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Perversion of Justice; Interview With NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg; Investigating Capitol Insurrection; Interview with Ursula Burns. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired July 22, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't care if you think I'm Satan reincarnated. The fact is, you can't look at that television and say
nothing happened on the 6th.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Efforts to investigate the Capitol insurrection ignite a new uproar. What hope then is there for getting anything done in
Washington? And what does it convey to the world about American-style democracy.
JULIE K. BROWN, AUTHOR,"PERVERSION OF JUSTICE": Epstein is just a symptom of a larger problem we have here with our criminal justice system.
GOLODRYGA: "Perversion of Justice." Author and journalist Julie Brown talks about her hard-hitting reporting that exposed Jeffrey Epstein and the
people who enabled him.
JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: He demonstrated hatred. The best response to hatred is love.
GOLODRYGA: A decade after the deadly terror attack that shocked Norway and the world, former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg explains why he never
wants to forget that dark day.
URSULA BURNS, FORMER CEO, XEROX: It's just not awe-inspiring how effectively black people and brown people have been left out of this entire
GOLODRYGA: She was the first African-American woman to run a fortune 500 company. Now Ursula Burns gives Walter Isaacson practical solutions to
increase inclusion in business and beyond.
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, who will be back next week.
Will the United States ever get it together? That's what President Biden said he's often asked by other world leaders. And the latest bitter fight
on Capitol Hill won't sue any lingering doubts.
It's all about the January 6 insurrection. Republicans are boycotting a bipartisan investigation after Nancy Pelosi rejected two of their picks for
the committee. The House speaker says they would undermine its integrity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It's my responsibility as speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this. And we will not let their antics
stand in the way of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Five people died, and you would hope that our leaders would put country over party, but instead the process has become yet another casualty
of Washington gamesmanship.
And the world, well, it's watching.
When Russian and Chinese leaders are confronted about autocratic behavior, they gleefully point to the insurrection, claiming American hypocrisy.
So what does all of this say about democracy and America's ability to export it around the world?
Here to discuss are historian Anne Applebaum, staff writer for "The Atlantic," and Richard Ben-Veniste, who was a member of the bipartisan 9/11
Welcome, both of you.
Anne, let's begin with you.
Perhaps I'm a bit jaded at this point, but when I heard the president last night say that no matter what people think of him, when they see the video,
they can't oppose what is there in front of them, the visuals, they can't deny that, and yet, if anybody had been following all of your work over the
past two years, this comes as no surprise. People can deny that.
ANNE APPLEBAUM,"THE ATLANTIC": Yes, one of the things that we have learned over the past several years is that the power of repetitive disinformation,
in other words, things that people see over and over again, slogans, memes, stories, altered video, that that is actually more powerful now than many
We see it during the pandemic, not just in the United States, but in many countries, that the effect of online disinformation about vaccines is
stronger than real-life recommendations from people that -- from trusted sources, from family doctors, from physicians, from local hospitals.
And so the power of online propaganda is now something that I think we're just beginning to grapple with.
You mentioned at the beginning authoritarian states. I think both China and Russia, and particularly Russia, understood that a little bit before we
did. And the United States is now beginning to learn how to deal with that. But it's a very sharp learning curve.
GOLODRYGA: And it's something that President Trump very successfully promoted throughout his presidency and even after it, sort of, don't
believe what you see and hear, believe what I tell you.
Richard, this bipartisan -- or this partisan brawl is actually taking place before the select committee has even begun its work. And I'm curious to get
your perspective on this, given your background.
You have been involved in the Watergate investigation. You were a special prosecutor there. You were a member of the 9/11 Commission. How important
is an investigation into the January 6 insurrection right now, a bipartisan investigation?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Well, I think it's critical that America takes note of what happened, what the motivations of
these insurrectionists were, which it appears to me to be to disrupt the constitutional process that is at the very heart of our democracy.
That is the transfer of power from one administration to another without rancor, without arms, but peaceful. And that has shown to be a hallmark of
American democracy and has made us a lighthouse among nations for democracy.
So, to have a bipartisan investigation, as we did with 9/11, where we dealt with a horrendous act, which could have been politicized, but, instead, the
members of the commission were able to put aside whatever political and partisan impulses they had in favor of doing the work of the people and to
conduct a full and fair investigation, and then, based on what we found, the facts, make recommendations.
And those recommendations were overwhelmingly accepted by Congress and the American people, as was our final report.
We have a situation now where that is exactly the opposite, where, instead of putting aside political proclivities, the individuals are acting to
enhance them, to disrupt the investigation. And that is so, so unfortunate.
GOLODRYGA: Anne, have you seen any pathway for this to be able to work? Did Nancy Pelosi have other options before dismissing these two members?
Obviously, they had been promoting Donald Trump's big lie and had been supporting his argument that he, in fact, did win the election if it had
been conducted fairly. Do you think there's a chance that this could be remedied and that we could get some bipartisan investigation going on into
APPLEBAUM: So, I don't think you can have an investigation into an insurrection, two of whose members are actually supporters of that
And Pelosi's decision, remember, was to ban just two Republicans on it, but there were others who she accepted, and the (INAUDIBLE) in the last 24
hours, before she made that decision. So I think she had really no choice but to do what she did.
I think you can have a form of bipartisanship now in Congress. Remember that Liz Cheney, who was a former congressional leader until she was thrown
out of that job for...
GOLODRYGA: Stating the truth?
APPLEBAUM: ... election for refusing to support Donald Trump, that she will be on the commission. She is very much a Republican. She comes from a
long Republican tradition and a Republican family. So you can have bipartisanship.
But, of course, you can't have -- you can't have sympathizers with the with the revolt on the commission. So I think she's done the right thing. And it
will just be a question of how many Republicans she can get to defy the House leadership and to join her. And I'm hoping that she will be able to
GOLODRYGA: Yes, the CNN, in fact, is reporting that she is likely to reach out to Adam Kinzinger as well to add another Republican. Obviously, there
should be many more who would be willing to come on to just tell the truth, but having a few more, no doubt, would make this more bipartisan.
I want to touch on the global ramifications here, because President Biden picked up on that as well, and the concerns that he is still flagged about
from colleagues and leaders around the world. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The rest of the world is wondering about us. Those of you traveling abroad -- not a joke, not a joke -- you ask -- when I went to this G7, all
the major democracies, I walked in.
And I know a lot of them because of my role in the past. And I walk in, and I said,"America is back," and they go -- I'm serious, heads of state. I
give you my word as a Biden -- said: "Are you really back? I mean, how can I -- we believe you, Joe. But will the country ever get it together?"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Richard, the first thing I thought of when I heard him say that was, A, I do believe him, after what's transpired over the last five years
in the United States.
But, B, after 9/11, that was the first time that Article V was invoked by NATO, right? And given your participation in the 9/11 Commission, how much
of an impact did that have for our allies around the world to see America come together during a crisis like that, and how much of a hole does it
leave now if we can't do the same following the crisis on January 6?
BEN-VENISTE: I don't think it can be overestimated.
We demonstrated our resiliency, demonstrated the strength of our democracy, and the fact that, although we are a country of many different political
persuasions, left and right, we are all Americans.
This insurrection of January 6 is unprecedented, in modern times. We have never seen anything like it in the United States. As Anne and you have
alluded, we have seen how authoritarians utilize the big lie, and have done so certainly during the fascist and communist periods of time in the '30s
and '40s, where the repetition of a false statement became the mantra and where the notion of the big lie came from, with Goebbels and others.
This is not new. It is identifiable. And it is very scary to those who have the memory and the intellectual background to comprehend what it means to
democracy. Democracies don't survive simply out of the goodness of the concept.
They require the active participation of the populace to protect and defend the democracy. And that's what's lacking right now. Instead of taking
action to condemn those who would have thwarted our constitutional process, people are looking for shelter for their own political safety.
It appears that political intentions are trumping in every way the consolidation of spirit of Americans, where we have faced crises before,
where we have put aside those kinds of parochial interests in favor of the country as a whole.
Here, it is not taking hold, except with examples, as we have seen individuals who make a difference. But it is not the majority. And the
majority of the leadership of the Republican Party right now is seeking shelter from accountability for what happened. And that is not the American
And it's beyond disingenuous, Anne, when Kevin McCarthy is now seeking to boycott and turn the tables and blame Democrats for excluding Republicans,
when he had an opportunity from the get-go to form a bipartisan commission with Nancy Pelosi and chose to do otherwise.
So, where are you on what comes next? How does Congress move forward? Because there are members of Congress, many Democrats, who wonder whether
they can work on other legislation moving forward with their Republican colleagues, for those who are still denying what happened on January 6.
And then there are others who say we have to focus on other issues as well, so we will meet halfway on areas where we can agree.
Where do you stand? What is the healthiest form of democracy moving forward, given the big elephant in the room here?
APPLEBAUM: Well, the healthiest form of democracy would be if the pro- democracy part of the Republican Party wins the argument.
And I very much hope that Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and others will begin to persuade other members of their party, their voters, their base,
their donors that their way is the way forward.
And as I repeat again, this is going to be a bipartisan commission. And it's very interesting that the House leadership no longer seems to
recognize Cheney and Kinzinger as Republicans, even though they are elected Republicans, simply because they don't support the Trumpist line.
So we need to hope for that kind of mood, that kind of movement inside the Republican Party.
I mean, unfortunately, the way our political system is set up, there is no alternative to compromise. There are no -- it's very difficult to pass
anything without a huge majority in both houses in order to make legislation happened. Legislation is going to be very difficult over the
And, secondly, it's my hope that the Democrats do what they do, but also that they look very seriously and they take very seriously the challenge of
voting rights legislation, which, as you know, is also on the table.
I am worried that some in the Democratic Party don't realize what a crucial moment this is, and how much could be lost if we don't write some
democratic guarantees into our legal system.
GOLODRYGA: And the momentum that many Republicans do feel that they have going into the midterm elections. And I have to say, even if there are two
Republicans on here technically being bipartisan, that just doesn't seem to be enough to dissuade so many Americans who don't want to just focus on the
Anne Applebaum, Richard Ben-Veniste, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, it isn't easy speaking truth to power, especially while trying to hang on to your job and maintain your safety.
But that's just what Julie Brown did. In a series of explosive articles for "The Miami Herald," she revealed how influential money manager Jeffrey
Epstein was able to sexually abuse girls and young women for years and largely escape accountability, thanks to a host of enablers and lenient
She details it all in her new book,"Perversion of Justice." And she joins me now from Miami.
Julie, welcome to the program. Congratulations on the book. All of your hard work has really come to front and center here, because it's not an
overstatement that we wouldn't be where we are in the investigation and the justice for so many women who were abused as young girls without your
Manhattan attorney Geoffrey Berman famously said, some excellent investigative journalism helped build the case against Epstein, obviously,
referring to you.
When did you first realize that you needed to dig deeper into his plea deal back in 2008?
BROWN: Well, I realized in -- I guess it was late 2016.
I was searching for new project. And I was thinking about doing something about sex trafficking in Florida, knowing that it is an issue here in this
state. And every time I Googled sex trafficking in Florida, I saw another article about Jeffrey Epstein.
And each article that I read just made me more curious than the last, because none of them really explained how someone who had committed such a
serious crime had been able to get away with such a lenient sentence.
GOLODRYGA: Which was when you really honed in on the prosecutor at the time, and then the appointed secretary of labor, Alexander Acosta, right?
You expected -- and this in the Trump -- the early days of the Trump administration -- you expected that the during his questioning, right, that
this would have been brought up? And it wasn't.
It was clear from the little bit of questioning that he got about the case that the senators that were reviewing it didn't really understand the scope
of what had happened. And at that moment, I just thought of the victims, who by this time were now grown women in their early -- late 20s, early
And I thought, I wonder what they think about this former prosecutor who let their -- essentially let their predator off the hook now having
oversight of this agency that basically handles child labor laws and sex trafficking and human trafficking.
GOLODRYGA: And when you tried to seek these women out, having them come forward after they saw their abuser serving only 13 months in jail, he was
allowed to work six days a week, 12 hours a day, he had access to a computer, a television, what was it that you were able to do to convince
these women to come forward with their stories?
BROWN: Well, for one thing, keep in mind that one of the victims I was able to interview was in prison at the time that I did my first interview
She was serving a three-year sentence on a drug charge. Now, think about that. Jeffrey Epstein, who molested, we know now, hundreds of girls, got a
13-month jail sentence, and here we have this woman, Courtney Wild, who was in prison for three years on a drug charge, serving more time than then her
predator had served.
So, it was a difficult -- that was probably the hardest part, trying to convince the women to trust me. But I was approaching it from a different
angle than other journalists had done this story in the past, in that I was trying to point out all the failures of the criminal justice system and how
they had really dropped the ball.
GOLODRYGA: And I'm so glad -- we talk about them as women now, but this all happened when they were young girls, when they were minors.
And in the book, you detail, and, in your investigative reporting, you detail that Epstein knew what he was doing. He obviously had a ton of money
and could have hired prostitutes if that's what he wanted. But he wanted to prey on young girls, each one of them being a new girl, right, that he
would want people to help him bring in.
What did this do to their lives?
BROWN: It just -- the trauma and the shame.
They were pretty young .They really didn't -- they weren't -- first of all, they weren't really told what was going to happen. They were said -- they
were brought in under the idea that they were just being hired to give an old man a massage. Very few of them were told that they would, for example,
perhaps have to take their clothes off.
So they were coerced into doing this for money. Some of them were in situations where they came from very poor families. A couple of them were
homeless or in foster homes, so they needed the money. And they thought, well, all I have to do is go in there and just give this old man a massage.
And when they realized what really happened, they started blaming themselves. They thought, how could I have been so stupid to do something
So this kind of -- they just were very hard on themselves. And it caused a lot of pain in their lives.
GOLODRYGA: And it just makes you wonder about all of the enablers. I mean, this couldn't have happened had it just been Jeffrey Epstein alone wanting
to go and prey on young girls. He had so many people there allowing this to happen, and knowing that it was happening for so many years.
Your reporting really shines a light on local reporting, right? And your story is incredible, in that you are a local beat reporter. You were
looking to go work at "The Washington Post." You had to take a pay cut. You were barely above water paying your bills, thinking that maybe perhaps you
would have to go become a waitress again.
And your story became one of the top stories covered in the nation. What does that say about the significance of local reporters like yourself? And
what can we do to make sure that we are focusing on their work as well?
BROWN: Well, I hope that everybody that's watching this program is subscribing to their local newspaper.
I get very emotional about this, because I don't think that people really understand how important local reporters and local journalism is to our
country, really. These are people that live within your community who are watching the people that spend your tax dollars, making sure that people
aren't -- your government officials basically aren't stealing your money or taking advantage of you.
And if we disappear, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," the wonderful papers that they are, they're not going to be watching your
community. They just aren't. They are national papers.
So I just hope that people who are watching this understand that your local newspaper is really your lifeline, so that you understand what is happening
in your schools, in your government, and even in your neighborhood.
GOLODRYGA: And I think, just to piggyback on that, you probably wouldn't have been able to garner the trust of these women and be able to have them
finally so many years later open up to you had you not been a part of their community, in a sense, and know the area, and know the story so
extensively, as you had been covering it.
And I was able to also -- part of the success, I think, of the series was, I was able to convince the local police chief, who by now had retired, but
I was able to convince him and the lead detective lead, who had also retired, to tell me really what happened.
And it was the first time they had ever spoken publicly about it. And their voice was almost as important as the victims' voices, because they confided
in me and how these prosecutors had tried to essentially work their case.
GOLODRYGA: Well, I don't know if justice will ever fully be served for these women, but you came close, so close that. Out of all of the reporters
that have been covering this, you came closest to that.
Thank you so much, Julie, for your reporting all of these years. And congratulations again on the book.
BROWN: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now today marks 10 years since Norway's darkest day, which saw a right-wing terrorist kill 77 people, eight in a bombing in
Oslo, and 69 in a rampage on the nearby island of Utoya.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was Norway's prime minister at the time and one of the terrorists' intended targets.
Correspondent Fred Pleitgen sat down with Stoltenberg for a rare personal reflection on the country's deadliest day since World War II, and how it
impacted Norway forever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And welcome back. We're following breaking news out of Oslo, Norway, of two deadly attacks. Here's what we know at this time.
There was a bomb blast midafternoon at a government building in the center of the city.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When did you get the first call that something bad had happened? And when did you realize just the scale of what
was going on?
STOLTENBERG: So, I was in my house preparing the speech I was going to deliver at (INAUDIBLE) the day after.
And then, while I was working there, one of my adviser came into my office in my house and told me there has been a big explosion. And I actually
heard, because my house is not far from the government building.
And that day, the terrorist attack started with an explosion. A bomb went off outside my office in the government square.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A witness says there hasn't been an explosion like this in Norway since World War II. A massive midday blast shakes the center of
government power in Oslo.
STOLTENBERG: And then I remember the guards came in, and they told me that: The government building, your office, has been attacked, so we have
to take you down into safe room in the basement, because when the prime minister's office is attacked, of course, there may be a second attack
against the -- your house, your residence.
So, I remember I didn't want to go down there, but the guards were very convincing. We went down there. And then, after a couple of hours, we
started to get text messages about another attack.
And that was against the island Utoya.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reports say a man dressed as a police officer opened fire shortly after the blast in the Capitol, and that a number of people
PLEITGEN: When did you realize just how bad things were? Because, I mean, I remember also, as that day unfolded, we heard about the explosion. But
then it was -- it took a while to actually comprehend that he had gone to Utoya Island and had started just massacring people there.
STOLTENBERG: There was no way we knew about Utoya when the government building was attacked earlier the same day.
I received messages from people at Utoya because they were friends of mine. And they texted me. And they told me there is someone shooting and killing
people at Utoya.
And after just a few minutes, I was informed via text message that the woman that was actually running the summer camp out there with a lot of
young people, she was killed. Her name is Monica. I have known her for many, many years. She was called Mother Utoya. She was running the whole
island, the camp.
And then, when I realized that Monica was killed, then I realized that this was real, and the violence, the terrorism got a face, the face of Monica.
PLEITGEN: And, as you said, I mean, this hit close to home.
How does one react as, on the one hand, the prime minister who's obviously in charge of keeping people safe, but also on a personal level?
STOLTENBERG: The 22nd of July in Norway is first and foremost about all the people that were killed and those who lost their loved ones.
But, of course, it also affected all of us and also me. I was prime minister in the government and the office that was attacked with the bomb.
I was leader of the party with the youth wing that was attacked on the summer camp on the island Utoya. And I was a personal friend of many of
those who were killed.
So, this was very shocking for all of us. It was important to just to try to understand what was happening. And, in the beginning, we really hoped
that the number of casualties, number of victims was, as I say, not as many as it later proved to be. So, we, in a way, clung to the hope of not so
But then, I remember, in the middle of the night, I got a text message from the chief of the Norwegian police. He's an old friend. He and I, we have
spent like 15 summers together at this island in the '70s and '80s.
And then, he told me that 88 people were killed. Later on, it was clear that it was a bit fewer, but still it was a big tragedy, and it was a shock
for all of us.
PLEITGEN: Some were executed hiding in tents as they huddled among rocks for safety. Those who tried to swim away found no refuge either.
STOLTENBERG: At least in the beginning, I think most of us hoped that it was -- the reports exaggerated, the number -- that's the number of killed
people, but gradually realized. And for me, I think I fully realized the scale and the scope of the attack, the horror, when I met the survivors
early the next day at Utoya just close to the island. Because I went there and then we went by helicopter over the island. We saw the pictures, we saw
the tents, and this is a place where I have been so many times before.
And I was on my way to this island the day after to meet all the young people and I was looking forward to seeing them. They were teenagers, I
remember when I was there as a teenager, and then instead of meeting them alive on the island, I flew over with a helicopter and saw the bodies, saw
the tents, and realized that this was a brutal reality. And then later on meeting, hugging, seeing survivors, parents, of those that were killed,
that made it even more real.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Grieving Norwegians led by their ashen-faced king and queen remember their dead at a service in Oslo. The prime minister told
mourners the past two days had felt like an eternity.
PLEITGEN: Another -- in the aftermath of the whole thing, you said that obviously Norway's answer would not be hatred, it would be more human
rights, it would be more democracy. But you must have felt anger and rage at that moment.
STOLTENBERG: I was angry, but most of all I felt sorrow for what has happened, but I still believe that our answer was the right one. He wanted
to attack our free, open democratic societies. So, the best response is more openness, more democracy, because then we prove that he is not
winning, we are winning. He demonstrated hatred, the best response to hatred is love.
So, I really welcomed the strong message from the people of Norway, as I've seen also in many other countries that has been attacked, that we stand up
for our values. I think we also saw that in the United States after 9/11, then we see the value of our democratic institutions, of never giving into
or being intimidated by terrorists.
PLEITGEN: Do you believe that in the end you defeated Anders Breivik and his ideology? Do you think that Norway went about this the right away?
STOLTENBERG: See, he is committed. He is in prison, but his ideology is still out there. And therefore, we need to continue -- I think we never
would be in a position where we can say that we have won the fight, we can close the chapter of fighting against extremism. What we have seen is that
extremism comes in many different forms, using different ideologies, different religions as disguise for brutal violence.
In Norway, the perpetrator was a white, Christian man from the same neighborhood as I grew up in Oslo. In other countries terrorists use other
religions and other ideologies, but it's always the same, they believe in hatred, they believe in violence, and they have more in common among
themselves, the terrorists, regardless of the color or disguise they use, than any of us believing in democracy and open and free societies.
PLEITGEN: Do you still -- are you still in contact with loved ones of the victims, with people who survived, and what is your relationship now?
STOLTENBERG: I meet the victims of those who lost family members regularly, every year, almost every time I go back to Norway. Partly
because many of them are friends of mine, I worked together with them. But also, because I -- every 22nd of July, I go back to Utoya, the island, I
meet people there, and I will continue to do so as long as I'm able to do it.
Because it gives me a feeling of meaning, a feeling of showing respect, but also, I hope that it gives some comfort to the other people I meet there on
the island. We have to understand that the purpose of this attack was to change Norway fundamentally, and therefore, yes, of course, this will be
part of Norway's history, it will be part of who we are as long as we exist. But fundamentally, it has not changed who we are. Fundamentally it
has made us even more loyal to the idea of a society where people can live together and it's good to see that not only politicians, but Norwegians
went out into the streets and conveyed that message, as we have seen in many other countries which have experienced the same kind of event.
PLEITGEN: How does that day inside you? Do you still think about it a lot?
STOLTENBERG: So, I think about it almost every day and I don't try to forget it. It's part of me. It will be with me as long as I live. I have --
in office, I have a picture of the island, Utoya, and I worked together with people who were at the island. So, I will always be close to that
attack. And I think that's a good thing, because that also reminds me of all the love we were able to mobilize on that day.
The paradox of that day is that we saw hatred, we saw killing, but we also saw love and people standing up for each other.
STOLTENBERG: Yes, and at the same time. So, the 22nd of July is a day of a dark message of hatred, but also a light message of love and compassion.
PLEITGEN: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you for joining us.
STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: An inspiring example of rising above hate and violence. He thinks about that day every single day.
Well, now, we turn to a real-life manifestation of the American dream. As CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns was the first African-American woman to run a
Fortune 500 company. Well, now, she sits on the boards of Uber, ExxonMobil and Nestle and more. Her new memoir "Where You Are Is Not Who You Are"
charts her incredible rise from the top from growing up on welfare to controlling a multi-billion-dollar company.
Here she is speaking to Walter Isaacson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Ursula burns, welcome to the show.
URSULA BURNS, AUTHOR, "WHERE YOU ARE IS NOT WHO YOU ARE": Thank you. I'm happy to be here. I'm actually honored to be here.
ISAACSON: Well, it's a wonderful memoir you've just written called and it's "Where You Are Is Not Who You Are". Explain to me that title.
BURNS: Well, my mother had all of these cookie sayings when I was growing up, this is one them that she used probably most often with myself and my
brother and my sister. And it was to remind us that the place that we grew up in was not a place that signified our soul or our character, et cetera.
She wanted to make sure that we were aware of the fact that since we were in poverty, living in less than stellar conditions, that was not where we
should think of ourselves as being from or being in our souls. And she would follow this up with, where you are is not who you are, and she would
follow it up with, remember that when you're rich and famous.
Now, my mother had no idea about richness and fame. I mean, we -- she didn't know about companies, CEOs. You know, the closest thing she got to
fame was like actresses on TV. But she was smart tough to put in that tagline because she had aspirations for us and taught us that we should
have aspirations for ourselves, that we would someday be major contributors in the world. And so, she didn't want us to get our heads too big, she
didn't want us to forget the fact that we came from plain roots, that you don't look at the surroundings or the trappings of a person and determine
how or who that person is or how they will operate. It was amazingly inciteful statement during a time when if you could just see where we were,
you would realize how odd it was for that to be one of her taglines to us.
ISAACSON: Where you were was in a housing project in the lower east side of Manhattan, right? With two siblings, she was a single mother. Tell me
about her lessons you got from her raising you.
BURNS: Yes. So -- by the way, she started saying this to me before we moved up to the housing project. Before the housing project. we were living
in the tenements in Alphabet City or in avenue -- 2nd Street and Avenue C. It was actually worse than the projects. When we got into the projects, we
had -- we literally thought we had arrived. It took -- I was 10 or 11 by the time I moved into the housing projects.
My mother is a single mother, immigrant from Panama. Three children. Literally high school educated, you know, very solid -- I always called her
maniacal. She was a maniacal parent, maniacal that she cared for and nurtured her three assets, her three assets were here three children. And -
- but she struggled. She struggled every single day of her life.
And when I was a teenager, about 16 years old, is when I first realized, like smashed in my face, just how difficult her life was, how tenuous every
day was, how little money she had. She made -- the most money she ever made was $4,400 a year. We lived welfare check to welfare check. I went to grade
school and high school at a catholic school from 1st grade to 12th grade and she did -- she paid for that, which when I was in high school was $65 a
month. $650 a year out of $4,400 was what she literally dedicated to my education and my brother's education and my sister's education. She was
just an amazing character, amazing strict, and like I said, maniacal about her children.
ISAACSON: When you were growing up, you thought you might be a teacher or a nun or something like that. And then you said in the book that you
stumbled onto chemical engineering. How does one stumble onto chemical engineering?
BURNS: By the way, one of the reasons why I put this in the book and spend so much time on it is because the question that you just asked is the
absolute perfect question for us to think about as we educate our children and our population for the future. How in the world do you stumble upon a
career that is so valuable, that is so needed? How come there's not more structure around giving that as an option?
You know, my mother, typical mother, you're going to go to college. You know, how are we going to go to college? We have no money. If we have no
money, we have no access. And her thing was, you don't worry about that, I worry about that. You worry about getting in.
So, I remember having a guidance counselor come to me. I had taken this thing called the PSAT, the pre-SAT test, and I had done relatively well for
my school in math. And the guidance counselor said, you you know, you should be -- you should think about something to do with this math. But
while I was there, I was looking in this book called the Barron's book. And Barron's book the most -- the high -- the most competitive colleges in the
world, in the United States, you know, it still does that, obviously, and which careers paid the most money after four years of college.
This basically -- and I said, OK, this is an interesting section, I'll look at that section. The career that paid the most money after four years of
college, guess what it was? Chemical engineering. So, guess what I was going to be? A chemical engineer. I started in chemical engineering. But,
Walter, I was so bad at chemistry that literally I was thinking of dropping out of college the first semester of college. I'm like, I hate chemistry.
And my guidance counselor at college said, you don't have to drop out, I mean, just kind of change your major. I said, you can do that? Oh, yes.
What do you like? I said, I love my physics calls. I was taking my entry physics class, I loved it. She said, oh, just become a mechanical
engineering. So, I changed to mechanical engineering and the rest is history. I loved it.
But the reason for the story and the reason for your question is one of the things that I worked on a lot and still work on, is why is it that we don't
have more structured approaches to giving students options of understanding what's needed in the world, and engineering is definitely something that's
needed in the world. What's needed in the world, how your life would look if you actually pursued a career like that, how much money you would make,
what kind of tasks you would do, and literally get you excited about this.
And it turns out, in my time, when I was in college, it wasn't there. And surprise, surprise, when I was working with President Obama on the STEM
Task Force, it wasn't there, either. And now, it's getting a little more play, but still, it's not a very structured guidance of our students to
where jobs are needed, where jobs are plentiful and skills are needed.
ISAACSON: How do we get more women and more people of color into the engineering fields?
BURNS: Part of it is programmatic in the beginning of your life. It has to be -- as I would always say when I was in Washington, it takes 16 years to
make an engineer, 16 years, right? I mean, it takes 16 years to make just about anything. But you can start today and say, oh, I want a whole bunch
of it. So, we have to start early and preparing foundationally the population for an appreciation and understanding and kind of joy and
enjoyment around math and science.
You have to have a love -- a like for and understanding for and lack of fear for math and sciences to become an engineer. You just can't kind of
avoid it. But we have a whole bunch of structures that actually push kids away from it. We absolutely have to have more examples. So, this is like
the flywheel effect. The more I speak about engineering to girls and boys of color and girls in general or just anyone, the more feedback I get
about, my god, I had no idea, I had no idea. Still to this day, I had no idea, by and large the U.S. is still lagging behind the world. There are 28
nations in the world ahead of us in math and science competency and education.
ISAACSON: In your book you write a bit about affirmative action and you talk about how people may have thought or said to you that you got your
positions because of that, and I think a phrase you use is, so be it. Explain that to me.
BURNS: Yes, I think that, you know, the society we live in today is structured by men, white men, it's structured for men, primarily for white
men. The rules are made by white men, et cetera, et cetera. And now, we call tools that allow people who are not white men to fit in, we call it
affirmative action. To me, it's a crazy way of putting it. We have a society that we know, even white women struggle to fit in. And we have to
do -- unless -- I would call it not affirmative action if we were allowed to start all over again.
If we were allowed to start all over again, and literally structure society where you're not penalized for being able to give birth to the next
generation, which women still are. Not penalized simply because the shade of my skin is different than your shade. If we could do away with all of
those things in not only the hearts and minds of people but in the structures, like where we live, how we get into schools, how much we're
paid, how much flexibility we have and how we do our jobs, if you can do that in the fundamental structure, then you better have some actions that
are affirmative towards the people who are excluded.
And I'm saying, hey, if you have them, so be it. It shouldn't get, and it doesn't ever, at least in my life, have we gotten to we're going to let you
there even though you can't do the job. We're going to let you -- we're going to pay you that money even though you deserve to be paid less. It was
all about I'm more than able to do the job, more than able. But you don't look in the places where I am. You don't go to the places where I -- where
you have relegated me to in the past and now, I feel very comfortable being there. And you're saying, well, you know, we do most of our deals on the
golf course. I'm like, what the hell. I don't play golf. I don't do that.
So, you can't do your deals on the golf course or whatever the non- affirmative thing is. We absolutely have to have a way, not to fix the sins of the past, but to level the playing field of today. And that's what I
think about, that's why I say so be it.
ISAACSON: After the MeToo movement and the murder of George Floyd, there's been a push for more diversity, including diversity in boardrooms. Where do
you think we stand on that?
BURNS: An amazing amount of progress, but still not enough in the last year. Particularly in the last two years for women, we've increased the
number in the C suite and the governance level, at the board level, increased a number of female directors, and we've done -- and it's
happening in a way, which is the right way. So, not a token, right?
So, people will say, well, we got one. We got our one. And I keep saying, what is a token? When is that a crowd? I did this thing with a whole bunch
-- not only me, but myself and a whole bunch of compatriots called the Board Diversity Action Alliance, which was this move to get at least one
African-American director on every Fortune 500 board, it started there, but every board. Less than 3,000. We went everywhere.
And then we expanded it from African-American to brown and black people because Hispanics are not doing any better, in many cases doing worse. We
then expanded this to private equity firms and venture capital firms, in the leading structure of their portfolio companies, and we just done with
this, there's not -- it's going to be announced soon. But what I will give you a little bit of a preview of the data. Let me just say it's horrible.
It is amazingly poor, the representation of women and a little bit of progress there, but of people of color, it's -- you couldn't come to a
better -- less diverse environment if you planned for it.
I mean, it's just, you know, awe-inspiring how effectively black people and brown people have been left out of this entire structure, and that -- and
women up until very, very recently have been left out of the structure completely.
ISAACSON: The pandemic has made it so that a lot of women had to or did drop out of the workforce. How do you see that changing and what can we do
to regain the momentum we had in terms of women becoming part of the workforce?
BURNS: You're so right, the pandemic. I was a part of the G7's global Gender Equality Action Commission, the GEAC. It was really an amazing
opportunity. And what I saw was what you just said, was, you know, from rich to poor, from the large to small, women disproportionately is just
amazing, held the burden of care for either children, extended family, for nurturing, for education, for everything. And that burden, that additional
burden resulted in them making the right call at that moment, which was they better take care of their families, they better take care of whatever.
So, they had to drop out of the workforce.
I think the immediate fix for that is, unfortunately long -- there is no immediate fix for that. For the poorer nations and the poorer people, even
in our nation, there are some fixes. We have to literally give them economic assistance. There is no -- you know, as we come out of this
pandemic and as we come out of this global just recession, we absolutely have to pay them such that they can actually engage the poop more actively
in different types of work. We have to do that. We have to give them support mechanisms, or else we're going to be in serious trouble in some of
the more basic jobs in our society, there's no reason to come back. So, that's one.
At the higher level, we have to get back to this thing that you talked -- I said about, so be it, you know, affirmative action, so be it. This is back
to the point, the structure of the society that we have, everything from business structure to educational structure, clearly, family structure, the
religious structure, even, has to be re-jiggled a little bit to allow for better sharing or better single ownership of the future of our country. Not
the economic future, the social future.
Right now, it's not set up in a way that there's any real merit given to that. We have to do a lot of fundamental changing to have that happen.
Businesses must -- I mean, it's a little bit easier for them, particularly from very senior large corporates, not all of this, it's large corporates,
particularly for very senior women, it's really easy, very straightforward. You give them child care, you give them eldercare, you give them care,
whatever it is you need, you give them access to ways that they can participate more fully in this lopsided democracy, this lopsided capital
structure that we have.
But in order for it to be truly fixed, that if we have the next pandemic, God forbid, you know, a generation from now or two, that we don't end up in
the same exact places that we have to start looking at the fundamental structures of everything that we do. And that's why I talk about this idea
about affirmative action. Affirmative action is only affirmative because the people who are there are not ready, willing, don't know how, or
whatever the language is, to actually make the playing field more naturally level.
ISAACSON: Should corporations take a stand on social justice issues or voting rights issues?
BURNS: Absolutely. No doubt about it. U.S. companies in the United States, they are benefiting from the social structure of this country, the history
of this country. They are benefiting from the fact that we had seven generations of slavery, that we have had -- literally, and for you to now
not engage in a way that supports the current United States structure -- I'm not talking about creating a new law. I'm not trying to figure out a
way to do something different. I'm talking about the laws that sit today, that say that if you are a citizen of this country, you should have a clear
and easy path to vote, a clear and easy path.
It doesn't say that if you're a white citizen, you have one. And if you're a black citizen who happens to live in a neighborhood and do a job that
looks like this and that you can't get to the post office, et cetera, et cetera, it doesn't have any of those caveats.
ISAACSON: Ursula burns, thank you so much for joining us.
BURNS: You're welcome, Walter. Like I said in the beginning, I'm honored to be here.
GOLODRYGA: I could listen to Ursula for hours. That was a fantastic interview.
And, finally, all eyes turn to the Olympic games opening ceremony. But with only hours to go before the event, the show director has been dropped for
historical anti-Semitic comments. This as COVID cases in Tokyo rise to the highest level since January. The event that we all know so well, well, it's
going to look quite different. No spectators, fewer dignitaries and a near empty venue. But one seat will be filled with U.S. first lady, Jill Biden,
who is on her first solo trip abroad.
Well, that is it for now. Thank you so much for watching. We'll be covering more of the Olympics tomorrow. As for now, good-bye from New York.