ever, there's never been such a terrifying, terrible massacre like that.
ARDERN: I guess there are two high grounds here, though, when it comes to the debate in this space and civil society reach -- you know, rightly needs
to have its voice here as well. Because our focus is very much on violent extremism and terrorism online, and we've been specific about that,
because, you know, this doesn't need to dip into, therefore debate around curtailing freedom of expression because that's something that New
Zealanders hold very dear too.
We're an opinionated country. We like the ability to share our minds. We don't want it to be constrained by border. We certainly don't want it
constrained by government. But that's why we have seen, look, let's look at the area where we can agree, where we can maintain that principle of an
open, free and secure internet, that actually where we collectively reject the idea then holding to those principles, you allow violent extremism.
And so, that's our starting point.
AMANPOUR: I want to show you something, which I'm sure you've actually seen. So, a month ago --
AMANPOUR: -- when your little daughter was nine months old, your partner, her father, said, "For her nine-month birthday today, we received the gift
of crawling, while her mom got her the gift of having a safer country to grow up in." That is a really clever way of --
ARDERN: Of telling me she's crawling.
AMANPOUR: -- of telling you she's crawling. But also, perhaps reacting to what you did so swiftly with your political partners and opponents, toughen
up your gun laws.
AMANPOUR: You know, even President Obama couldn't do that in the United States after the massacre of children at Sandy Hook.
AMANPOUR: But you did. In a matter of 26 days, legislation was passed.
ARDERN: Yes. I think that speaks to the impact of the 15th of March on New Zealand. We did have permissive gun laws, we did. And, you know,
there is, of course, a very practical use for the guns that we do use and license in New Zealand, but there is actually a whole set of weapons that
were just available but unjustifiably so.
And so, I remember very distinctly sitting in a briefing where the police told me the weapons that have been used on the 15th of March and how easily
they were legally obtained and then illegally modified for the purposes of that attack. And there was no [13:15:00] question in my mind that our laws
needed to change in that moment.
What I'm heartened by is that I did not question for a moment that parliament would support that law change.
ARDERN: And that absolutely proved to be the case. Not only did we change our laws but that law basically moved through in roughly the course of two
AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean, it's remarkable.
ARDERN: But I think it just --
AMANPOUR: I mean --
AMANPOUR: -- speaks to the strength of feeling in the aftermath of that attack. You know, we had debated gun law change before in New Zealand, we
had. And periodically, it had come up over the years but it hadn't led to substantive change.
But after you witness 51 of your New Zealand Muslim community be attacked in that way, you know, the only answer was to do everything we could to
prevent it every happening again.
AMANPOUR: I mean, just to remind, over 110 mass shooting in the United States since 1982, according to an investigative site, 15 school shootings
alone this year. It's a really difficult topic to grapple. I mean, I wonder whether you ever think that other countries can learn from what you
did and actually, from what neighboring Australia did after their massacre --
AMANPOUR: -- in 1996, a conservative government passed tough gun laws.
ARDERN: And in both cases, you know -- and again, I have to acknowledge, New Zealand had pretty permissive gun legislation.
AMANPOUR: Well, actually, some of your people said, you know, "We feed half the world. We're hunters."
ARDERN: And we are, and we will continue to be a food-producing nation that deals with animal welfare issues and so on and has a practical purpose
and use for guns, but you can draw a line and say that that does not mean that you need access to military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault
rifles. You do not.
And New Zealand is by and large absolutely agreed with that position. Australia experienced a massacre and changed their laws. New Zealand had
its experience and changed its laws. To be honest with you, I do not understand the United States.
AMANPOUR: What kind of a conversation did you have with President Trump after the massacre? I know you spoke by phone. You refused to name the
AMANPOUR: You won't say his name. The media also is joining in not showing his manifesto.
AMANPOUR: They pledge not to broadcast any White nationalist --
AMANPOUR: -- signs he might make in trial.
AMANPOUR: This, again, is quite rare --
AMANPOUR: -- to get that level of cooperation. This was a White nationalist terrorist. What did you say to President Trump about naming
and calling out this kind of terrorism?
ARDERN: Well, at that point, it was very early on that I had a conversation with President Trump. Certainly, I had been calling since the
day of the attack, I had been calling it a terrorist attack. And so, naturally did in the conversation as well.
But at that time, actually, my view around never mentioning his name specifically, that was something that I really came to form a strong view
over the course of a few days and it just seemed instinctive to me that that would be the way we should respond. And so, it was a couple of days
later that I really decided I would formalize that openly and declare I would never use his name.
I think, you know, that there was from the call with President Trump, he expressed, you know, very sincerely the condolences of the people of the
United States. And in that moment, I simply reflected back that the New Zealand community at that moment in time would totally focus on our Muslim
community, because they were -- you know, they are a part of our nation, and we felt that duty of care, and we hadn't been able to keep them safe.
And so, that was my response to him, was that at this time, I think globally, that's when members of our Muslim community would have been
feeling it beyond New Zealand's shores.
AMANPOUR: And you asked him to share the love --
ARDERN: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: -- of the Muslim community.
ARDERN: Because that's exactly what New Zealanders were doing.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you shared the love. You have become incredibly prominent, because of your reaction after this massacre. You know, it's
said that leaders are tested at the height of the worst crises that their countries face. And you have suddenly become the poster prime minister
for, dare I say, enlightened and most definitely compassionate leadership, that's what everybody is saying about you.
I wonder how that feels and I wonder what your instinct was, you know, when you entered the hospitals, when you went into the mosque --
AMANPOUR: -- when you went to their community in the immediate aftermath.
ARDERN: You know, I'd like to think that actually, any words I uttered or actions, even decisions to be amongst those who were grieving at any given
time was actually just the exact same response that you were seeing from New Zealanders. And many will have seen images in the aftermath [13:20:00]
and the days after New Zealanders just instinctively, even if I've never visited before, went to their local mosque, even if it was to stand outside
and make sure that our New Zealand Muslim community felt safe to return for the call to prayer. They left flowers. They spontaneously sang. They
embraced one another.
And so, my response at the time in the privileged position of being a prime minister was simply to echo that, exactly -- echo exactly what New
Zealanders were intuitively doing. And when you think about those moments of grief, I'd like to think that we would all just respond in the same way
if we had, you know, grief in our family, you embrace one another, you look after one another. You think about each other's well-being. You think
about whether or not people feel safe, because a lot of our Muslim women didn't, and still don't.
And to me, that is just intuitive. I would like to think any leader would just respond in the most human of ways, and that's all I did. Yes.
AMANPOUR: I just want to quickly move on to climate, because you're a big proponent of duty of care to the climate as well, to the planet. And
obviously, you are a low-lying nation.
AMANPOUR: And we're talking about rising seas and all the rest of it. I wonder how much impact these phenomenal young people have had, led by Greta
AMANPOUR: -- in Sweden but spreading to New Zealand, to Australia and all over the world, telling our generation --
AMANPOUR: -- to get serious.
AMANPOUR: Just how much impact did have they had? Because there's a bill tabled also in your parliament --
AMANPOUR: -- calling for carbon neutral, zero-carbon by 2050.
ARDERN: Yes. Yes, there is. And --
AMANPOUR: Is that enough, by the way? Some people are saying --
ARDERN: Not for us. So, we've not only committed to zero-carbon by 2050, we've also embedded a 1.5-degree target within our legislation as well.
Now, that's different. Not everyone is doing that but we were deliberate about that because yes of the voice of young people in New Zealand but also
because we are a member of the Pacific.
And if we were to sit in aspiration of anything above 1.5, we would be accepting that our Pacific neighbors would weigh the consequence of
catastrophic sea level rises, and devastating effects, and we couldn't accept that. How could we put in a tolerance into our legislation and just
accept that that was going to be a fight (ph) of complaint, so we don't. And so, our zero-carbon legislation covers both this -- an aspiration of
being rich in carbon neutrality but also that very important target around warming.
AMANPOUR: Do you feel sort of panicky? I mean, we seem to have got to a head, you know, the U.N. report on the million species that have already
AMANPOUR: I mean, the terrible fear we're headed beyond 1.5 --
AMANPOUR: -- and none of the countries have kept up their commitments --
AMANPOUR: -- under the Paris Accord. Of course, the United States is pulling out of it.
AMANPOUR: Are you concerned that we may be beyond the point of no return?
ARDERN: I feel a huge sense of urgency. I feel a huge sense of responsibility. But the last thing, the last perception that I would want
left is this idea that it's too late. We can't do anything. So, why bother? Because that actually takes the responsibility away.
ARDERN: That says to leaders and nations, you don't have to change or commit, because there's nothing we can do about it. We can do something
about it. The science tells us what we need to do now and what we need to do in the long-term. We just need to listen to the science and we then
need to act. And perhaps it is because we're sitting on the doorstep of (INAUDIBLE), this isn't hypothetical anymore. How can we look our Pacific
neighbors in the eye and say it's too late? And so, I urge any leader, come to the Pacific. You know, hear it for yourselves. Take that home and
share it with your communities.
AMANPOUR: And I cannot leave you without asking you a final personal question. At Easter time, your partner, the father of your daughter,
proposed to you.
ARDERN: Yes, he did. Very surprising.
AMANPOUR: Did you not see it coming?
ARDERN: No. Nope. Not at all. Not for a moment.
AMANPOUR: Bended knee? I mean, is that a beautiful engagement ring you're fashioning around?
ARDERN: Yes, that is. That is. It's his grandmother's and so, it doesn't fit on the actual finger. So, no, I was very surprised. I was, you know,
a pair of tights and cap and my sneakers. You know, we went for a walk up the hill and yes, he asked me there. It was lovely.
AMANPOUR: Good. Well, congratulations to you --
ARDERN: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: -- and to your family.
ARDERN: We do not have time for a wedding. So, we'll see.
AMANPOUR: No wedding in office.
ARDERN: I have no idea, but we'll do it sometime. Things are very busy.
AMANPOUR: Yes, they are. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, thank you so much for joining me. [13:25:00]
ARDERN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Very busy indeed with all the politics she has. Now, of course, American officials are in touch with her government, but senior
representatives will be absent from the tech control summit in Paris she's co-chairing.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo however is meeting President Vladimir Putin in Russia instead. It is the first such meeting since the release of the
Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist with intimate knowledge of both countries. And her latest book, "The Future is History," is a
gripping look at the toxic legacy of the Soviet era. She sat down with Michel Martin to discuss the release of the Mueller report and Putin's end
MICHEL MARTIN, CORRESPONDENT: Masha Gessen, thanks for talking with us.
MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Now, you occupy this very unique position in journalism, both having a deep background in Russian journalism and then a deep background
in American media, but you were skeptical of the Mueller report, at least you were skeptical that it would demonstrate some, I don't know what word
would you want to use, some sort of smoking gun?
So, the first question I wanted to ask you is why were you skeptical?
GESSEN: I was skeptical for a couple of reasons. One is that, and I think we know this now, right, it's very difficult to demonstrate any kind of
impact on the outcome of the election, it's probably impossible, and I think we knew that going in, but there is a little bit of magical thinking
that somehow it was the whole election was going to be exposed as a fraud because of Russian interference.
But the other -- the bigger reason I was skeptical and I think it has been borne out, is that I just know how haphazard and incompetent and
decentralized and how much of a hustle the Russian government is. And I read the volume one of the Mueller report as a story of swindlers and
hustlers and conmen who don't have a conspiracy because they don't actually have a common goal. Each one of them is out for himself, mostly it's men,
with one exception, I think. Each one has his own con, each one has his own agenda, and each one is trying to con everybody else.
So, in a sense, it's the opposite of a conspiracy. It is not what we want in government and I think, you know, it certainly does not make Trump look
good, and I wouldn't call it an exoneration. I think people who find Trump not only unfit but unimaginable, right. We're hoping that the report would
say, OK, he came from outer space or at least from Russia, right. He is not a president elected by Americans, in some definitive way. That didn't
happen. There isn't a story that can be neatly tied up like that.
MARTIN: So, what did you find in the Mueller report? What do you think the Mueller report shows?
GESSEN: Well, I spent most of my time reading volume one, which is the Russia part of the story, right. So, it's not the obstruction of justice
part, which is much more straightforward and I think definitive, right. The Russia part is fascinating to me because it is a story of cons. And I
think that -- and this actually -- you know, this is why I think that the story of the Mueller report is actually part and parcel of the "New York
Times" report that came out on Trump's taxes, right. There's a swindler, a con man who has conned the country into making him president, and that's
how I read the Mueller report.
MARTIN: So, the other thing that has fascinated me about your reporting is that you have suggested that the American media have maybe -- is it the
media or is it the American public or some segments of the American public are completely overreacting to Putin or to Russia that they kind of -- that
this -- that Russia just looms too large in the American consciousness right now. Could you talk more about why you've been saying that as well?
GESSEN: It's a tricky position for me to find myself in, because not that many years ago, I wrote a biography of Putin in which I portray him as a
very dangerous, very scary man, and he is. He absolutely is. He is a tyrant. He's a dictator. He murders and jails his opponents. He is as
dangerous as those kinds of men are.
He's also a small-time dictator and not a very intelligent man, one who doesn't have a master plan, one who is a different kind of con man but he
has somehow now managed to con his way into the American imagination as the master mastermind behind everything. And there is no master or anything
There is a lot of meaningless (ph), there is a lot of scrappiness, there are some good instincts, good power instincts, but there isn't what
Americans imagine. You know, the master plan, the concerted attack on American democracy.
MARTIN: You remind me of something that former President Obama said. He said this is a small regional power with nuclear weapons and a dwindling
supply of oil.
MARTIN: That's what he said.
GESSEN: I think that is an accurate assessment. It has a bigger ambition than that but that's an accurate assessment of Russian status.
MARTIN: So what is Putin's goal?
GESSEN: Putin's goal is to reestablish Russia as a superpower. He will use anything that he can get his hands on to do that. He has very
successfully, for example, used Syria to reestablish Russia as a superpower.
Syria, in some ways, was Putin's -- at a certain moment looked like Putin's downfall and a certain moment the was his -- the height of his strength.
Putin swooped in and basically hijacked Syria.
This is summer, September of 2013, which culminates with the Putin op-ed in the "New York Times" which he uses American language to call out American
exceptionalism. He promised that he would disarm Bashar al Assad and get rid of the chemical weapons.
Well, six years later, we know that that didn't happen. We know that, in fact, Putin helped Assad win the war and chemical weapons have been used.
MARTIN: So his goal is to make Russia a superpower to what end? Because I think Americans have a really hard time visualizing like what is the goal
of this power? Because in the American imagination, yes, it's true that America has an expansionist past. But I think if we were to stop most
Americans on the street right now, they don't see themselves as wanting to conquer the world just to do it.
GESSEN: Russia is an empire. Never stopped being an empire. It briefly considered not being an empire and decided that that wasn't such a great
So Russia wants to reclaim its greatness. There's a great sense of nostalgic bitterness in Russia after '91 that Putin has weaponized. So
that's part of it.
Another part is -- and it's related, right. There's a sense of humiliation, a sense of resentment that Putin has also weaponized very
well. So being a superpower is an end in itself.
Being a superpower doesn't necessarily mean annexing other countries that serve the imperial impulse. Being a superpower just means having other
countries scared of you and having the United States know that it can't take a step without consulting Russia.
MARTIN: How do you understand Putin's recent moves, and say North Korea, and Venezuela? Well, of course, we talked about Syria but how do you
understand those recent moves?
GESSEN: Well, Putin doesn't have long-term plans. He is a quintessential opportunist. So when he sees an opportunity open up, he always uses it.
The opportunity with North Korea is quite obvious, talks with the United States broke down, so there's a space there that he could step into, which
he needed. Venezuela is a little bit more interesting in a sense because I think that he has a way of identifying with dictators who are facing mass
protest and foreign intervention. So I think that he identifies with the leader of Venezuela, and fears that if he is removed, then that means that
something like that could happen to Putin as well.
MARTIN: Tell me what the Trump-Putin relationship. How do you read it?
GESSEN: Well, yes. I mean one of the things that gets lost in talking about Russia and how cozy some Americans imagine Trump to be with Russia is
just how terrible the Russian-American relationship is at the moment. It's at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
We are this close to having no diplomatic relations at all. There are consulates in St. Petersburg and there is a Russian Consulate in San
Francisco, in a tit-for-tat attack, these were shut down but also the embassy in Moscow has been designated. So many diplomats were expelled
that cultural programs and educational programs have been kicked out.
What that means is that there's such a thin diplomatic relationship right now between the United States and Russia. That's a very dangerous
situation, right. When we read histories of the Cold War, at least I'm always struck by moments of crisis when relationships between [13:35:00]
diplomats on the ground made the difference between total annihilation of the world, as we know it, and some kind of bad peaks.
We don't have that anymore. And that's a deterioration that has happened particularly in the last couple of years.
MARTIN: But could this -- given that scenario, could then the perceived closeness between President Trump and President Putin be to the benefit of
the world? I mean I'm noting as you and I are speaking now that the two presidents had an hour-long conversation which was outrageous to many
American political leaders for the opposition, from the Democratic side.
They thought this is outrageous that you're having this hour-long conversation with him, when you never mentioned Russian meddling, at least
according to the accounting of both sides. But is there a way their personal relationship, for whatever motivates it, could be to the benefit
of the world?
GESSEN: Well, I do find that cold comfort to think that the fate of the world depends on Putin and Trump being able to get on the phone. I would
really much rather imagine that it is in the hands of more intelligent, less temperamental diplomats, but also because -- and this I think is very
When we talk about diplomatic relations, we talk about national interests. We talk about normal countries where institutions exist to promote national
interests as it is generally understood.
Putin runs a mafia state. There's no such thing in Russia as a national interest that is distinct from Putin's personal accrual of power and money.
It's different from any kind of dictatorship or tyranny. A mafia state is a distinct phenomenon.
And we have Trump who I think would have a mafia state if he could get away with it and that's certainly what he has been trying to build.
MARTIN: So what is your worst case scenario given all that? I think the operating theory of I'll just articulate it, I'm not endorsing it, I'm just
articulating it that I think the operating theory on behalf of the people who are opposed to Trump is that he has some sort of financial relationship
with the Russians, that he is beholden to them in some way.
That is one reason why there is such a deep interest in his personal finance, and however disturbing and corrupt that may be, the argument I
think then becomes that there is -- that both parties have an investment in maintaining cordial relations because both -- their financial interests
would be jeopardized.
GESSEN: I think that misunderstands the nature of the beast, right. It misunderstands the mafia state because there's an assumption I think
inherent to what you said that Putin is -- represents Russia in some sort of national way, right, and not just himself, that Trump would represent
the United States in some sort of national way and not just his own financial interest.
I also don't subscribe to that theory that Trump is financially beholden to Putin for a couple of reasons. One, which is that we just don't have
enough evidence to support it and I don't like theories. They're entirely connecting the dots.
But also because it's an unnecessary explanation for his admiration for Putin. He admires all dictators. He admires people who perform and
exercise raw power. That's what he wants to be.
He doesn't need to be financially beholden to any of them in order to admire them.
MARTIN: You said, look, I don't like theories that are based on speculation and not about facts. More broadly, does that concern you? I
mean do you think that the American media have veered too far in the direction of speculating about this president and his behavior?
GESSEN: There is a kind of mentality that I think suggests that a journalist's job is to expose secrets. And I think that exposing secrets
is great but focusing on truth is actually much more important. And the distinction between truth and secrets is that truth can be observed.
We can observe reality together. And that's another way of building connections, political connections between journalists and other members of
the public, whereas secrets have to be revealed. And I think that we would all be much better off analyzing together what we can observe together.
There's enough that Trump is giving us about the way he talks, the things that he says are important, the way he talks about Russia, but also the way
he talks about the media, the way he talks about politics, the way he talks about protests, the way he talks about his opponents. There's enough there
to not have to hypothesize that he's beholden to Putin and still be disturbing and actually still have valuable observations about his
relationship to Russia and to other dictators.
[13:40:00] MARTIN: Looking back to what we talked about at the beginning, I mean you have a deep record both working in Russia as a journalist and
then many, many years working here in the United States. And I'm wondering how you think that experience may inform how you look at this?
GESSEN: You know, what I actually think informs me more is that I got my start in community publishing. I started out in the Gay Press in the '80s.
I worked in the Gay Press also during the aids crisis, right.
So I really knew from the time I was a teenager, which is when I started working there, that getting information to people was a political act, that
it made the difference between life and death for some people. You could go and write about drug trials and you could go and write about act upon
act up came on the scene, and that just writing was political, and just writing was activism.
MARTIN: How does this address the current problem where the president has explicitly identified the mainstream media, except for his preferred
conservative outlet, as the enemy of the people? And we -- there's certainly nothing to take comfort from in the Russian example.
GESSEN: Well, I mean the reason the president identifies the media as the enemy of the people, and not only gets away with it but gets points for it,
is that there's a crisis of trust in the media, is that there's a huge constituency in this country that feels justly not represented by the
And I think that the way that we address that crisis, right, not the crisis that is presented by the president, but the crisis of trust is by
representing better, by situating ourselves in communities, and by being more transparent, which is something that inherently leads to more trust.
MARTIN: Masha Gessen, thank you so much for talking to us.
GESSEN: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we turn to the story of a classic hero who always maintains his trust in his fellow man. Don Quixote, the heart and
soul of one of the greatest Broadway musicals, Man of La Mancha, award- winning actor Kelsey Grammer and world-renowned opera star Danielle de Niese are bringing the timeless story back to London's acclaimed colosseum,
which is home of the English National Opera.
They join me to talk about reviving the story of Don Quixote about idealism and daring to dream that impossible dream.
Danielle de Niese and Kelsey Grammer, welcome to the program.
DANIELLE DE NIESE, OPERA SINGER AND ACTOR, MAN OF LA MANCHA: Thank you.
KELSEY GRAMMER, ACTOR, MAN OF LA MANCHA: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Here we are, the London Colosseum, home of the English National Opera and you're doing Man of La Mancha. What made you -- what attracted
you to this script to this performance? Why did you come here to do it?
GRAMMER: Well, I guess it's the song, the big song, the "Impossible Dream." I grew up listening to it. I heard every version as a child, my
mom driving a car, it was on the radio, but I always loved it. I always thought, boy, that's a powerful vision to dream the impossible dream.
AMANPOUR: Care to give us a couple of bars?
GRAMMER: Well, I could just do a bar. To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe. Yes, it's --
DE NIESE: The words, the words are so great too.
GRAMMER: It's an extraordinary song.
AMANPOUR: And the feeling and sort of the inspirational quality of it. I mean you are a professional opera singer and here you are doing this
musical which is slightly different.
DE NIESE: Yes.
AMANPOUR: I mean it's very clear that you are a great opera singer when you're there. How do you like that song?
DE NIESE: The song is amazing. I get to sing it at the end. And it's a hugely inspirational song and it's the song that transcended the musical in
a way and sort of seeped into their mass cultural consciousness.
AMANPOUR: Any lines from you?
DE NIESE: To bear with unbearable sorrow.
AMANPOUR: It's really beautiful. I guess I'm sort of concentrating on these words because I've also been really sort of attracted to this
performance and the film back in 1972.
And I think it really, and you can tell from the audience, strikes a chord because it's about inspiration, it's about idealism, it's about, well,
trying to beat and battle the odds.
GRAMMER: Yes. I'll tell you a funny story. I took a date to the film. I was in my late teens I think and I just started to weep at the end. And I
sort of bolted out the side of the movie theater.
And this lovely young lady came up behind me and said gosh, "I guess you kind of related." I guess so. I'm not sure our future was destined to go
anywhere after that, but you know.
DE NIESE: It's great, though. I mean it's also a piece about redemption, which is a big journey that some of the characters have to make, to find
the way in which they can see themselves and see the hope that lies within them. Because [13:45:00] I think your character has a tremendous amount of
hope, but nobody has any hope in you.
And then my character has no hope in herself at all and needs to find that inspiration through meeting Don Quixote, to have any hope at all.
GRAMMER: You know it's funny. It just -- it has this gift that gives people the idea that you can be seen by someone else as pure, more
beautiful than you even know you are. And I think that is such a magnificent thing and they do it for one another.
She reminds him of the hope and the beauty that lives in him that he's forgotten because of this drama. And she's had a whole life that's been
sort of beaten down when he says I see you as something else.
DE NIESE: We had to take on the decision to really go in the direction of what the music and the text were leading us to. There's a very brutal
AMANPOUR: I was going to get to that because it is very uncomfortable to watch.
DE NIESE: It's not an easy scene and we have to really take a conscious decision.
AMANPOUR: That's where your character is abducted and we think raped.
DE NIESE: Yes. Well, Aldanza, basically as soon as she starts to --
GRAMMER: Oh, yes, no question.
DE NIESE: -- she starts to believe in what he's saying and --
GRAMMER: Well, it's so tragic.
DE NIESE: Yes. And she thinks well, actually, yes, I'm going to be a bigger, better person. I'm going to go and help the people who have hurt
me. And as she goes to do that, they decide, no, you don't, we're going to show you exactly where you belong and it's below us.
GRAMMER: He calls her "blessed one" just before she's raped.
DE NIESE: Yes. No, it's horrifying but we did have to take the decision, are we going to represent this for what it is? And it's funny, it's one of
the scenes that I think could be controversial but this is happening. This is happening right now in 70 countries, in war-torn countries where people
can really be taken advantage of.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean it's interesting because you do, you sit there, and you think wow, some of these things are actually happening now. I mean
it's eternally relevant to the period. And you talk, for instance, I mean obviously there's the windmills and it takes place in this dungeon, but we
learn that line tilting at windmills I guess from Don Quixote and also you say facts are the enemy of truth.
DE NIESE: What a line.
AMANPOUR: Because you're performing and you're being a character within a character. That's a pretty brutal line today.
GRAMMER: Yes, isn't it?
DE NIESE: It is a tough line. I think it's a line that if people take it and put it in the parameters of today's world, then you go, that doesn't
make any sense. But I think in the context of this play, what that means is that the brutal reality that they're looking at doesn't have any hope in
And Cervantes is a poet. He's an author. He's trying to find a greater truth that's greater than the brutal reality.
GRAMMER: Well, for instance, we're sitting in a dungeon and I'm doing a play. I'm playing basically three characters at the same time. The truth
has nothing to do with those things but those are the facts. So there we are.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, Kelsey, because we are talking obviously about today's politics and it's very divisive, it's very partisan, whether it's
in the United States, whether it's here. You are one of those rare Hollywood beasts who is conservative and you voted for Donald Trump.
AMANPOUR: And I just wonder, what, whether you sort of took any hits in Hollywood for that? Did you feel that you were sort of marginalized?
GRAMMER: I'm unaware of taking a hit for it. Now, certainly, there is -- passions run high and certainly, he has touched on extraordinarily
passionate response. I don't know if it's as serious or horrible as everybody wants it to be.
AMANPOUR: I was wondering whether you thought the sort of, many people believe this sort of fabric is being disrupted and people --
GRAMMER: Well, I think the fabric being disrupted is a good thing.
AMANPOUR: You do?
GRAMMER: Oh, yes. I do not think Washington was doing us any favors for the last 50, 60 years. I think they've all been sort of just the same
party, the same bunch of clowns, the same bunch of really unpleasant people. And I don't think they've been helping anybody but themselves. So
that's been --
AMANPOUR: And what about people?
GRAMMER: People --
AMANPOUR: Do you wonder -- I mean here with Brexit how can people sort of get back together again?
GRAMMER: I think the English people should be just fine because they've been through a lot worse.
AMANPOUR: And the American people?
GRAMMER: And the American people will be just fine too. We've been through a lot worse.
AMANPOUR: I just want to turn to some real misfortunes that you've had in your life. I mean it is amazing that you, I mean, are still standing
GRAMMER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: -- when you read what happened to your father, what happened to --
GRAMMER: Father, sister, brother.
AMANPOUR: It is almost -- I can't almost bring myself to say, murdered, died in accidents, et cetera. How do you work through that?
GRAMMER: At first, it was pretty hard. And I had -- you know, I had a rather famous battle with addiction and --
GRAMMER: Well, possibly -- yes, you know that's -- somebody once said to me, addiction is really caused by unresolved grief. [13:50:00] And I
thought to myself, boy, that makes a lot of sense. And that was one of the first lights at the end of the tunnel for me where I just suddenly thought,
oh, I don't need this.
And, of course, I still famously, I still have a drink. I enjoy my life but I have no use for addiction anymore. And so my life is quite good.
It just that I had to forgive whatever part of myself thought I was responsible for it. I had to understand that grief was something you have
to do and do it fully and get through it and then to enjoy living. And I was able to put, the tragedy of those events in my life is not my tragedy,
And I think about my sister every day and I wish she was still here. I go to Colorado Springs every couple of years to keep the man who killed her in
jail and these are the things we do.
AMANPOUR: And yet I was stunned to read that you said you forgave.
GRAMMER: I think you have to. I think that's how you grieve.
AMANPOUR: But you will not allow them to enjoy the liberty they have deprived your sister of.
GRAMMER: I don't see how they have that option. They killed seven people so it wasn't -- yes.
AMANPOUR: Does that grief come to play in this performance?
GRAMMER: Always. It is part of who I am. What is wonderful about it, I'm not a method actor. This is where I start to sound like I know everything
that exists in the universe. I don't think you need that.
I think if you are reasonable, if you are an energy -- a person who relates to things who can relate to language, this is great language in this play,
if by happenstance your own tragedy or your own feelings bleed through, it's just like icing on the cake.
DE NIESE: Yes.
GRAMMER: You don't have to insist that a play as big as this one come down to your level, somehow be informed by only your experience, because your
experience is not a universal experience. This is a universal experience. It's supernatural. And that's what's great about theater.
DE NIESE: Yes.
GRAMMER: Shortly. I did it quickly.
AMANPOUR: No. I mean you must have seen Frazier.
DE NIESE: Of course.
AMANPOUR: And now he's coming back, right?
GRAMMER: Yes. Well, we may be coming back. We're working on -- we're cutting a new idea that we'll see if it's going to fly.
AMANPOUR: And fans of Frazier, should they be optimistic?
GRAMMER: I think they should be optimistic.
AMANPOUR: Is it more than 50/50?
GRAMMER: Well, for me, it's more than 50/50. We still have to find somebody who will pay for it.
AMANPOUR: And you want the whole same crew to come back?
GRAMMER: Yes. Except John, of course, he's gone but we have a way of dealing with all that.
AMANPOUR: And Danielle, you are a Glyndebourne star which is as everybody knows this sort of open-air summertime opera. And I believe you're married
to the director and you live out there, right?
DE NIESE: I do, yes.
AMANPOUR: And you're coming in here every day to London to do the performance?
DE NIESE: Yes. I'm doing two projects at the same time. As soon as Man of La Mancha opened, I started performances for Cinderella by Glyndebourne.
Glyndebourne is a fantastic theater in the countryside so it's a whole experience in addition to just great music. You got the countryside,
wonderful food. It's a whole way of experiencing art that's very different and slower in a great way, because it's music and nature, and Cinderella is
going to be quite a show.
AMANPOUR: So I have to let you go because you're going now for your fight rehearsal.
AMANPOUR: But I just want to know, before you go, what do you hope to inspire your audience with, with this play? What do you want them to leave
the theater with?
GRAMMER: It's always about love. It's just about love, love fully, love hard. Love the best you can every day.
DE NIESE: What do I want? I think this is like one of the best musicals to experience because you can see a musical which is just entertaining but
this is both entertaining and you come away thinking about yourself and your life and what you want for yourself.
And I want people to come away going, I want to believe in the world again. I want to believe in humanity. I want to believe that people can try to be
the best version of themselves, like these people found in each other.
I kind of come away hoping that that still -- we still have that capacity as humanity in the midst of all this turmoil.
AMANPOUR: I always think this way, other people talked about the rape scene for instance. It's still an exception that that's our behavior.
That's not happening every day. It's happening every day somewhere but it is not the first impulse of most people.
Most people are good people. Most of the people I meet are good people. Most of the eyeballs I see into have light behind them and that's who we're
AMANPOUR: I can't let you go without asking about Sideshow Bob.
GRAMMER: All right.
AMANPOUR: He's not a good person.
GRAMMER: No, pretty irredeemable. However, he is the villain that casts a shadow through the universe.
AMANPOUR: Do people stop you in the theater? Could they fully see you?
GRAMMER: Yes, they do.
AMANPOUR: Do they hear your voice?
GRAMMER: Younger people especially. But I mean that show has been on for so long now but it [13:55:00] still tends to skew the younger. And so
somebody, oh my god, it's him.
AMANPOUR: Sideshow Bob, Man of La La Mancha.
AMANPOUR: Kelsey Grammer, Danielle De Niese, thank you so much for joining me.
DE NIESE: Thank you.
GRAMMER: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for us for now. Thanks so much for watching and goodbye from London.