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Interview With Author Michael Lewis; Interview With Ava DuVernay; Interview with "A Shot to Save The World" Author Greg Zuckerman. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 30, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AVA DUVERNAY, DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: I feel attracted to that and activated by it and invigorated by the fact that I get to tell stories
about my people, about black people.
AMANPOUR: Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay joins me on her new series about Colin Kaepernick, revealing the young man who became the activist,
and what needs to change in Hollywood after that fatal shooting on a movie set.
Then: Michael Lewis, author of "Moneyball" and "The Premonition," grapples with his own unimaginable loss at a time when the whole world is numb with
Plus: a shot to save the world. Journalist and author Greg Zuckerman tells Walter Isaacson why so many immigrants are the unsung heroes of this
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.
Is the NFL dropping the ball? America's most popular sports league is facing fresh scrutiny this week over its culture. That's after racist and
sexist e-mails led to the resignation of head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders. Commissioner Roger Goodell has promised to make changes, but
critics say the league, a billion-dollar business with legions of fans, simply hasn't done enough.
And they point to the treatment of Colin Kaepernick, the former player who famously took a knee back in 2016 and launched a movement for social
justice. His supporters say that cost him his sports career.
And now a new Netflix series looks at how Kaepernick's high school years reveal unsettling truths about our society. It's called "Colin in Black &
White." And here's a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN KAEPERNICK, FORMER NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE PLAYER: Turned out my competition wasn't only on the field.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Look, you got a ton of natural talent, OK?
But Johnson, he's the prototype I'm looking for.
KAEPERNICK: Growing up with white parents, I assumed their privilege was mine.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You two good?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Fine, thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, I'm good too. Thanks.
KAEPERNICK: I was in for a rude awakening.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What's up with Kaepernick? The hair. Something climbing out the back of his hat. Not acceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Kaepernick's collaborator on this series is Ava DuVernay. She is the Peabody-winning director who received an Oscar nomination for her film
And, from Martin Luther King to Colin Kaepernick, she tells me what it's like to be trusted with all these stories, especially at this time of
reckoning, colliding with the culture wars.
AMANPOUR: Ava DuVernay, welcome back to our program.
DUVERNAY: So happy to be here.
AMANPOUR: And so great to see you in real life, because, during COVID, it's always been remote. So...
DUVERNAY: We have always been on screen.
AMANPOUR: We have.
DUVERNAY: Such a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: And likewise.
And I want to read to you or quote to you what one of the reviewers have said, and I think it's very profound. So, tell me if you agree.
"Ava DuVernay is a film director, a television producer, a storyteller whom people turn to tell their truths because she is so trusted."
Is that you?
DUVERNAY: Well, I love to hear that. And I take it very seriously. I don't take that for granted that people feel that way. I have heard it before.
And it touches me deeply.
First -- my first inkling of it was when I was working on "Selma" and working with the King family, "When They See Us," dealing with the families
of the five boys. Even on "13th," there were some specifics in there with families who've been victims of police brutality.
And so now, with Colin Kaepernick, I feel like I'm getting a little more used to it. I feel like I know how to do it. It's really about respect.
Imagine if you were handing your life over to someone and all the trust that it takes to say, portray me well. Express what I want to say and take
AMANPOUR: So what did Colin Kaepernick say to you.
"Colin in Black & White" is about to launch on Netflix?
DUVERNAY: Yes, he came to me and he said that he was interested in doing something on his early life.
And when I first heard it, I thought, oh, let's do something on now. Like, let's start with the kneeling. Like, let's do it now. But he had a very
particular point of view as to why he wanted to kind of lay a foundation for who he was by starting with his early adulthood, which I think, at the
end of the project now, I think was quite wise.
It allows people to enter into a story kind of a little free -- more free of the politics around it, and just see a kid who's struggling to control
and determine what his voice would be. And so it has a nice effect. It was a decision that was solely based on what he wanted to do. And I'm glad that
I leaned into it.
AMANPOUR: It really does take away from the politics and the culture war that erupted overtaking the knee.
AMANPOUR: And that's a culture war that's extended to the U.K., the soccer players, and in so many places.
Are you surprised that that small act, significant small act, has become such a poison chalice?
DUVERNAY: I don't know if I'm surprised by it.
I think if you look at Tommie Smith, if you look at Muhammad Ali, if you look at athletes who have tried to kind of take control their own
narrative, there's something about the athlete that is in such a controlled system, baseball, football, American football, all of these -- these are
institutions that have systems.
And the athlete in the middle of it is expected to behave and perform in a certain way, right? That is a controlled way. That is a very defined way.
Anyone who steps outside of that is committing a radical act, right?
And so I'm not surprised that it caused the ire that it has. What surprises me is the reverberations now six years later.
AMANPOUR: In "Cornrows," the first episode, it's very dramatic and somewhat uncomfortable, I suppose by design, where you sort of go from
image to image, slave auction to NFL recruitment.
What are you saying?
DUVERNAY: Well, this was something that was really important to Colin.
He felt that when he went through the NFL combine process, which I wasn't even aware of, there's this process that, as you're entering into
professional American football, you are measured as -- in predominantly black men are -- their muscles are measured. Their strength is calculated.
They are on tables with shirts off just in their briefs, with doctors around kind of poking and prodding, and that this is a very invasive
process for the black body to go through to be commodified to determine what the potential for profit is.
And they saw that as analogous to the slave auctions, where black men and women and children were put on slave blocks to be poked and prodded to
assess if they could work in the fields properly or in the house. And so he saw an analogy between that, which I thought was striking, and agreed there
was a conversation to be had.
So we opened the series on these images that really asks us to consider how we value black life. And is it only valuable when it is famous, when it is
respectable, when it is in service to the dominant culture? Or is it just inherently of value?
AMANPOUR: Of course, he was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and then his career took a dive because of taking the knee.
But let's go back to how you start, because it is about his childhood and the cornrows. Tell me why that was so important and so formative for a
young black kid, but he's mixed race, because his mother was white. His father was black. He's adopted by a white family.
The significance of the cornrows.
Well, each episode tackles something that on its surface is seemingly unimportant, right, or something small, every episode, him getting his
license, this issue with the first time he took a girl to prom, asked a girl to prom. Within of the episodes, though, we're mining it for cultural
context and talking about things like identity and privilege and respectability and race and class.
So, in the first episode, when I directed, we talk about cornrows. This is a teenager who wants to have a new hairstyle. His parents don't really like
the hairstyle. What kid has this not happened to?
But, within this episode, we talk a little bit more about the significance of black hair, because black hair over the generations has really been not
really black hair, but used as a proxy, proxy for social control, right? Most people don't know that black men were really required not to have
facial hair in the early part of the last century.
Black women, most black women, you will see majority of a black women have straightened or processed hair. It's more respectable. You will get the
job. It's more amenable to a white palette, right, to be more like whiteness.
And so these are -- even the hair I wear, it's a political act, right?
AMANPOUR: Is it?
DUVERNAY: Well, yes. This is naturally coming out of my head this way, right? And I don't straighten my hair. I used to, right? I don't straighten
And the idea that hair has to be a question for black people as to how it will be processed or not processed is something that non-black people don't
even have to think about or deal with. And so the idea of taking this cornrows, this seemingly small thing in this boy's life, and really putting
that into and juxtapose it with a larger cultural context, is what we do throughout the series.
AMANPOUR: And, particularly, I mean, he has a first try with the cornrows. And it's so painful. And he gets a headache and it's not done properly.
And then somehow, he gets his mom, his white mother, to take him to the first black barbershop or hairstylist. And it's like walking into nirvana
or, as some said, Narnia. I mean, it's like opening the door and going into the most fantastic reality for him.
DUVERNAY: Well, he was in proximity to blackness for the first time, right, going into a space that is inherently black, right, black people,
black lifestyle, anecdotes, food, music, hairstyle.
And having been in a white family in a predominantly white town, he had no proximity to something that he was attracted to and felt a part of. So, in
those early days, when he was going into the barbershop -- we know the black barbershop and beauty salon is a real therapeutic, kind of sacred
place for some people, right?
He goes into that space, and he feels an affection, an affinity, a connection to something that he has been disconnected from.
AMANPOUR: He has said in interviews that this is not just for black and brown people to look at and hopefully get inspiration and learn about their
culture, their heritage, what's their right, what's their special place, but also for white people to observe the microaggressions or the daily
abuses that so many black people face.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAEPERNICK: Growing up with white parents, I moved through life with their audacity of whiteness. I assumed their privilege was mine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So the question is, what about his family, who are white? The mother and the father around the dinner table say, Colin, it's time for you
to stop wearing that hair because you won't get here, there or anywhere.
And, anyway, the mom says, it makes you look like a thug. And thug was what the NBA player who was his sort of -- he looked up to...
DUVERNAY: Yes, Allen Iverson.
AMANPOUR: Exactly, who had the cornrows. He had been called that by others.
Did the mother call him a thug? And have they seen the series?
DUVERNAY: He -- I don't know if they have seen the series. That's Colin's responsibility to tell his parents, so I don't know what he's done.
But, yes, he says that that did happen. The interesting thing about working with the characters of the parents for me is, whenever I'm working as a
director or writer, producer on a piece, I have to feel a connection to every character, because I'm writing that character. I'm helping portray
that character through the direction.
And so, for me, I had to really think about his white parents. And as I talked with them and kind of got to know them through his eyes, I felt like
these were well-meaning people who loved him. As you watch the series, there's no doubt that there's a care, there's a love there, there's a
connection to their boy, this is their son, but that they were ill-equipped to be raising a black man.
They just did not know how to do that. And they wanted him to be like them. They didn't want him not to be himself. They wanted to keep him safe. We
know how to do that over here when you're with us doing this. We don't know how to protect you over there.
We got to get out of a place where we're demonizing or criminalizing folks for what they don't know. Now, at that time, they just did not know, but
they were well-meaning. And over the years, they started to a warm to what he wanted to do, to what he was attracted to, and kind of come to a place
AMANPOUR: What do you want to be the lasting legacy of this series? What do you want -- or the immediate -- that viewers take away?
DUVERNAY: For me, I hope people don't walk away from this and say, oh, this was a piece about Colin Kaepernick. I hope that they come out of it
thinking about their own journey.
And I'm not saying that in a sweet, saccharine way. I'm saying, truly, this is about the little things that happen to you that you just hold dear and
you don't really even think about how it affects who you have become.
Our road takes all these little turns based on small things, microaggressions or the little something someone said to you. Someone told
me once, oh, you have dark elbows. So I never show my elbows, right? I always have this on.
AMANPOUR: Seriously, still?
DUVERNAY: Seriously, still.
AMANPOUR: Even with all that you know?
DUVERNAY: I was 9.
AMANPOUR: But even now?
DUVERNAY: I know.
AMANPOUR: You're Ava DuVernay.
DUVERNAY: I know what, but they told me that. And when I'm getting dressed, I always think about it.
This is what life is. It's the little things that change us, that go deep in. And that's what I want to show. That cornrows incident changed him. The
episode you will see where it's his first interaction with a black girl changed him, right, as a girlfriend, all of the little things that shape us
and ask people to interrogate, what are those for me?
What are the little things that I have been told about myself that I accepted as true? And what do I need to retell?
AMANPOUR: So, I want to broaden...
DUVERNAY: Next time you see me, I'm going to be in a sun dress.
AMANPOUR: I want see to it.
DUVERNAY: I'm going to.
AMANPOUR: You cannot allow that to shape your life.
AMANPOUR: Well, it doesn't shape your life, but shape the way you dress.
DUVERNAY: That's right.
AMANPOUR: Colin has been lambasted as well as admired for what he's done. Some have said, oh, my gosh, if he really loved football, he'd keep
playing, instead of kneeling.
So this is what he said: "I'm still up at 5:00 a.m. training five, six days a week, making sure I'm prepared to take a team to a Super Bowl again.
That's not something I will ever let go of, regardless of the actions of 32 teams and their partners to deny me employment."
Will he ever make peace with what's happened? Do you think you will ever go back to the NFL? I mean, I know you don't know, but what do you think?
DUVERNAY: I mean, if he goes back to the NFL, it's up to the NFL.
DUVERNAY: The NFL has been the institution that's blocked him, that's blackballed him. He's prepared and stays ready to play.
As a friend, that's not my wish for him. I don't wish for anyone to go into an unhealthy, racist environment. That is what the National Football League
in the United States is, straight up. But he has a desire and a great love of football and stays ready and prepared to go back.
So, it's up to them.
AMANPOUR: The great director Jane Campion, who has had long periods where she doesn't produce a film, and now there's a new one coming out.
DUVERNAY: Yes, a new one.
AMANPOUR: "The Power of the Dog."
DUVERNAY: "The Power of the Dog," yes.
AMANPOUR: Which I'm really looking forward to seeing.
DUVERNAY: I am too.
AMANPOUR: But she has said that she feels things have changed for women directors since the MeToo movement, but that, nonetheless, everything she
does is focused on womanhood, on what it means to be a woman, every piece of work she does. That's her mission, she says, because half the world's
population are completely underrepresented.
So you have made your name focusing on African-Americans, the legacy of slavery and everything that it means to be black, were "Selma," "13th," and
"When They See Us," and now this.
Is that your mission? Do you feel absolutely conscious that is what you will do for the rest of your working life?
DUVERNAY: I feel attracted to that and activated by it and invigorated by the fact that I get to tell stories about my people, about black people. So
it doesn't feel like a weight. It doesn't feel like a responsibility. It doesn't feel like anything I need to commit to.
As an artist, I'm attracted to doing things that I'm interested in. And I'm interested in us. Why? Because there's not enough out there, and that
there's so many other stories to tell. You look at 100 years of cinema, and you look at the fraction of that that's been dedicated to black life and
black people, there's so much more to do.
If I'm in a position that I get to do it, I say, give it to me.
AMANPOUR: How do you feel about Critical Race Theory and the backlash towards it in culture right now here?
DUVERNAY: I think the backlash is pedestrian. It's uninformed. It's people who are uneducated about what Critical Race Theory is.
The words have been weaponized. The theory is not even being fully understood. I think it's Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, sent out a
tweet a few days ago saying, Critical Race Theory has been banned. We're teaching our children to read and write.
Are they the same thing? No. Critical Race Theory is a theory that's taught usually at the collegiate level. And it is about systems. It is about
looking at the structures and systems that have been put in place to create hierarchy, to create an enforced caste.
And the idea that we are so afraid of our own history that we can't even teach what's happened in the past to our children is insanity and it is a
road to destruction and despair.
AMANPOUR: So another watercooler item that's cropped up has been the removal or the moving of the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the New York
So this was put up in 1834 by a Jewish gentleman, Levy, who did it in response in gratitude to Thomas Jefferson's proclamation for religious
freedom. And Thomas Jefferson had slaves.
And my question to you is, what -- when you get to that level, what should we be thinking about that?
DUVERNAY: If you're owning 600 human beings, are you worthy of having statues in public spaces because of something good that you did over here?
It's a worthy conversation. It's about taking a closer look at our American heroes, and really not accepting the established narrative. And so good on
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you another question which is major watercooler? And I ask you as a director, obviously, the tragic shooting that happened on the
set of "Rust" with Alec Baldwin.
Do you have those fears now, when you think about being on set, and if there are guns or whatever, or other dangerous items?
DUVERNAY: It was a gut punch to hear about that incident, I think for anyone that works on sets.
I spend half of my years on a set. And that space is such a sacred space. It's such an intimate space. It's such a space of trust with everyone
around you. This is a set where protocols went wrong. Things that are established in our industry did not happen.
For me, we stopped using guns, real guns on our sets five years ago, any set that I control, any set of anything I direct or that comes out of our
production company, ARRAY, we use rubber guns or we use things that are just toys. They're hollow on the inside.
There's no reason to still be having live ammo on a set. But the bottom line is, they shouldn't be on sets, is my stance.
So, I think more -- I think you will find more crews will say we don't want it. And more directors will say no. And I doubt there will be resistance
Unfortunately, the tragedy has put us in a place where it may help our industry.
AMANPOUR: Well, finally, what's next for you?
DUVERNAY: So many things.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Break some news.
DUVERNAY: So many things.
I'm working in the -- with D.C. Comics on a couple of things, which is interesting. I'm working in the unscripted space. I'm working in the
animation space. I love the idea that I can have these same ideas, but I can apply them to different genres and formats. And that's just something
that black women directors before me and producers just never had the opportunity to do.
So, while I have got that opportunity, I'm doing it all. And I'm enjoying it.
AMANPOUR: And on that note...
AMANPOUR: Thank you.
DUVERNAY: Thank you. Fantastic to sit with you.
AMANPOUR: And "Colin in Black & White" will start streaming on Netflix at the end of this week, on Friday.
Next, we turn to the pandemic and its unrelenting cruelty. The world will soon mark five million deaths from this pandemic, knitting so many families
of different backgrounds and beliefs into one common heartbreak.
But there are stories of hope, of those who saw the worst around them and acted for the good of us all. Their stories are told by "Moneyball" author
Michael Lewis in his latest book, "The Premonition."
We spoke about it on this program back in May, when the book was first published. But less than three weeks later, tragedy struck Michael Lewis
and his wife, Tabitha Soren, and their family.
Their 19-year-old daughter, Dixie, was killed in a car crash along with her boyfriend. And Lewis is only lately ready to talk about it publicly.
And he is joining me now from New York.
Michael Lewis, welcome back to this program.
And I'm just -- with all our heart, we send our condolences, and we are just so sorry for what's happened to your family and the loss of your
These months later, how are you coping? How are you dealing with this grief, amid so much grief that you write about, that you live in, in our
global situation right now?
MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR, "THE PREMONITION": It wasn't my first thought or my second thought or maybe even my 10th thought, but after Dixie died, and I
realized, it's like the effects of loss.
I did connect it up, what was going on in the country, that we're surrounded by people who are going through similar things. And I don't
think we're very good at loss. I don't -- I think we don't do grief well, and it has all these knock-on effects.
I mean, I was struck in the first place by just how exhausting it is, that you lose this child who you love more than anything in the world, and your
first reaction is to just be tired all the time. Like, where is that coming from?
And I think where it's coming from is you have this -- we all move through the world with this reality in our head, this -- and we sort of -- we
assume a kind of future. And when you have to rewrite that future because of some trauma, I think that that -- it just occupies a lot of your brain
And -- but -- and it's -- the other thing that it has struck me is that, when you have this kind of loss -- and it's the first of its kind in my
life -- that you're kind of admitted as a citizen to the kingdom of grief. And people around me, people quite close to me who had not kind of come
forth with their own stories of loss and the loss they were living with that was just grinding at them every day started to offer them up kind of
And it just -- it's kind of amazing. It's this hidden undercurrent. And my takeaway -- I mean, I have had a lot of thoughts about this. And it's been
a gut-wrenching time. But one takeaway is, like, I'm going to try as I go forward to keep in mind that I don't know what the other person is feeling,
and be a little more tolerant of those around me, because, when you hold this kind of thing inside you, you start -- you realize that it really does
have a very warping effect on how you move through the world.
And it is -- I didn't -- Dixie was 19 years old, a brave and delightful college student who died in a car accident. And it doesn't -- it's not a
COVID death, but it is -- it is a moment in our country's history where I think there's a lot of kind of buried grief. And I find myself a little bit
more alive to it.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you? Because clearly you and your family are going through unbearable loss. And no matter how much everybody else is in
different lanes in their lives, this is about what happened to you and your family.
And you talked about the exhaustion. I have heard that. I have heard grief- stricken families talk about exhaustion. And you also talked about -- you just said, we're not very good at death and grief.
So I want to ask you about another wonderful writer who I have had the opportunity to interview, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She wrote "Notes on
Grief," and she's lost both her parents, and it happened, some of it, during COVID.
But she talked about the ritual of a Catholic mass in Nigeria for her father's death, because that's what they were, Catholics, and then the Igbo
-- they were from the Igbo tribe -- of the public rituals, of that taking place, and how it was comforting and a way to do express.
She said: "I started to understand that there's a sense in which vocalizing pain and that kind of communal way can actually be comforting."
And I wonder whether you have had the opportunity to do that in your own way?
LEWIS: It's a really interesting observation, because, yes. The answer is yes. And there's real truth in that to me.
And our way is, it -- well, it's the same way. It's with community, that you -- when you suffer the loss of a child, I mean, in our -- what would
happen with us is, there was this, like, submerged community of just connections of love that kind of like rose up and surrounded us in this, as
-- trying to take care of us in many ways.
And just it does two things. One, is, it -- I mean, it's nice to know other people care. But it's more than that. It's -- you realize that -- we
realized that the loss of Dixie isn't just our loss, that you see -- I mean, I have had -- I have been surprised by just how deeply it has struck
other people who knew her, that you're aware that it isn't -- you aren't alone in the loss.
And there is a loneliness to loss that is -- it's soothed by company. Now, having said that, the honest-to-God truth is that I have found that all
relief is temporary, that I wake up every morning thinking of her, and I go to bed every night thinking of her.
And it's really very difficult to get used to the idea of not having this child in my life and in the world. So, it's -- I don't want to overstate
how helpful ritual is or how helpful community is. I think that there are limits.
And I also think that I have been struck by -- and this may just be my own experience -- but that nothing anybody has said exactly captures the
reality of what I'm going through. And I think it's because, in each case, it's different. It's what your relationship was with this person, who this
person was, who you are, how they died.
I think that how you process, just how you're wired, I think that it's a -- it is -- there is a deep desire in people to basically go on a bus tour in
life, to have a group of people to go through things with. And I think it reaches its limits here and, that at some point, you're going through
something basically alone, and that you have to acknowledge that you're going to have to go through this in your own particular way.
And it is -- and you can't grab a book off the shelf, you can't grab a psychiatrist, a psychologist off the shelf, and they will get you through
it. You have to kind of figure out how to get yourself through the thing.
And that's where I am. I reserve the right to change my opinions on this every day.
AMANPOUR: And you have...
LEWIS: Because it's a volatile emotional state. And I know, six months from now, I may feel differently than I feel now.
But, right now, I just -- I loved her and I miss her. And I was so proud to be her dad. So...
AMANPOUR: And I was going to say, you have every right to change your opinions. And, yes, it's intensely personal.
And, again, our hearts are with you and your family.
It happened as you were out promoting the first -- well, the publication of "The Premonition," which, as we have said, is about this global pandemic
that has caused so much death. I mean, nearly five million people now, we just said, as of today have died over the course of this pandemic around
And you decided to write "The Premonition" about the early part of it. And you decided to focus not on all the havoc that was created, but of the
great individuals who had so much premonition about was what was coming, and, had they been listened to, could have made a material difference,
particularly at the beginning.
So, just starting with the fact that you point out both the USA, where we are now, and the U.K., with the biggest resources, which should have come
out of the gate the most successfully on this, in fact, didn't. Start from there about the premonition.
LEWIS: Right. So, the book is about -- it is about people who try to prepare, particularly in the United States, for this event and who did end
up preparing much of the world. I mean, the strategy for dealing with a new pathogen before there is any kind of vaccine comes out of the Bush White
House. It's the work of a handful of doctors who actually not just kind of like thought about it but went -- kind of looked through history for --
went back to 1918 to see what had happened and what had worked and what didn't work and they sold the public health community on this whole notion
of social distancing.
I mean -- and said they had enormous -- they saved untold lives. Just not as many lives in the United States as they might have if we had embraced
their strategies the way other countries did. But the -- so, the starting point for me, the end point of the book was always going to be when these
people who had tried to set us up for success realized that we had failed, and that was about June of last year.
And the -- there was this, I mean, really startling but very stable statistic that kind of, right from the beginning of the pandemic, right
through to the moment vaccines are available, that the United States has fewer than 5 percent of the people on the planet. And we had more than 20
percent of the deaths. I mean, that is an incredible statement, just by itself because, as you say, there were a pretty sophisticated panel of
experts two years ago, sat down and tried to judge how relatively prepared different countries were for this sort of thing and they judged that the
United States was the best prepared.
And it's a bit like -- you know what it reminded me of, it's a bit like a preseason college football ranking. That you have teams that have like all
of these star recruits. And -- but then, you know, year after year, they -- when they actually have to play the game, it falls apart, and it's a
problem not of talent, it's a problem of organizations.
And so, I found myself looking at the beginning of this pandemic for people who could explain it to me. Just like teach me what had happened. Why had
LEWIS: And it inevitably led me to these people. And led me to these people in its way, very telling. Because they weren't in the Centers for
Disease Control. They weren't in the White House. They weren't where they needed to be. They were kind of the wrong people who were in the wrong
place as much as they are on a football team that's badly managed.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And you have this amazing character, Charity Dean, who I would like you to just flesh out a bit and had she been in the right place
or a different place, things could have been very different. And then, you also point out George W. Bush, years ago, had bought the book or a book on
the 1918 flu pandemic and he kind of knew it, and there was a playbook and this country was prepared. And yet, it all seemed to crumble when it
actually came to roost here.
LEWIS: Crumbled here, but, you know, if you go to Australia and asked how you contain the virus, they will tell you, we just used the plan that came
out of the Centers for Disease Control that was created by the Bush White House. I mean, that was the template for what other countries did.
But -- so, yes. The story of the U.S. starts with Bush post-Katrina, post- 9/11, alive to the possibility that, you know, tragic accidents can and do
happen and we need to prepare for them, even if they're remote possibilities is handed a book about John Barry's book about history of the
1918 pandemic and he asked somebody like, what's the plan? And he's told, there isn't one, really. And he says -- he is angry and he says, we're
going to create a plan. And he, in short order, gets Congress to authorize $7 billion for the creation and promotion of a pandemic plan.
And it attracts -- and what he does -- what they do is actually really interesting. And it's amazing this happened without anybody paying much
attention to it. They go to kind of seven relevant agencies like Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veteran Affairs, people
who are going to be involved in any kind of pandemic response, with the exception of the CDC.
And they say, send us your most original thinker. Someone who actually is going to come thinking about this problem differently. And to this problem,
are attracted, two doctors, Richard Hatchett and Carter Mecher. And they are -- they're just doctors. They're doctors who -- you know, they've been
in the business of saving people's lives who were in critical states. And they start to think about this problem and they -- you know, two years
later, they have not only produced this plan that involves social distancing and some selective closures of institutions in the event of a
pandemic, but they have actually sold it to the world. And so, that's part of the story.
But the other part of the story is as you point out, Charity Dean, and the trick -- it's the trick of the book, I think, is that to make a character
who is actually really important but has low status. A local public health officer and it makes her the main character, because she -- the local
public health officer should have been the main character in this story. That they are the people who are our battlefield commanders in disease
They have been -- you know, you haven't seen them or may not have thought you seen them, but they are the ones who are controlling tuberculosis
outbreaks or measles or meningitis or whatever it is. And they actually know the conflicts that occur when you try to manage communicable disease.
And we have that part of our society, we have underfunded and ignored for two generations. You know, they not only know -- you know, it is not
uncommon for them when they get new cases, and they're the source of all reporting new cases in addition to control.
LEWIS: But like they write them up and mail them to the CDC or fax them. They're not even plugged in electronically. And Charity Dean was this -- I
mean, she was badass public health officer who, in her experience before the pandemic and in her relations with the Centers for Disease Control
could see that how badly positioned we were to deal with a big problem because every time she had to deal with a problem, she faced all this
blowback and no help from the -- very little help from the federal government. So, she sensed this was going to be, you know, a disorganized
mess if this came to pass.
AMANPOUR: Well, Michael Lewis, it is a must-read, "The Premonition." And thank you so much for joining us. And again, our thoughts are with you and
LEWIS: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, staying with COVID, next to a journalist, shining more light on what went right during the pandemic. Greg Zuckerman is an investigative
reporter with the "Wall Street Journal." And his new book, "A Shot to Save The World," takes us behind the scene of years of groundbreaking research
that paved the way for the mRNA vaccines that we have today. And here he is talking with Walter Isaacson about the little-known scientist who created
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, Greg Zuckerman, welcome to the show.
GREG ZUCKERMAN, AUTHOR, "A SHOT TO SAVE THE WORLD": Great to be here.
ISAACSON: So, a lot of people are afraid of this vaccine because it happened so fast. And there was this great miracle, as you describe in the
book. But when you saw how fast it happened, did that reassure you or does that make you more scared about this vaccine?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, one of the goals of my book is to show the evolution of these vaccine approaches, mRNA and the others I write about is actually a
really long and winding road going back decades. And in some ways, it's very reassuring. The scientists, the researchers, the investors, the
executives spent literally years and years working and improving and honing these approaches. It was not an overnight success as one might think. They
weren't sure these approaches were ready on the eve of this great pandemic, but they had an inkling, they had a good idea and turned out they were
right. But I think in some ways very reassuring that it took decades actually, not months or even weeks to get these vaccines really done.
ISAACSON: The messenger RNA vaccine, the mRNA, which is Pfizer and Moderna, those are the big breakthroughs. Tell me about the early
breakthroughs, including the University of Pennsylvania, that helped people figure out how do you use a messenger strand of RNA to build a low protein
in our body that will act as a vaccine?
ZUCKERMAN: Sure. So, mRNA is a molecule and we all have it and it sends a message to our cells to create proteins, which we depend on. We live,
thanks to these proteins on a daily basis. So, it makes sense for scientists to say, well, what if, in our lab, we could create some of these
mRNA molecules? So, going back decades, and I go back to 1990 where there's a really interesting groundbreaking pioneering scientist by the name Jon
Wolff in Wisconsin who does early work on creating these mRNA molecules in the lab, and it's always sort of been the holy grail kind of thing among
some in the world of science.
What if we created the mRNA molecules to create something like, you could see it as your own factory, your own body becomes the factory, creating any
kind of medicine or vaccine that you want. So -- but they spend a long time on it. And as you suggest, first there was this Jon Wolff, he sort of
passed the baton as it were to a group at Duke, and they in turn passed it to a couple of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Kariko and
Weissman. Pretty groundbreaking stuff.
And their work was really focused on getting this mRNA into the cell and not having the cells, the body's immune system fight it off. And that just
was a process, that really took years and they did a lot of impressive work. The (INAUDIBLE) interesting work. And a lot of the goal of my book is
to highlight some of the great groups, really impressive crucial work done by scientists over the years, and it took years and years to do it. And
now, mRNA is on the threshold of folks saving the world in terms of this virus, but also, potentially taking on other diseases.
ISAACSON: You mentioned the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who do groundbreaking work to be able to get messenger RNA into our cells
and not be rejected. Kariko, Weissman. But one of the interesting and controversial things in your book is they do not license their patent to
Moderna. So, what happens when a company like Moderna wants to make mRNA vaccine and they can't get a patent?
ZUCKERMAN: Yes. It's a real challenge. And it was a real problem for Moderna. Here they have this great idea, they're in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. They want to use these mRNA molecules, create them to send messages to the body, to create vaccines and drugs and they can't because
they can't get the license. Can't get intellectual property from UPenn. UPenn has license elsewhere and nothing really frankly ever came of that.
So, they were stuck.
And it really came down to a really young scientist, one of their first hires at Moderna, a guy who doesn't really get much credit at all,
(INAUDIBLE). And he is laboring alone in the bowels of a laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he figures out his own way to modify the
chemical basis of mRNA to make it such that the immune system doesn't reject it. And it's groundbreaking, breakthrough stuff and he's never
really gotten the credit, and I shine a little light on it in the book but I think he should get a lot of a thanks from us all.
ISAACSON: Your book is filled with colorful characters. One of the minor characters I love those -- I think Juan Andres who was helping Moderna
manufacture the vaccine. We see him at the very beginning stockpiling toilet paper, and at the end of the book crying. Tell me about him.
ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Juan Andres is a fascinating guy. A really interesting good guy, good hearted guy. He runs manufacturing at Moderna. And in
January of 2020, he started getting nervous both the things he read and his instincts kicked in. He'd been around the industry a little while. He's not
a scientist, but he's in the drug business. And he started telling his personal family in Suburban Boston, hey, we have to start getting nervous.
We have to start stocking up.
He started buying toilet paper. He started buying paper towels. He bought a third -- we're talking a third refrigerator and his family thought he was
insane. They thought he was nuts. They started laughing at him. What are you crazy? Because we all had those instincts, right, the beginning of
2020. Well, yes, there's something in China but we have all seen what happened to MERS and SARS, they all kind of petered out. So, won't this do
And his family thought it was the funniest thing in the world, and they're making fun of him, mocking him. But then, sadly, his own mother-in-law
passed away of COVID about a month later. And they, like the rest of us, his family, started realizing the seriousness of this. And Juan Andres'
heart is involved in this thing.
And frankly, the people at Moderna, they all -- many of them own shares, the shares of stores. They've made a lot of money. We all kind of say, oh,
big pharma and they're out for profit. These people have put their heart and soul into creating vaccines to save the world. And for as many people
as they have saved, they beat themselves up about who they should have saved, how many more vaccines they could have made, how much more they
could have done. And on the one hand, Juan Andres is very proud of what he's done and he should be, but he feels he could have done more. So, in
some ways, they're emotionally shocked, some of the people, internally, and they're trying to heal in some ways from this past. And it's nonstop.
And they were a relatively small company. And now, they're a household name, but they weren't a year ago. So, it's important to remember that and
I think to share some appreciation for some of the work that these people have done, including Juan.
ISAACSON: One of the heroes in your book is the guy at the BioNTech who creates the vaccine that we now call the Pfizer vaccine in American because
they are distributing it. But Ugur Sahin, and he's an interesting character. Tell me how he sort of becomes the winner in first getting mRNA
to work as the vaccine.
ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Ugur Sahin is a fast (INAUDIBLE) guy, a lifelong cancer researcher. Not really focused necessarily on diseases or like COVID, that
kind of thing. He only believed in the body's immune system. He believes that there are ways to wake it up, to teach it that maybe we haven't
approached in the past. And dedicated his life to that.
And frankly, he started the company called BioNTech. They weren't making that much progress on the surface to the outside world. But internally,
they were getting more excited about their approaches, including mRNA. And he's just a really interesting guy. He lives still with his wife who co-
runs the company, who is also a cancer researcher. They live in a little apartment in Mainz, Germany. He bikes to work. He doesn't even own a car or
a television. He goes on vacations and he loves computers with him and scientific papers and brings them to the pool, and needs that dedication,
demands the dedication from his own employees.
He and Stephane Bancel from Moderna can be seen, and you would appreciate this, is a little bit Steve Jobs-like, in that they demand a lot of
dedication and they are quirky interesting characters and sometimes genius results from that. And one has to thank both of those characters
ISAACSON: As like I look at all the characters in your book and I go through them and there's Katalin Kariko of the University of Pennsylvania,
Noubar Afeyan who helped start Moderna, Stephane Bancel, as you talked about as one of the leaders of Moderna and then Ugur Sahin. Well, you can
see where I'm going with this. They're all immigrants. They're all fleeing oppression and they all -- so many of them, almost every major character in
your book, it seems, has come to the U.S. as an immigrant. Why is that?
ZUCKERMAN: It's a really great point. They would argue that defecting, needed to be made in America or with the support of American investors and
they could not have been made elsewhere. So, Ugur Sahin, a Turkish immigrant to Germany, he lived in Germany still. The company is German. And
yet, they did an IPO, the Initial Public Offering, in the United States. They got an -- a lot of their key investment money from the United States.
We in the United States still have a capital market that Biotech and other types of companies around the world turn to, depends on for crucial
investment money but they also think that the theme is really important one to remind us all of those achievers often are immigrants who come to this
country, they strive, they are hungry, they focus on education often, they are pretty impressive. And as you say, I (INAUDIBLE) at Pfizer adviser too,
the CEO, Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer is also an immigrant to the United States. Time and time again. Within the company are scientists I
write about as well. It is pretty striking and impressive too.
ISAACSON: Now, the characters you've talk about aren't all that famous or weren't before this happened. They want the premier research and they want
big drug companies like Merck. One of the amazing things in your book is why does Merck fail? Why do these unknown people succeed?
ZUCKERMAN: Yes, Walter, I think that's one of the most interesting, at least to me, themes from my book in that you would have expected the
vaccine giants to have been the ones to create these vaccines to save the world, and that's Merck, that's GFK, that's Sanofi. Pfizer wasn't a vaccine
player and these other companies, Moderna, BioNTech, these group in Oxford, this group off of Boston I write about that created the J&J vaccine, they
were overlooked, they were sort of underappreciated, dismissed even by many in the world of science and elsewhere. And then, part of the reason is that
vaccines, until this past year, were seen as sort of a loser business in the world of pharma.
Merck, they are a big company and they weren't sure it was worth their while to chase that COVID vaccine. There were people I write about in my
book who did want to chase it and focus on it. And historically, Merck is the vaccine giant. We depend on them for mumps and measles and other kinds
of vaccines. So, there were researchers within Merck who pushed the company and the executives and said, hey, we're Merck. We should be the ones to
develop a COVID vaccine. But others in the company said, we're doing so well with cancer and some other areas and they have really saved lives in
other areas with cancer, drugs and such.
So, they didn't want to take their eye off the ball. They had seen what happens in the past with MERS and with SARS and what it takes to get those
vaccines made and how those viruses petered out. And so, there were some people within Merck who said it wasn't worth their while.
ISAACSON: What did we learn from the attempt to create an aids vaccine, and by the way, why don't we have an aids vaccine? That's just a virus as
ZUCKERMAN: Yes. So, I start my book off writing about the chase for an HIV vaccine. And I do so because it is instructive. We have still never figured
one out. The world of science has seen frustration after frustration. But one of the approaches that was developed to fight HIV and develop a vaccine
is the adeno virus approach.
That is basically using a virus, a harmless virus to ferry genetic information into the body, into the cells and to teach the immune system to
fire off -- they were trying to do HIV. It didn't really work with HIV. Merck spent years on it and I write about what happens there, and it's kind
of sad and it didn't work and actually even potentially harmed. But from that frustration came to both J&J and AstraZeneca Oxford efforts and those
are successful vaccines that the real lesson in some ways that scientific breakthroughs sometimes come from frustration.
And getting back to your point, HIV is so much more challenging and harder than other illnesses like COVID. We all, obviously, have concerns about
COVID and the horrors that it's brought. But HIV as a disease, as a virus, it's changing all the time and it changes from one person to the next, and
our immune system needs so much help and has really has not been proven any way to help fight it off.
But some of the heroes in my book are working on HIV and they're not giving up. And the perseverance and the resilience that they show it's pretty
impressive. So, we're hoping, over the next few years, maybe they can have some success there as well.
ISAACSON: How much credit should Operation Warp Speed, led by another immigrant, Moncef Slaoui, under the Trump administration get for these
vaccines having been created so quickly?
ZUCKERMAN: I think we need to give a lot of credit to Operation Warp Speed. The Trump administration didn't do a great job before Warp Speed in
terms of initially reacting to the virus and its spread. One can argue that the rollout wasn't done flawlessly both by the Trump administration but
also, Biden administration at the beginning.
But Operation Warp Speed funneled money quickly to a lot of the companies, it also did all kinds of really important work that hasn't really been
focused on in terms of logistics. You need a part, you're a manufacturing plant. Moderna in Massachusetts. There are parts you needed. They were able
to close roads and ferry this kind of stuff and over bridges and commandeer kind of trucks and such and get the parts that were necessary. So,
Operation Warp Speed is really helpful.
That said, sometimes -- and I write about it in the book, sometimes it also threw a wrench into the plans of some of these companies, set some back
(ph). It met certain requirements. Just like any bureaucracy, there's going to be bureaucratic ways that they slow things down, and there's a reason
why Pfizer, yes, they sold money -- I'm sorry, they sold vaccines to the government, through Operation Warp Speed, but I they didn't take money to
develop because they thought it would slow them down and I think it's coincidence that Pfizer and BioNTech are the first companies to produce
these vaccines that helped them, but they didn't take money from Operation Warp Speed.
So, (INAUDIBLE) Warp Speed was very helpful for all the vaccine maker, but there were times when it slow things down.
ISAACSON: What was the thing that most surprised you in doing this book? Like the precarious way Moderna or Pfizer or BioNTech were and how close of
a call they had?
ZUCKERMAN: I was surprised that as recently as the spring and even early summer of 2020, it wasn't clear whether Moderna was going to be able to
develop any vaccine whatsoever. They had the technology. They had the approach. They had produced a vaccine. But in terms of manufacturing enough
of the vaccine, the shots, they didn't have the money and they were desperate for money. And they went everywhere.
They went to the Gates Foundation. They nonprofit. They went to the government. No one gave them money. And they had to Wall Street, which I
kind of found interesting, you know, big bad pharma, laced up with big bad Wall Street and they raised so much money that they could finally produce
these vaccines. So, it couldn't have gone any other way. And it was very possible that Moderna wouldn't have been the one to produce these vaccines.
ISAACSON: You've written about Wall Street, you've written about hedge funds, you've written about government. Now, you've written about
pharmaceuticals. Is our system a whacky one or is it kind of a good one where a small company like Moderna has the hustle for money and maybe
there's government supporting from basic research and finally, maybe they can go to Wall Street and get investors? Is that an efficient and good way
to do things?
ZUCKERMAN: Walter, that's little bit like Churchill said about democracy. It's not the best system, but it speaks to all the others. Yes. There are a
lot of investors out there, venture capital investors and others, small investors like you and I who are ready to put money into companies with --
on a promise, on a hope.
There's a little company I wrote about called Novavax that I think is going to be coming out very soon with their really effective COVID vaccine.
That's (INAUDIBLE) dollar a share, really recently going into 2020 and yet, there were some investors who believed. So, capitalism does get some credit
after these COVID vaccines. And for all the criticism, we have to get some appreciation.
ISAACSON: Greg Zuckerman, thank you so much for being with us.
ZUCKERMAN: Oh, it was a lot of fun. Thank you, Walter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Scientific miracle indeed. And that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thanks for
watching and good-bye from New York.