A DAY IN HELL CANNOT BE MUCH WORSE THAN a day this past July on the Rwandan border as hundreds of thousands of sick, wounded and terrified refugees streamed out of their shattered homeland. Around makeshift camps near Goma, in Zaire, bodies littered the ground for as far as one could see in any direction. The stench of rotting flesh and human waste was overpowering. Thick volcanic dust carrying all manner of plagues hung in low clouds. Soldiers from the French Foreign Legion, unable to dig graves in the rock, methodically bulldozed load after load of corpses into shallow ravines as blank-faced children watched silently.
To television viewers around the world with access to CNN, was the kind of place where Christiane Amanpour would probably turn up.
As it happened, Amanpour was in Haiti when the refugee exodus began, waiting for the American invasion that then seemed imminent. But the horrors of Haiti were not as overwhelming as those suddenly unfolding on the Rwandan border, and as soon as it became clear that there would be no invasion Amanpour was on her way. Her flight -- Port-au-Prince to Guadeloupe to Paris to Nairobi to Goma -- took 36 hours. There were no normal accommodations in Goma. She and her crew pitched a tent next to the airstrip. The roar of incoming relief planes made sleep impossible, butthere the very idea of sleep seemed most frivolous.
When the pace of events in Haiti quickened again, Amanpour returned to report on the climactic negotiations between Jimmy Carter and Haiti's military leaders and on the American landing that followed.
Like perhaps no other reporter on American television, Amanpour seems to belong in such places. Her success in bringing stories of carnage and conflict into living rooms around the world has made her one of the most visible war correspondents of her generation.
"In TV, she's the best," said Dominic Robertson, the CNN producer who has been ducking bullets with her for two years. "She knows what she wants and how to get it. She's really hot."
How hot? Millions of dollars hot.
In the weeks before Amanpour's contract with CNN expired in June, executives from all three major American networks set out to court her, dangling multiyear, seven-figure contracts and promises of almost complete independence.
"She gives great war," explained Walter Rodgers, one of her colleagues at CNN. "She gives the best war in the business. That's why right now, she's the hottest property in American television."
On the air, Amanpour conveys an unusual combination of authority and humanitarian passion. Her slightly exotic looks and British accent set her apart from most of her colleagues. That she always seems to turn up in the most miserable and dangerous places adds to her mystique.
That mystique is valuable to CNN, which is facing something of an identity crisis as it seeks to balance its coverage of world events against the puffery of its talk shows and endless O. J. Simpson hearings. The network needs serious-minded stars whose qualifications go beyond good looks, and Amanpour is one of the brightest around.
Although she was part of the team that sent CNN ratings skyrocketing with coverage of the gulf war, and has parachuted into fire fights from Tblisi to Mogadishu, Bosnia is where Amanpour secured her reputation. Bosnia is also where she turned the mistrust of some of her colleagues. They complain that she oversteps the traditional bounds of objectivity and takes advantage of the freedom CNN gives her to bash whomever she considers guilty of that day's atrocities-in Bosnia, usually the Serbs.
Whether Amanpour practices opinionated journalism or simply places the news in perspective, she will be doing it at CNN for at least several more years. Her loyalty to the network where she got her big break, and her desire to continue reaching an international audience, led her to turn down more lucrative offers. She serfled for a contract, believed to be in the mid six figures, that makes her one of CNN's highest-paid correspondents but does not approach the staggering sums paid to stars like Diane Sawyer -- who receives a reported $5 million annually -- or Barbara Walters or Sam Donaldson.
Like Sawyer and Walters and Donaldson, Amanpour is not simply a news reporter, but a television personality who performs in a news context, the first to emerge from the upstart Atlanta-based network. Because CNN is correspondent-driven, not only allowing reporters to shape their own coverage but often allowing them to choose what they cover, she has exercised more influence over what viewers see than almost any reporter in television.
"She pushed CNN to cover the Bosnia story when there really wasn't much interest in it," said one network insider who requesting anonymity."She just insisted on going there, and the impact of her coverage forced the other networks to follow. It was another example of her great news instincts." But this same insider has doubts about Amanpour's commitmentto objective journalism.
"I have winced at some of what she's done, at what used to be called advocacy journalism," he said. "She was sitting in Belgrade when that marketplace massacre happened, and she went on the air to say that the Serbs had probably done it. There was no way she could have known that. She was assuming an omniscience which no journalist has.
"Christiane is a journalist more in the British than the American tradition, more willing to take sides on a story. And I think she has a little of that traditional British contempt for America. Would she have upbraided the Queen of England or Ayatollah Khomeini as she did the President of the United States? I don't think so, and I know there were some people in Atlanta who were upset at her performance."
[Amanpour is not simply a news reporter, but a television personality who performs in a news context.]
THE NIGHT IN MAY THAT BILL CLINTON TOOK PART IN A "global forum" organized by CNN began as just another one of the public meetings he has been holding to showcase his personality and persuade Americans of his sincerity. He handled the first few questions with his usual aplomb. The moderator armounced that the next question would be from Sarajevo. Amanpour's magnified face appeared on a nine-screen monitor, making her look a bit like the Wizard of Oz.
"Mr. President, it's a privilege to address you from Sarajevo," she began. "You tonight just said that Bosnia was just a humanitarian catastrophe. Surely, sir, you would agree it is so much more than that, a fundamental question of international law and order. You also said that it is clearly in your national interest, the U.S. national interest. So my question is, as leader of the free world, as leader of the only superpower, why has it taken you, the United States, so long to articulate a policy on Bosnia? Why, in the absence of a policy, have you allowed the U.S. and the West to be held hostage to those who do have a policy -- the Bosnian Serbs -- and do you not think that the constant flip-flops of your Administration on the issue of Bosnia set a very dangerous precedent and would lead people such as Kim Il Sung or other strong people to take you less seriously than you would like to be taken?'
"No, but speeches like that may make them take me less seriously than I'd like to be taken," he snapped back. And then, with his jaw stiffening, he added, "There have been no constant flip-flops, madam."
The hall was hushed, spectators taken aback by the sudden tension in the air. Clinton proceeded to give an articulate defense of his policy, insisting that he would not send Amencan ground troops to Bosnia and recalling that his effort to lift the arms embargo there had been vetoed by European governments. In the end, he said, peace would come through negotiations, not as a result of American intervention.
Producers of the show did not give Amanpour a chance to shoot back. Clinton moved easily to the next questioner, but at the end of the programhe returned to what Amanpour had said.
"I was waiting for my lecture from Sarajevo tonight, and I rather enjoyed it," he said with surprising grace. "That poor woman has seen the horrors of this war, and she has had to report on them. She's been fabulous. She's done a great service to the whole world on that. I do not blame her for being mad at me. But I'm doing the best I can on this problem from my perspective."
On the monitor, Amanpour, bundled against the predawn Sarajevo cold, smiled and shook her head. Whether she was silently chiding the President or was simply amazed at his change in tone, she wisely said nothing.
SEVERAL WEEKS LATER AMANPOUR SAT AT AN OUTDOOR cafe in Paris, where she lives between assignments, and tried to sort out the confrontation. She was wearing a lavender T-shirt, which part of her Bosnia wardrobe. Although she uses little makeup she clearly revels in her femininity, interrupting her conversation to admire well-dressed women passing by and asserting that she has never found being female to be anything other than an advantage.
"People think I have this adversarial thing with Clinton, but I don't," she insisted. "I really believe in the American Presidency. I think he has to be supported, and it's awful that people are trying to tear him down with sleazy and obviously political attacks. But if America still wants to be a real force in the world, it has to act like a real force. If it wants to have a leadership role, it has to lead. I'm a foreigner, and I grew up looking at the United States as simply a leader. It doesn't mean you have to send soldiers to every Tom, Dick and Harry country in the world, but if the U.S. doesn't want to be a world leader, that's going to cause a lot of disappointment and anxiety in many quarters.
"I believe in the law of the jungle. There are strong and there are weak; there is an order in our species and our world. What's happening now is that no one seems to know what the order is."
This perspective marks Amanpour and her generation of journalists as profoundly different from those who came before. Many reporters who covered wars in Southeast Asia and Central America came home believing not only that America was unable to shape world events, but also that it had no business trying to do so. Some even allowed themselves to develop a romantic attachment to the idea of third-world revolution. Not so Amanpour. Her world view is a throwback to the days of World War II, when it was understood that America and only America could save the world.
She dismissed the idea of revolution with an expletive. "It's all about money and power and nothing else. Whatever anyone says, it's just about power."
Disdain for revolution comes naturally to Amanpour. She was born 36 years ago in London into a wealthy British-Iranian family that moved back to Iran eight months later and was thrown into upheaval when the mullahs swept to power in 1979. Her father, an Iranian airline executive of monarchist sympathies, managed to escape Teheran with the rest of their immediate family, though an uncle who had been director of the military police hospital was arrested and died in jail. The family resettled in London, but after a short stay there Amanpour decided to seek her fortune in the United States.
"The revolution was the best thing that ever happened to me," she confessed. It forced her to go out and find her own way in the world.
Amanpour landed at the University of Rhode Island, and a journalism teacher helped her find an internship at WJAR, the local NBC affiliate. She was assigned to work with the station's investigative team.
"She's an extraordinary person," recalled Jim Taricani, the reporter who headed the team. "Anyone who's worked with her would probably tell you that. She had a lot of drive. You meet people in this business, and you can tell who's going somewhere. You could tell with her."
In those days, CNN was a new and not very stable enterprise, the brainchild of Ted Turner, an eccentric Atlanta millionaire who had an audacious vision of providing round-the-clock news coverage to a worldwide audience. Amanpour recognized CNN as a place where she might learn and grow. After finishing college in 1983 she made her way to Atlanta, arriving with little more than a bicycle and a few dollars. Soon she had a job answering phones, typing scripts and taking satellite feeds.
Ed Turner (no relation to Ted), CNN's executive vice president of newsgathering, had much the same impression of her as her former colleagues in Rhode Island did.
"When she first came in here, I remember her telling me not only that she was going to be a correspondent but that she was going to be a foreign correspondent," he said "I tried to dissuade her and tell her gently that it didn't seem to be in the cards. She just looked at me and gave me this Henry Higgins answer: 'You wait, Ed Turner, you just wait.'"
Turner bristled at the suggestion that Amanpour sometimes stretches objectivity by bringing too much passion to her job: "The kind of stories she's been on demand a certain elaboration beyond the normal traffic-accident reporting. She's there, she has eyes, she has a brain and she tells us what's happening. Advocacy means urging a certain resolution to a problem, and I haven't seen her do that."
After showing promise in Atlanta, Amanpour was given a chance to report stories from the New York bureau. In the spring of 1990, when a slot opened up in the Frankfurt bureau and no established correspondent claimed it, she grabbed it. The day the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait, Aug. 2, 1990, Amanpour immediarely volunteered for that assignment. She arrived in Dubai with a week's worth of clothes and ended up staying five months.
Amanpour performed admirably during the gulf war, showing a special talent for delivering unscripted live reports. When the Balkan crisis erupted she sensed it would be "my generation's war." In the eyes of many television viewers around the world it became hers alone.
IN SARAJEVO, WHEN AMANPOUR COVERS ARTILLERY ATTACKS of uncertain origin, she does not hesitate to point out that although the source of this particular attack may be unknown, most are launched by Serb forces. She will tell anyone who asks that the Bosnian conflict is not a civil war but a result of Serbian aggression. Bosnian Serb leaders have retaliated by banning CNN from their territory. Amanpour said she regrets not being able to spend more time with Serbian fighters but makes no apology for the tone of her reports.
"You have to put the news in context," she shrugged. "Peter Jennings told me, "You're involved, but you're objective." That's fine. If being involved means giving context, then that's what I am."
Most foreign correspondents strive for fairness, but when covering war or slaughter or oppression all feel the impulse to point a finger at evil. The difficulry sometimes lies in identifying just where the evil is.
"If you're sitting in a city that's being bombarded and you're being bombarded too, and if your ability to get to the other side is limited or nonexistent, then your perspective is naturally going to be influenced by that," said Bill Kovach, the curator of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard University. "Certainly you see some of this bias coming out of the former Yugoslavia. It's not all anti-Serb, but it's tainted by that reality."
Advocate or not, Amanpour has developed a style of her own. She has a strong ego, and is satisfied only when she can dominate a story, as she has in Bosnia. She turned down a chance to help cover the recent election in South Africa, where she would have had to share the spotlight with CNN heavyweights like Peter Arnett and Bemard Shaw. And although she flew to Moscow to help cover last year's abortive coup, she quickly returned home after seeing how many reporters were already there and realizing that many of them knew the story far better than she.
Inevitably, Amanpour's single-mindedness and star status have ruffled feathers, and even some admirers find her too pushy for comfort.
"She has this superaggressive, all-elbows, out-of-my-way style," said a Sarajevo colleague. "Working with her is like working with a charging elephant." Still, she has won an Emmy for her coverage of Bosnia, a Peabody Award and a George Polk Award, not often given to television reporters.
Amanpour's life is chaotic by normal standards. The prospect of her settling down with her boyfriend Luc Delahye, a combat photographer, seems as remote as the prospect of his settling down with her. Better to grab whatever moments they can in Paris or Bosnia or Rwanda.
She said sometimes she is scared when preparing to enter warzones, "but once I'm there, I just rock and roll." When one of her colleagues in Sarajevo asked if she had trouble sleeping through the shelling, she replied quite seriously, "I sleep better in Sarajevo than anywhere else."
Even Amanpour, however, lost her bravado in Rwanda.
"Without a doubt it was the worst thing I'd ever seen or smelled or felt or been in," she recalled with a shudder. "You spend the whole day watching people die, and there's just no escape from it. There are just mountains and mountains of bodies. You see kids hanging on to their sleeping parents and then you realize the parents aren't sleeping, they're dead. It's so awful that in the end you just can't describe it. But I have to try. That's the job."