Return to Transcripts main page
Interview with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong; Interview with Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.K. Vadym Prystaiko; Interview with "Profiles in Ignorance" Author Andy Borowitz; Interview with "The Walk" Artistic Director Amir Nizar Zuabi. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 23, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN. More people get their news from CNN than any other news source.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what is coming up.
Occupied territories in Ukraine vote on whether to join Russia in referendums that Kyiv and western allies described as a sham. We look at
the impact that annexation would have on the battlefield.
Then, Australia calls on China to help end the war in Ukraine. I ask Foreign Minister Penny Wong what that fate she has in Beijing as an honest
broker and its rising power in the region.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDY BOROWITZ, AUTHOR, "PROFILES IN IGNORANCE": Ignorance, in a way, has become such an asset that it's preferable to people being well informed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "Profiles in Ignorance", the New Yorkers Andy Borowitz tells Walter Isaacson why so many dumb politicians thrive in America.
And, finally, Little Amal comes to the land of the free. The artistic director brings us along on the refugee puppet's New York journey.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour at the United Nations in New York.
A sham, that's what Ukrainian and other western officials are calling the so-called referendums underway in four occupied regions of Ukraine on
whether or not to become part of Russia. There are reports of coercion and threats, and ballots are being delivered to people's houses, that means
under duress. And the votes are expected to pave the way for annexation of large chunks of the territory. Crucially this could allow President Putin
to claim that the western alliance is in direct confrontation with his country.
And it also comes as Russians are fleeing their own country by land and by air in droves, after the Kremlin ordered hundreds of thousands of
reservists to join the fight. Just look at these lines at the border crossing with neighboring Kazakhstan. And, Finland, which has reported at
least a 57 percent uptick in Russians entering the country this week.
Now, the Australian foreign minister says that her government is considering expelling the Russian ambassador over Putin's nuclear threats.
Penny Wong also says that she has encouraged her Chinese counterpart to help end the conflict in Ukraine when she met with him here on Thursday.
And she's now joining me for a conversation on all of this.
Foreign Minister, welcome to the program.
PENNY WONG, AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to be with you.
AMANPOUR: I guess, first and foremost, to the question of whether Australia will expel the Russian foreign minister on these threats from President
Putin, the Russian ambassador. Is that likely to happen?
WONG: Well, look, we -- obviously that's a big step to take because we do have consular interest in Moscow. But what I would say is Australia, like
many other countries around the world, has been steadfast in our condemnation of what is an illegal and immoral invasion. And, on the
importance of all countries together asserting the promise of the U.N. Charter.
AMANPOUR: Do you -- these sham, as you are all calling them, I guess you believe that as well.
WONG: Of course.
AMANPOUR: I said the western alliance which, of course, you're a part of.
WONG: With -- further down.
AMANPOUR: Further down.
WONG: Further down the globe. But I think the issue is not east or west. It's whether or not you believe in international law and the promise of the
U.N. Charter. And what is occurring in Russia with the -- with Russia's behavior in Ukraine, with a sham referendum, is an attempt to justify an
illegal and immoral invasion. And it will not work. I think the world knows what is occurring. They know these referendums are a sham. And they do not
just or will not enable Mr. Putin to justify what is unjustifiable which is a breach of the U.N. Charter.
AMANPOUR: And how do you think, though, he can be stopped from doing it? Because the E.U., the head of the European Commission told me this week
that they would put more sanctions on if these elections go on, which seemed to be there happening. It looks like they are happening under
duress. It looks like Putin may decide to conscript actual Ukrainians into the fight against Ukrainians. But how do you stop that?
WONG: I'll tell you what else it looks like. I would say it looks like Mr. Putin is increasingly desperate.
WONG: And if you look at the conscription, some of the irresponsible threats. Those are the actions and words of a man who is -- got a fight on
his hands that he didn't anticipate. What does the rest of the world do? We have to continue pressure on Russia and we have to continue to support
AMANPOUR: So, when you speak, for instance, to the Chinese foreign minister, which you have done here at the United Nations. And, I assume
you've been asking him to use China's good offices to try to end this and act as an honest broker.
And we know Putin, himself, said that President Xi had questions and concerns about this war and the way it was -- the way it's currently
happening. What sense do you get from the Chinese about how they think it's going and where they're going to cast their lot?
WONG: It is obvious, isn't it? That their -- that, you know, first China and Russia have what they described as a no limits partnership. As you
said, there have been some public indications that China is not comfortable, not entirely comfortable with Mr. Putin's behavior. And I do
not think any responsible power would be comfortable with the sorts of threats which are being issued which are unthinkable. They are unthinkable.
They point I make, to China, and obviously they're a great power and they have to make a decision about how they exercise that power and how they are
perceived in the exercise of that power. But the point I've made publicly is the one I made privately. That as a P5 nation. A nation that is a member
-- a permanent member of the security council, they have a special responsibility. A special responsibility to ensure that the U.N. Charter is
AMANPOUR: And did he seem to register that?
WONG: No, not yet. We put the view. Ultimately, China has to make a decision. But I think we are all in a world with maximal pressure being
applied to Mr. Putin, is what is required to ensure peace and stability in this world.
AMANPOUR: So, here we are at the United Nations, and I know that Australia is talking a lot about reforming the U.N. Security Council, adding members.
And you want to be a member, I believe, isn't it by -- isn't if 2029 or something like that?
WONG: Correct, we will --
AMANPOUR: Tell us.
WONG: -- talk about our candidacy in our -- this must be to the U.N. General Assembly today. But the more -- the broader point is this, there's
been a lot of talk, including through this week as you would have heard about the U.N. not doing enough.
WONG: About multilateralism factoring. And I'd say this, it is all we have. And we know what the world looks like in the absence of rules and norms.
And you know, we're not a superpower. We're a middle power, some might say, a substantial power. We have a deep interest, as do so many nations of the
world, in a system of rules and norms that ameliorate power and size. A world in which power and size determine all dispute is a pretty tough world
and a pretty dangerous world.
So, yes, we do believe the U.N. has to reform. And the U.N. is only ever as strong as its individual member states. Which comes back to the point about
Russia and its abrogation of the charter that's why they have to be held to account by all of us.
AMANPOUR: In the meantime, obviously, you are all trying to help Ukraine defend itself and the rules-based order that you're talking about. You,
Australia, is one of the biggest, you know, deliverers of weapons to the Ukrainians outside of --
WONG: Outside of NATO.
AMANPOUR: -- of other NATO nations.
AMANPOUR: But they want more. They want more from you. They're asking for more Howitzers. They're asking for more armored personnel carriers. Are you
going to give it?
WONG: Well, we're considering their request. Obviously, we will continue to do what we can and we would encourage all countries who care about
stability in the world to do what they can. The people of Australia understand that what happens in Ukraine matters to the globe. It matters to
our region. Whilst it is a long way away that the world, as you know, came together in the post-war period.
And so, we will not allow that to happen again. And the way we will prevent it is to prevent the states --
WONG: -- territorial integrity being abrogated by another. So, that's why we have to defend it.
AMANPOUR: So, when you say, we'd consider it. What would hold you back? Because the Ukrainians are asking for more. And they won't -- and they're
also saying, hey, we proved that with your help we can actually take back territory.
WONG: Simply whether we're able to provide the sort of assistance.
AMANPOUR: Because it might not be available.
WONG: Just simply whether we are in a position to provide more. But the deputy prime minister has -- the minister of defense has already indicated
we're considering a subsequent request. We've already, as you've said, provided humanitarian assistance, military assistance, including the
WONG: -- the armored vehicles, and Howitzers.
AMANPOUR: Do you worry that a window of opportunity that could reinforce the success on the battlefield that Ukrainians are having right now, that
if that window of opportunity is not, you know, jump through and a lot more weapons and help given to them, that they may not be able to consolidate
WONG: Look, I'm being guided by the Ukrainians and also by our European friends and NATO partners, who obviously much closer to what is occurring
on the ground than Australia. But what I think we can all say is that the courage of the Ukrainian people and the solidarity of the International
Community has created a situation where Mr. Putin has not had the result he wanted. And he's increasingly desperate.
AMANPOUR: In your region, obviously, China is the superpower. And in know that you all have concerns about their intentions in the region.
Do you feel that you have -- you're able to discuss rationally or diplomatically with the Chinese leadership on what is a rising military
threat? At least as we're hearing that from the western alliance. The NATO alliance calls it a challenge and a potential, you know, a potential for
confrontation at some point down the line.
And we have this new alliance, really, between you, and the U.K., and the U.S, et cetera, on nuclear powered submarines. Do you think your message is
getting through and do you think it's having a deterrent effect or not?
WONG: Well, let's take a step back. I think great powers do what great powers do, and they seek to assert their interests. What we want, and why
we are working with others in the region and outside of the region is a region where there is what I've described as a strategic equilibrium. A
balance. A region where, you know, which is prosperous, stable, and in which sovereignty is respected.
And we see that strategic equilibrium as being central to that. That's how we engage with the countries of ASEAN -- of Southeast Asia. That's how we
engage with the countries of, what you would describe as the Southwest Pacific.
WONG: The nature of the capability that we are seeking, nuclear propelled submarine, not nuclear arms, is about contributing to that strategic
balance. That's what we want and that's what Australia is focused on.
AMANPOUR: And do you think that they -- I mean, do you think you're achieving that by getting this, you know, new capability or new, sort of,
WONG: Well --
AMANPOUR: I guess because there's so -- well, let me put it this way then. Here's another angle to this. Taiwan is one of the very big flash point --
potential flash point. I mean, President Xi really is very consistent on what he's been saying. By all means necessary or any means necessary, there
will be a reunification.
And President Biden is equally clear, several times, he has stepped out of the so-called strategic ambiguity and said, most recently this Sunday, that
the United States will come to the military aid of Taiwan should it be threatened. I'm going to play a soundbite from a U.S senator on this issue.
And then, we'll get your opinion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT), MEMBER, U.S. SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I worry that if we continue along this march to what we might be called
strategic clarity, a security guarantee for Taiwan, it actually expedites an invasion before Taiwan or frankly the United States is ready.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Your reaction to Senator Chris Murphy?
WONG: Well, first, can I go back to the question you asked me? Do you -- do we feel that we're achieving it? This is -- the world is being reshaped,
you understand that and your viewers understand that. Our job, all of us, is to participate in that reshaping. And so, that's what we're seeking
In relation to Taiwan, I hear the concern that -- Congressman was it or Senator --
AMANPOUR: Senator Chris Murphy --
WONG: -- Senator --
AMANPOUR: -- U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
WONG: -- articulated. And I've heard those concerns before. As you know there is a historic status quo which has been a great rip between all the
parties. And -- which includes, as you describe it, a strategic ambiguity from the U.S. administration.
What I would say is this, we do not want any unilateral change to the status quo. We want to peace and stability in relation to Taiwan across the
Taiwan Strait. Australia has a one-China policy that is bipartisan consistent with that that United States has had. And we don't want to see
any unilateral changes to that. We act in accordance with that. We encourage de-escalation and restraint.
AMANPOUR: So, what everybody says is one area of possible cooperation is on the climate.
AMANPOUR: Climate seems to have taken a big hit. Not only in the U.N. this week where the big climate conference, essentially, the big leaders
couldn't join in because there were other issues, i.e., the war in Ukraine. And when you -- I mean, do you think climate is strangely getting
sidelined, particularly as all our countries are now going yet again to fossil fuels to try to make up for Putin's energy blackmail?
WONG: Well, we're seeking actually to move to renewables and we are on trajectory to do that. In the state that I'm from is already a majority
renewable energy. But I'd make a point about climate. You're right. There is only so much bandwidth, the community of nations has. And we've had
COVID, we've got climate, and we've got conflict. And those three Cs are very difficult.
I'm a former climate minister. I was at Copenhagen. What I would say is the world has to act on climate. It is a national security issue. It is a
global economic issue. So, we are determined to play our part in that. We're elected with a mandate to act on climate and we will do so.
AMANPOUR: Talking about mandates and elections, your new prime minister came to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and we know that there's a lot
of talk about whether certain Commonwealth nations will become independent in terms of their head of state. And he said several things, Prime Minister
Albanese, about seeing, you know, Australia as a republic.
Where do you think that stands right now? And how do you -- let's say Australia votes to be a republic. How does that change the idea of being in
WONG: Well, look, what I'd say to you is this. First, her majesty, the queen, regardless of your political views was someone we respected deeply.
A life of service and graciousness in that service. And, you know, I think people will understand how much she gave through many decades of service.
And, you know, her death was of great sadness to people in Australia and across the Commonwealth. And certainly, the people -- particularly, the
people at the United Kingdom.
In terms of Australia, you know, there are many of us who support Australia in becoming a republic, I'm I one of them. But that is not the government's
immediate priority. In terms of constitutional reform, what we do want to progress is those things, our first nations people.
WONG: our indigenous people including a voice to the parliament being recognized in the constitution, that's what they've been seeking. And we,
as the new government, have made that our constitutional reform priority.
AMANPOUR: All right. Foreign Minister Penny Wong, thank you very much for joining us today.
WONG: It's a great honor to be interviewed by you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. Thank you so much.
So, let us Let's get back to Ukraine. This week, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, as I said told me that the sham
referendums, as she called them, are call for new sanctions on Moscow.
So, how is Ukraine reacting to all of this? I'm joined now by the country's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko. He previously served as
foreign minister and he's joining me from London.
Ambassador, welcome to the program. So, let me start by asking you about the -- whatever, referendum, election, whatever you want to call them,
taking place under Russian occupation in your country right now.
VADYM PRYSTAIKO, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UK.: I believe this is a sign of desperation. He has his back against the wall. He's making mistakes. And
actually, a sign that we're on the right track. We are pushing him from our lands, and with the assistant of our international partners, and mostly the
We are doing something which pushes him to make all the stupid things, like -- not just referendum but also threatening with nuclear bombs. I believe
we are on the right track.
AMANPOUR: And ambassador, can -- do you know actually what's happening? I mean, in the introduction, we said that, you know, some -- it appears, that
some of these ballots or whatever you want to call them, are being hand- delivered to homes because people don't want to come out and vote in this. And it's potentially happening under duress, under -- even gunpoint, we
hear. What are you hearing about what's going on there?
PRYSTAIKO: They are playing with different things, like going from home to home, knocking at the doors, and actually we can imagine that the families
facing with somebody with the guns coming to their homes and asking question whether you want to be with us or not? They also were playing with
a deal, sort of, online voting.
So, they're using all of the mechanisms on how to create the picture they want in the first place. I don't believe that anybody, literally anybody in
the world will recognize it. Maybe some of the settlers like Belarus and in Nicaragua. But nobody else will do that.
So, they can try. They can try to please their leader with higher numbers. The most important part is not going over the 100 percent, sort of, level.
Sometimes they are missing even this part.
AMANPOUR: And ambassador, it's a very practical concern for the people who live there, obviously, because it's happening right in the midst of this
call by President Putin to mobilize reservists. And it's happening at the same time that, for instance, the Kremlin Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has
said that those territories would be regarded as Russia. And therefore, any attack on those territories would be in attack on Russia itself. How do you
see that playing out?
PRYSTAIKO: You're right. This is very dangerous tendency. He is recreating the -- his own u-lands (ph). And he made (INAUDIBLE) anybody approaching
them to be attacking the core motherland of Russia and calling for, I don't know, patriotic war. That's why he's mobilizing this 300,000 -- well
actually, we have no idea what the real number will be.
He'll probably throw all this people in a meat grinder. And by the sheer number, that's a very dangerous development which we are observing right
now. Whether he understands that it can actually disbalance the system within Russia and it creates the problems for him. I don't believe that at
this moment he has anybody next to him enable to tell him that we are crossing some thresholds which will crush our own state.
So, what we are doing right now over here, we won't stop. We understand what we wanted to achieve. We understand how to fight with them. It is very
dangerous. We will lose so many people who would love to stop this war.
But as of now, we have to continue fighting, continue trading our lives. We will see how it work in reality. But we are not intimidated by this.
AMANPOUR: I just want to play then a little bit of a soundbite from your President, President Zelenskyy's -- one of his latest speeches about this
mobilization and his message to Russians themselves. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): 55,000 Russian soldiers died in this war in six months. Tens of thousands are
wounded, men. Do you want more? No? Then protest. Fight. Runaway or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are the options for you to survive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, you all know so much more about Russia than we do. What effect do you think that's going to have? I mean, we've just said that
we've seen, you know, really long lines of people trying to leave Russia right now via the borders, via -- any which way that they can. How do you
think this mobilization and President Zelenskyy's, you know, call then could affect Russians themselves who are caught up in this?
PRYSTAIKO: You know, I believe that Russians have this deep understanding of fairness, somewhere deep, deep inside them or all of them in their
souls. That's -- actually, nobody's threatened their own land. No Ukrainian, American, or English came to threaten their land, their way of
We don't even want to overthrow their own leader. They can take whatever leader they want and be ruled whatever the way they want. So, to mobilize
these people, to protect the motherland, to have this great patriotic movement, it's very difficult before Russian leaders even with their
propaganda mission to make them in line and to come to Ukraine.
On top of it, they are not trained. They are not prepared. They are not equipped. So much of their equipment been already destroyed by Ukraine in -
- by Ukrainians in Ukraine. So, this will be bloody and Russians understand it. What is also interesting that finally they came to the point where they
have to mobilize people Moscow and Saint Petersburg and other centers. They are not using people from somewhere far, far in Siberia.
Now, they have to upset the parents of these kids and some elite who will have to be sent to Ukraine to fight and most probably die. And this is a
totally new dynamic. We will see how it will work in Russian society itself.
AMANPOUR: And in the meantime, you've obviously made -- your country has obviously made a huge number of gains recently that is, not only mobilized
-- or rather, energized you all, but also shown the International Community what can be done with the help and the weapons and the heart of the
Ukrainian people themselves, the Ukrainian fighters. Do you -- how much more do you need? And is that message getting through? In other words, can
you hold on to what you have? And do you feel that it's a critical time to get even more help?
PRYSTAIKO: Totally right because, you know, what I would like to tell the rest of the world that over these six months -- six months and a half,
you've been helping us. We started with a very modest, sort of, assistance. Then we moved through the more and more complicated systems, more and more
So, instead of, you know, procrastinating and going with the long process of bringing one after another piece or three pieces there, 10 pieces there,
give us right now. By this, we will avoid all of these hundreds of thousands of people coming to Ukraine. And then and we will avoid this, you
know, really difficult, bloody war of attrition which we will have to have over the months, if not years.
So, if you are settled that you will help us, and what I'm reading from the leaders that I actually settled -- on United Nations settled on helping
Ukraine, do it right now while Russians are bringing, training, retraining, re-equipping. We have this very narrow window of opportunity. We have to
use it the right way.
AMANPOUR: And I was talking to the Australian foreign minister just now, who had also met with her Chinese counterpart here. Your own foreign
minister, Kuleba, has also with the same gentlemen, the Chinese foreign minister. Do you think Ukraine can prevail upon the Chinese to see which
way, you know, the wind is blowing right now?
It doesn't look great, for the Russian point of view. Even the Chinese president said that he had questions and concerns over what was happening.
Do you think you'll be able to get China to talk a bit more sense to Russia?
PRYSTAIKO: We -- as you've probably seen also the conversation of Putin with the prime minister of India, where India was also expressing that
there's a very mild satisfied? No. Actually they were against -- they were saying that not the time for the wars and please find some solution.
So, I believe that Russians now supported by very strange regime like Iranian who are supporting them with the drones, or even Northern Korea.
That's the whole extent of your friends?
We also understand that India, China, and the big nations are taking advantage of Russian desperate position. They're buying gas for cheap,
trying to take advantage of it. So, he doesn't have friends. And it's very difficult to the explain to the rest of the world, for example, African
nations and Asian nations, why Ukrainian ships with grain are not allowed.
So, all of this is not working in his favor and he understands that. I believe that we will be able to find at least that China, India, and now
the big ones are neutral to the case. Then, with the assistance of the civilized west, we will be able to prevail. This is our tactic and, if you
wish, strategy as well.
AMANPOUR: I was scheduled to actually ask the Iranian president about those weapons that you're talking about, the big drones, and the interview didn't
happen. Can you tell us, you're absolutely clear and confirm that those Iranian drones are being used? And what do they do? What kind of, you know,
damage can they do? Do -- and do you have what it takes to be able to defend against them?
PRYSTAIKO: What we have seen, and especially what I've seen -- I'm based in London. What I've seen from the interviews and reports from my own people
from the capital, that we've seen a couple of types of the drones which are used by Iranian military. So, we can presume that that's the same drones
which have been shipped to Russia. Whether the bigger strategic ones will be used, we don't know.
Those ones which have been used, they're annoyance (ph) but they're not changing anything on the battlefield. We are trying to understand how we
will deal with them, and so far, we've been quite effective in the ground with them. What surprises us, that Iran is doing it.
Let me remind you that two years ago, Iranians shut down our passenger plane, civilian one. We've been in negotiation with them how this very set
page can be turned to what Iran should do, you know, to make toward -- to Ukraine. And instead of, they're going with Russia, helping them with this
I don't know if it just business deal. I hope they understand that that's not -- there is no business as usual. This is the war and this is
civilization war. And they might find themselves on the wrong side of the whole war. We still have to work with them.
Maybe there's some, you know, some flexibility in the understanding of Iranians that this is not the war between -- as Russia is saying that, you
know, NATO and Russia is fighting on Ukraine territory until last Ukraine soldiers. This is not. We are fighting with the post-colonial power. We are
fighting for our freedom. That's something Iranians have to understand as well.
AMANPOUR: And finally, I -- it doesn't look like it, but is there any moment right now where negotiation could take place, or some kind of a
diplomatic solution could take place?
PRYSTAIKO: You know, people will always remind us that each and every war will end up with people sitting around the table and negotiating. Probably
this war will also end up this way. And we've been doing it over the -- last eight years where we're trying to find (INAUDIBLE) -- whatever their
names were. And all of them failed. And actually, they failed when Russians came openly and they launched their attack. This time just bombarding our
cities and killing -- massively killing our people.
So, they shut the window of opportunity of negotiation themself. Hopefully, if they get out of our lands, we will find this window open and we're bound
by geography to live to each other. We will have to find this way. Now, we have to reenforce our negotiations, future negotiation position. And that's
actually what we are doing right now. Pushing them away from our lands and preparing for the future, hopefully, for the peace between next generations
of Ukrainians and Russians.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko, former foreign minister, thank you for joining us from London.
PRYSTAIKO: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And as the world grapples with this warm, with inflation, and climate change, political leadership is needed more than ever now. Our next
guest, the well-known American humorous Andy Borowitz, believes that good leadership is hard to find these days. His new book, "Profiles in
Ignorance: How Americans Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber", looks at Americas embrace of anti-intellectualism. And he's joining Walter Isaacson
to talk about why it's endangering the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Andy Borowitz, welcome to the show.
ANDY BOROWITZ, AUTHOR, "PROFILES IN IGNORANCE": Thanks for having me, Walter.
ISAACSON: In this, book you talk about the new age of ignorance we're going to lose way back in American history. But you sort of start the
contemporary age of it with Ronald Reagan's election as governor of California. And you call it, sort of, the stage of ridicule. Explain that
BOROWITZ: Well, I focused on the last 50 years of American ignorance. It has been a centuries old trend, of course, and it goes back to the 17th
century. I won't get into that. But yes, they are the three stages of ignorance, as I defined them which are, ridicule, acceptance, and
celebration. And Ronald Reagan really kicked off the ridicule phase.
In the ridicule stage, politicians who were ignorant had to pretend to be smart. And Ronald Reagan was great on TV, that's why he was recruited by
some Californian millionaires to run for governor. But he didn't know anything. He knew very, very little. And so, they had to pump him full of
information to make it seem like he knew stuff, and he won the election by a million votes. And that really got the whole party started.
ISAACSON: Yes, you say he didn't know anything. But let me just ask you, it seems like an odd question, who was smarter, Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter.
BOROWITZ: Oh, clearly, Jimmy Carter. And, you know, smart is an interesting adjective. I'm not qualified as a neurologist to know much -- how much
brain capacity somebody has. I'm really not qualified in that regard.
But one thing I think that's really important is how much intellectual curiosity you have. And that's usually reflected in how much you read. And
people like Jimmy Carter read a ton. Harry Truman read a ton. Ronald Reagan didn't open a single book in college. And when his chief of staff, James
Baker, prepared a briefing book for a big economic summit, he didn't touch that. And James Baker said, why didn't you read that last night? And he
said, well, Jim, "The Sound of Music" was on TV.
ISAACSON: Well, let me drill down a bit on that. You say that Ronald Reagan was not nearly as smart as Jimmy Carter. Yet, what is the correlation with
success there? Ronald Reagan actually was a very successful president in terms of getting done what he wanted to get done. Jimmy Carter was
remarkably unsuccessful. Why are people like you putting so much on this notion of "Intelligence" when it doesn't seem to correlate to success as
BOROWITZ: Well, it depends on how you define success really, I guess. I don't regard Ronald Reagan as a successful president. I think he was
successful in getting elected. I think he was very successful in getting his agenda through. But what that agenda was, unfortunately, was very
relevant of his own ignorance.
He let the AIDS crisis spiral out of control because he was very unaware of what AIDS was or what it meant. He really created homelessness in this
country because he thought that -- and he said this to David Brinkley, he said, the homeless just want to live outside. They don't want homes.
So, in terms of ignorance, yes. A guy who is very good on TV, like Ronald Reagan, much better than Jimmy Carter, he cleaned his clock in the debate,
he's going to have much more success electorally, and he's going to have a lot of success, perhaps, getting his agenda through. But what that agenda
is and what it will mean for America is another thing. And that's where I think it helps to actually read a book.
ISAACSON: You know, speaking of books, the corollary to your book, or really the opposite of your book, is Halberstam's, "The Best and the
Brightest." And this is about really smart people. You don't get smarter than Mac Bundy or Robert McNamara.
And, yet they took us down a path that was not very wise. I'm still asking you, could your book, sort of, ridicules people who are, "Aren't smart."
You know, how do you contrast that with what happened in "The Best and the Brightest"?
BOROWITZ: Well, smart people make mistakes too. But all I can say is that I am an elitist in the sense that I want people empower to be smarter than I
am. We always role a dice with our leaders, right? We elect them. We don't know what they're going to do. Maybe some of the smarter ones will make
mistakes. Some of the dumber ones might surprise us.
But over the last 50 years, the guys who have been allergic to knowledge, who've refused to read a briefing book, who've refused to read a book of
any kind, have gotten us into things like the war in Iraq, which one of the hugest disasters in our history. And also, really ignored things like AIDS
and the coronavirus.
So, yes. Smart people make mistakes. I consider myself kind of smart, I make mistakes every day. I'd still rather put my money on the guy who's
read a book.
ISAACSON: All right. So, you say the war in Iraq. And I assume you're talking about George W. Bush doing it. If I remember correctly, Hillary
Clinton was very much in favor of that war, so was Madeleine Albright, so was Richard Holbrooke. Were they ignorant and dumb?
BOROWITZ: No, they're smart and had very bad judgment. But still the guy who was, you know, president of the United States and didn't pick up a
briefing book and didn't read the presidential daily brief that said, bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S. I still think you want a guy or
woman who has the most information.
Again, you can look at those people and say, yes, they were very smart and had bad judgment. I'd still would rather have a Hillary Clinton in the
White House than say, you know, Donald Trump who doesn't read anything. That's just my preference.
ISAACSON: You go back -- actually go way back in American history and you mentioned that earlier. But one of the things that interested me was
Harding, because you say, in some way, he's the beginning of this. Explain to me why you think Harding, sort of, exemplifies this age of ignorance
that we entered.
BOROWITZ: Well, you know it's funny, I have kind of a contrarian view of Warren G. Harding. I think he's actually gotten, kind of, a raw deal.
Mencken (ph) said that he was one of the dumbest, biggest nitwits ever in the annals of American history. Of course, Mencken (ph)could have lived to
see some of the people we're dealing with currently.
But Warren G. Harding actually -- I think has gotten a raw deal. He did a lot of good things or tried to when he was president. He actually proposed
an anti-lynching law, which is something that was ahead of its time. He went down south and gave a major civil rights address, which was
controversial and taking risks.
So, in a way, I'm actually a defender of Harding. I'm not -- I don't -- I, you know, I feel like he's been unfairly lined. He wasn't great. He was one
of our greatest presidents. And he certainly left something to be desired. But he had strong points. Maybe it's a little unpredictable. I'm a little
bit of a Warren G. Harding defender.
ISAACSON: Yes, and you talk about H. L. Mencken, the smart guy. The really smart dude and stuff. He was a racist. He was antisemitic. He was pro-Nazi.
I don't get the correlation between being smart and having good judgment.
PRYSTAIKO: Well, there isn't always. I mean, I think that I still say that I would rather have -- if I have to roll the dice, I'd rather roll the dice
on a guy who's smart than on a guy who hasn't read anything. The word smart again keeps on coming up. I think you and I use them on slightly different
terms, because I don't really know exactly how to measure how smart somebody is.
I can measure how informed or how intellectually curious they are. And the way I can measure that is by their habits and what they do, you know. What
they read. I mean, one interesting thing I learned in researching the book, Walter, is that a lot of people who were great in school weren't
necessarily our best presidents. A lot of our best presidents weren't great in school.
I'd like to look at somebody like FDR. A C-student, not a great scholar. But when it came to things like the dust bowl, which was an ecological
disaster that we've never seen the likes of before, he knew what he didn't know. And he surrounded himself with experts who did know stuff and he
listened to experts. He didn't like Donald Trump say, I know more than the generals. I know more than the scientists. He listened, he learned, he took
their advice, and the dust bowl was resolved in a really good way.
And that was to me -- to me, that's an example of somebody who has intellectual humility. We get in trouble, I agree with you, sometimes with
people who think that they are the best and the brightest, and they know more than anybody else. And as a result, they don't feel that they have
anything more to learn. I think that's dangerous. And I think smart people sometimes fall into that trap. It's better, I think to say, I have
tremendous areas that I don't know that much about that I need to learn more about. And that's where intellectual humility and intellectual
curiosity comes in.
ISAACSON: So, you talk about Sarah Palin and the age of acceptance in a way. Tell me how Sarah Palin leads us further along this path.
PRYSTAIKO: Well, the age of acceptance, and I talked about the age of the - - their age of ridicule was the era of Ronald Reagan and Dan Quayle, who -- they were politicians who were not very well informed, but we're expected
to be smart. And that performance succeeded with Ronald Reagan, not so much with Dan Quayle who exposed his ignorance at every turn.
With George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, we did move into a new phase which is the age of acceptance. Where George W. Bush actually discovered that
accepting his ignorance and presenting himself as a guy who didn't know very much, was actually a political advantage.
He bombed famously in early, sort of, ambush on Boston Radio, where a radio host asked him to name some foreign leaders and he came up empty. He really
missed three out of four questions. And his advisor came out and says -- his spokesperson came out and said, well we're electing the president of
the United States, not a jeopardy contestant.
And this led to the sole era of acceptance where the important thing was to say, hey, I don't know very much but I'm like you. I'm the guy that you
would rather have a beer with than that other guy, Al Gore, who's, you know, pointy head of intellectual.
Sarah Palin, in her debate with Joe Biden in 2008, right at the beginning said, I'm not going to answer any of the questions.
It was an amazing moment of candor in American history where she's like saying, I'm not going to fake the way Dan Quayle had to fake it when he was
debating Lloyd Bentsen. I'm actually going to get out here, and I'm just going to say what I feel like. And a lot of the times, she would say things
that just were absolutely untrue and nonsense.
She said that we were engaged in a war with Iran, which we weren't. She thought that Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11. But Sarah Palin moved us
into the celebration phase out of acceptance because she really embraced the fact that she didn't know things. And she replaced facts with just non
facts or what later became known as alternative facts of her own.
ISAACSON: And you're talking about the celebration phase. Does that lead us to Trump and even Marjorie Taylor Greene?
PRYSTAIKO: Well, it does. I mean, in the celebration phase, which we're in now, sadly. Ignorance, in a way, has become such an asset that it's
preferable to people being well-informed. So, in Donald Trump's case, it came very easily because Donald Trump, as I've stated, never read. He
doesn't know very much. He combines ignorance with arrogance. And that he thinks he knows more than the generals and the scientists, and pretty much
Marjorie Taylor Greene, also comes very naturally to this phase because she's extremely ill-informed and she thinks that petri dish is a peach tree
dish. And that shooters have space lasers, I wish, personally, but that doesn't apply to me sadly.
But then, I think, the more troubling phenomenon that we're looking at now, Walter, is that we have a lot of very well-educated, well-informed
politicians. People you might say our winners of the meritocracy. Like a Josh Hawley or a Ted Cruz, or Ron DeSantis, who have the finest educations
that money can buy in America, but they're willfully trying to sound dumber than they are.
And I think that's really a spectacle that's so regrettable because, at least, when I was growing up in the age of the space age and the space
race, we really look to people who were smart and experts and science -- you know, scientists. And people like, you know, Carl Sagan and Jane
Goodall. And those are the icons that I grew up with.
And now, the fact that we have leaders of our states and leaders in the Senate and even the presidency who willfully say no, don't listen to the
scientists. I don't think that that bodes well for us as a country. I also don't think that it's an irreversible trend. I think that we can reverse
PRYSTAIKO: I think that we all have to stop spending so much time on Twitter. Stop watching so much cable TV, no offense to people who are on
TV, and we have to start getting active in our democracy. And I think that means stop always nationalizing our problems. We always like to get
obsessed with the national elections and the national figures, Pelosi, Trump, Biden and the rest. I think that we have to start working locally
where democracy really is at its best.
I live in a small town. People here have to go to town meetings if they want to be involved in politics. And in a town meeting, I know the sounds
tremendously corny and Capraesque. But in a town meeting, you really can't be a jerk to somebody else because you might run into that person at the
gym next week.
And so, I have to actually subdue my natural tendency which is to be annoyed and sarcastic and contemptuous, and I have to be civil instead. And
you know what, I think that that is the answer. I think that we've had trickle down ignorance in our country where our leaders have said ignorant
things, and we as a population have grown more ignorant as a result of that because we want to believe that they know they're talking about.
I think we need to bring knowledge up from the bottom up to the top. We have to become knowledgeable citizens, and then demand the election of
knowledgeable leaders. That's my little pitch to America.
ISAACSON: You take aim at Democrats as well. Mostly you're targets in the book are Republicans but there's Elliott Spencer, and many others in the
book. I think John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Andrew Cuomo. Tell me, to what extent did they help lead us into this age of ignorance.
PRYSTAIKO: I think these guys who behaved in extremely sexist, misogynist ways, did it out of a sense of not just stupidity, but arrogance. Things
that they got that they could get away with, they tried to do. And so, I -- although I didn't focus on their activities as much as some of the other
people, I think again, there are, you know, there are serious crimes and serious misdeeds can't go unmentioned in a book about ignorance.
ISAACSON: In the conclusion of your book, you talk about one of the things you got wrong which is that a more educated population would vote in a way
that you would approve of. And yet it's a greater education and the people who have a high education have been voting for things like the Tea Party.
What am I missing here?
PRYSTAIKO: You're not missing anything. That was -- one thing I say in the conclusion of the book since it's a book about ignorance is I talk about my
own ignorance. Things that I -- biases that I had going into writing the book that I learned were untrue.
I think education is great. I think education would make all of our lives better. We'd be better at our jobs. We would be more interesting to talk
to. We might say things that are true or as opposed to falsehoods. But I don't think education alone makes for better voters. I do think that civil
engagement will. I think that, you know, if you are sitting in a room across somebody you disagree, you may never change his or her mind. But I
think you may get to understand the other side better.
It's a really big ask because we're living in a very tribal culture, as you know. We're -- everything is tribalized. There are even people now in line
saying that Dan Quayle spelled potato correctly, which I know it was an interesting manifestation of how tribal we've become.
But I do have faith, and maybe again this is my midwestern optimism, that if we sit in the same room with another person who's from the other tribe,
maybe we can recognize it. Instead of tribes, were actually part of a community. And that to me is our last, best hope. And it's really not a
question of everybody has to get super well-educated. Though I think that would be nice, as I said, for other reasons. I think that being engaged in
democracy would give people, perhaps, more respect for democracy, more understanding of it. And maybe we'd be a little bit less inclined to treat
democracy as a spectator sport where we're just rooting for one side to crush the other.
ISAACSON: Andy Borowitz, thank you so much for joining us.
PRYSTAIKO: Thank you, Walter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, trying to correct some of the ignorance and hostility around refugees, Little Amal comes New York City. That's the
giant puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian girl which has touch the hearts of many during her journey across 12 countries, representing all children
fleeing violence and persecution at home.
And her message is as important as ever. With the news that at least 74 people have died on a migrant boat that sank off the coast of western Syria
on Thursday. As Little Amal walks through five boroughs of this city, I'm joined now by Amir Nizar Zuabi. He's the artistic director of Walk
Welcome to the program. So, let me ask you this, Amir, this Amal -- Little Amal has gained so much popularity and touched so many hearts across her
journey that began more than a year ago. But it was really meant to go from the Turkish-Syria border to Manchester, England and has added some stops
including, New York. Why did you decide to do that?
AMIR NIZAR ZUABI, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, "THE WALK": When we were walking across Europe, we kind of -- we discovered as we were walking, to our great
surprise and our great pleasure, that people are reacting very warmly and very affectionately to this project, and it means something to them. So, we
kind of almost unintentionally created this symbol of human rights. And then we felt a responsibility to take her to other places to keep this
topic relevant and to make communities welcome this 10-year-old in their best way and keep this project going to other places in the world.
We were in Ukraine earlier this, which was very moving and very important to do. We're in New York right now engaging with communities and all five
boroughs. And we're creating 55 events in the city where communities can meet Little Amal and showed them their welcome. And by showing her their
welcome, maybe they can extend their welcome to real people that are coming to the city as we speak, and need support and need empathy and need their
AMANPOUR: Yes. So, as you mentioned -- I mean, she did meet a couple of busloads of migrants who have been, you know, shipped up from Texas. And
obviously this has become a big story here in the U.S. what the governors of Texas and Florida have done with people.
When she -- when Little Amal, the puppet, who's actually huge Amal, 11-foot high or however, how big, how do people --
ZUABI: She's 12-foot high.
AMANPOUR: -- react to something that big? Yes.
ZUABI: You know, from the beginning when we set out to do this project, it was about trying to challenge the narrative.
When we think of refugees, we think of misery, we think of hopelessness, and we want to show that refugees and immigrants can bring added value into
our society. They come with knowledge. They come with experience. They're some of the most resilient people on planet Earth. And we wanted to
celebrate their huge potential.
So, from the beginning, the attempt was to create something that is beautiful and joyous and that connects communities together. And people
react to that very warmly. It's very moving to be amongst the crowd. Looking at Amal, she's very beautiful. She's very big. She was created by
Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa who are brilliant puppet makers.
But she tags the string of the hearts of people. And people tell themselves their stories through her. There are stories of migration, their family
stories of migration. People they know. And it becomes a very personal encounter.
And this active empathy is what this project is all about. If you can't empathize with this big puppet and feel something, and do that in a joyous
hopeful way, I think that's how we tell the narrative. Because, of course, the refugee and migration crisis is crucial and its current. And
unfortunately, it is always current.
And it's our responsibility, as artists, to talk about it. To raise it again and again and again and get people thinking differently about it. Not
as a burden to the economy or a burden to societies, but as an opportunity to get societies richer culturally, richer economically because these
people come here to create a better life. Which means they want to contribute to the societies they're going to.
AMANPOUR: You used the word hope several times --
ZUABI: Yes, Christiane, I'm hearing you.
AMANPOUR: -- and obviously Amal -- it's OK. Amal means hope in Arabic. And I just wondered, what went into your decision to make her this big and
towering over people. And also, how challenging is it to get her to move because I know it's a group effort. And she's been going now for much more
than a year. I think it started in the summer of July, in the summer 2021. How challenging and why so big?
ZUABI: So, why so big -- you know, refugee and immigrant children are invisible. It's -- when we think about refugees, we omit the fact that most
half of them -- at least half of them are children. Refugee children and unaccompanied minors and immigrant children are invisible in our societies.
And giving them visibility was a big part of this project.
So, making her as big as we could, technically, was what we wanted to create. It was important for us that she's not a mechanical thing. She's
create -- she's operated by people, and she's nimble, and she's quick. And you can see her breathing.
I'm working with an unbelievable team of devoted people, devoted puppeteers, that each and every one of them is putting the best into this.
It's very grueling, physically.
AMANPOUR: Yes, yes.
ZUABI: It's a puppeteer on stilts. Maneuvering a very big puppet. But they're up to the challenge and they're very -- they're getting better and
better. They've been walking for a year. So, they're pretty spectacular.
AMANPOUR: Yes, and practice makes perfect. I mean, finally, you are born of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother. And you've said the issue of
refugees and displacement is in your DNA. How much of that inspiration, you know, went into creating her, in our last 30 seconds.
ZUABI: Well, that's my family story. It's a story of immigration and displacement. And I think it influenced a lot of how I thought about the
projects. How we created the project together as a group. And at the same time, I'm also a father of an eight-year-old. And she's just as big an
influence. So, it's the past and the future.
AMANPOUR: Amir Nizar Zuabi, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
ZUABI: Thank you very much for having me.
AMANPOUR: And that's it for now. Thank you everyone for watching. And don't forget, if you missed our show, you can always catch us on our podcast and
online and social media. Goodbye from New York.