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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.”
Here’s what’s coming up.
KEVIN RUDD, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The brand of American democracy is important not just for America itself. It’s important for the
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Donald Trump still trying to reverse the election. I speak to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd about the global
impact and the FOX effect, why he’s calling for a special inquiry into Rupert Murdoch’s holdings.
LETITIA WRIGHT, ACTRESS: And so now we are saying enough is enough!
AMANPOUR: A massive five-film epic explores black lives, black history in Britain. I speak with director Steve McQueen with his magnum opus, “Small
NOUBAR AFEYAN, CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, MODERNA: The roll out plans are in place, supplies are ready to go out the door. We have already manufactured
quite a bit of the vaccine.
Meet David taking on big pharma’s Goliath. Our Walter Isaacson speaks with Moderna chairman Noubar Afeyan.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Donald Trump continues a sinister and unprecedented campaign by an American president to overturn the U.S. election and cling to power. In a viral
tweet, Republican Senator Mitt Romney says, having failed in the courts — quote — The president has now resorted to overt pressure on state and
local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election. It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a
sitting American president.”
And, to Senator Romney’s point, today, Trump invited Michigan’s Republican legislative leaders to meet with him personally in the White House, and
there are reports that he might also try to strong-arm other Republican state legislators.
Legal experts say it could be illegal for the executive to interfere in the states’ prerogatives when it comes to elections.
Meanwhile, a new Monmouth University poll finds that this might be having an effect, in that more than three-quarters of Donald Trump’s 74 million
voters say Joe Biden’s victory is a fraud.
So, why don’t Republican voters trust the results? Well, you just have to look at Trump’s conservative media supporters.
And my first guest tonight, the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, points to Rupert Murdoch and his global media empire. Rudd is calling
for a royal commission to investigate Murdoch to ensure the strength and diversity of Australian media.
And when he joined me in from Brisbane, I asked him about the global effect ant international reaction to Trump’s undemocratic shenanigans.
AMANPOUR: Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia, Welcome to the program.
RUDD: Thanks for having me on, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: I wonder what you think of what’s going on in the United States, not just in terms of you personally, but what foreign countries will be
thinking of this struggle by the Trump administration to — it looks like, to overturn the election result.
What is the response overseas in Australia?
RUDD: Well, you see, the brand of American democracy is important not just for America itself. It’s important for the world, because it is — it has
been the torchbearer for the democratic project for the last couple of hundred years.
So, therefore, when the world and the democratic world looks on the United States, and Trump, having lost the election, trying to cling to power in
this interregnum, it leaves a very bad taste in the world at large.
And I would think that authoritarian states would be kind of gratified by this, because it is seems such an untidy transition from one administration
to the other.
I would hope that the Republicans would see sense and get the president to behave like a responsible grownup. And, so far, he’s not done that.
AMANPOUR: Well, talking about the authoritarians, obviously, one of the big, big relationships with the United States is China, right? It has
really risen dramatically under President Xi Jinping’s leadership. It’s a major competitor President-elect Biden will have to engage with.
What does that signal to you?
RUDD: Well, Beijing and Xi Jinping has become increasingly authoritarian. That’s the bottom line. There’s no hiding that fact.
And this trend is likely to continue. So, the intersection with the Biden administration will be, I think, difficult. The Biden administration will
have an interest in stabilizing the U.S.-China relationship, rather than this roller-coaster ride we have seen under Trump.
But on hard national security questions, the Biden administration is likely to be firm and direct with Beijing. On the economic relationship, I do not
see a fundamental improvement, though the trend towards decoupling may not continue at the pace at which the Trump administration had set off.
But there is this third dimension, Christiane, which is human rights. And this, at best, was embraced episodically by the Trump administration. But
we know, in the Biden administration, this will be a central agenda.
So, the human rights dimensions of the Biden administration’s overall foreign policy is going to run headlong into Chinese practices at home, in
Xinjiang, China’s own domestic dissident community, what continues to occur in Tibet, as well as, of course, what’s now unfolding in Hong Kong.
AMANPOUR: And just to point out, obviously, Biden, before he was president-elect, labeled the actions, as you say, in Xinjiang against the
Uyghurs, the Muslim there, Muslim minority, genocide.
And he also — he was the one who received Xi Jinping when he came to the United States in 2012 in his early, early moments as new leader, when Biden
was vice president.
And at the time, you know — and I’m sure you thought the same thing — that this was going to be a bold reformer. And yet the pace of political
repression and cementing his own leadership cult, not to mention economic prowess, has really taken everybody by surprise.
And Biden has even called Xi Jinping now a thug.
How widely do you think he will diverge from President Trump’s policy towards China?
RUDD: Well, Christiane, you’re right in your question, in that what has fundamentally changed in the last six to seven years has been China itself.
It’s become more powerful. The balance of power in China’s estimation is shifting in its favor against the United States. And then there’s a second
factor alive in all that, which is the leadership style of Xi Jinping, which has sought to push the envelope much further and faster and harder
than his predecessors who have occupied the number one position in the Chinese leadership.
So, with Biden coming to power, he does have one big advantage. He’s probably spent more face-time with Xi Jinping than any other Western
political leader. It’s not just Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States those many years ago, but also Biden’s reciprocal visit to the China, where
Xi Jinping was his host.
He’s probably spent two weeks up front and personal altogether with Xi Jinping. But a personal relationship like that doesn’t solve the strategic
problems we have been referring to.
AMANPOUR: So, now I want to shift attention and focus to this struggle that you are waging on a completely different issue. Well, maybe it’s not.
Maybe it’s connected to democracy.
You are trying to drum up a royal commission, what’s known as that, in Australia to investigate the media power and the holdings of Rupert
Murdoch. He’s obviously Australian, but, as we all know, he has massive holdings all over the world, particularly in the United States.
FOX News is its most powerful press tool.
What game right now is FOX News and Rupert Murdoch playing right now in the United States politically?
RUDD: Well, I don’t get regular e-mails from Rupert to tell me what he’s up to, but let me hazard a few guesses, based on my experience of him in
Australian domestic politics, in the period that I have been prime minister and leader of the Australia Labor Party.
I think, first and foremost, what Rupert Murdoch is seeking to do and has done for the last four years has been to do everything he can to legitimize
Trump’s form of the Republican Party.
If it was not for the echo chamber of FOX News within the United States, I doubt very much that we would have seen the comprehensive rise in the first
place of the politics which enabled the Trump phenomenon to succeed.
Just as we have seen in the United Kingdom, I doubt very much whether Brexit would have occurred were it not for the campaigning newspapers which
Murdoch owns there, which have openly argued the case for Brexit for a long, long time.
I think, secondly, what President Trump, as he seeks untidily, it seems, to exit office, is on about is delegitimizing the Biden presidency before it
begins by casting doubts over the ballot.
You may remember Trump did the same, echoed in the Murdoch news media, about Obama’s birther scandal, that is, where he came from. So, it’s a
delegitimization agenda as well.
And I think it’s abuse of — and it’s an abuse of media power.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s just lay it out here.
Murdoch, Australian, of course, owns about 70 percent of print media in your country, and in your own home state, Queensland, he owns 100 percent.
You have presented a petition, I think to Parliament, to try to get a royal commission, as it’s known, to investigate his holdings.
What is the likelihood of that succeeding? And we have to say that you have done it with opposition leaders as well. It’s not just you. It’s the
leaders of parties other than yours.
RUDD: What I have sought to do through this petition to the Australian Parliament is to call for the establishment of what we in this country call
a royal commission, effectively a judicial inquiry, to examine two things.
One is the impact of the Murdoch media monopoly in our Australian democracy, which has become pernicious and, frankly, continues to load the
dice big time in favor of one side of politics against the other here.
And, secondly, then for the royal commissioner to make recommendations on a future form of media governance in this country, as light as possible,
because I do believe in the freedom of the press and the independence of the media, but which removes the problem of monopoly and restores diversity
to the Australian media market. That’s why we’re doing it.
And we have attracted a record number of signatures, the biggest ever, for a digital petition in this country.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you this, because you have said that Murdoch and his holdings are a cancer on democracy.
And you have also said: “This power is routinely used to attack opponents in business and politics by blending editorial opinion with news reporting.
Australians who hold contrary views have felt intimidated into silence, and these facts chill free speech and undermine public debate.”
Can you just give us one aspect that you’re most particularly concerned about?
RUDD: What I’m most concerned about is the culture of fear which exists in my country, Australia.
And, to some extent, there’s a culture of fear also in the United Kingdom, given the attitude and posture in the past of Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers
there and viciously going after people.
So, what happens in this country, Australia, is that politicians left and right, corporates, academics, universities, not-for-profits, no one
actually debates in this country the Murdoch media monopoly. Why? Because they are frightened of having their character ripped apart on the front
page of the newspapers across the country.
So, the ability to destroy a person’s character and reputation simply for standing up against him is huge. That’s why people remain silent. I have
decided, enough is enough.
AMANPOUR: But, also, your counterpart Malcolm Turnbull has talked about it on television, about the Murdoch influence on climate denial.
And we know that News Corp publications blamed the recent Australian Bush fires on arsonists. I just want to play this little bit of sound from
Turnbull on this panel on television recently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALCOLM TURNBULL, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Murdoch media has gone from being a news organization that at election times tended to lean more
to the right and left to become pure propaganda.
I mean, the campaign on climate denial is just staggering, and it’s done enormous damage to the world, to the global need to address global warming.
I mean, it is so horrifically biased and such propaganda that Rupert’s own son James can’t stomach it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: How much do you think this climate denial has affected the situation that we’re in globally?
RUDD: Well, in two countries in particular, it’s had a huge effect, my own country, Australia, where Murdoch has used the monopoly he has over the
print media here to drive anti-climate change action and anti-climate change science agenda for more than a decade.
And so, therefore, you are constantly rowing against the tide in this country if you’re trying to advance a program to take action on carbon
pricing, to boost renewables, and the other measures which are now standard fare in most countries in the world.
The wall of media opposition which Murdoch has represented is formidable. I have fought it. I have been in the trenches against it. I won, and then I
lost. In fact, he was instrumental in supporting the Conservatives coming to power and their platform, which was to repeal our government’s carbon
But much bigger than Australia, of course, is the United States. And the fact that the Republican Party in the United States and some Democrats on
the right have such a reactionary approach to climate change science has again been engendered by FOX in particular in the United States, to some
extent “The Wall Street Journal,” by lending credibility to these most obscure so-called pseudo-scientists who challenge the consensus conclusions
of the international panel of climate change scientists made up of 4,000 humorless scientists in white coats who every five years get together to
examine all the data to reach a consensus, irrespective of their nationality.
So, this has had a huge effect in America. And America being absent from the field on climate change action the last four years has had monstrous
global consequences. Murdoch shares much of the blame for this.
AMANPOUR: You met with him quite, famously, in New York — I guess it was quite controversial — in 2007.
What were you trying to do? Try to get him onside? How did the conversation go? Did he say, if you give me this, I will give you this? What was it
RUDD: Well, I did go and see him in New York. And I have made no apology for doing that.
Back then, in 2007, some 13 years ago, the Murdoch newspapers were probably about 80/20 against the Australian Labor Party, maybe 70/30. My pitch to
him was simply, how about a level playing field whereby our narrative for Australia’s future and our policy agenda would get at least equal news
coverage, neutral news coverage in terms of what we’re putting to the Australian people?
And if Murdoch wished to use his opinion pages to denigrate or attack that, well, fine. It’s his newspaper, but the Australian people could make up
So my ambition then was to was to increase the level of neutral coverage attached to the Australian Labor Party agenda back then. The result, maybe
we came through an election campaign at best with a 50/50 outcome in the overall balance of the newspapers, even though they sought to take me out,
eliminate me as the Labor leader on multiple occasions through many confected scandals.
But the bottom line is, on the other half of your question, Christiane, Murdoch got nothing out of me. And the fact that we then prosecuted policy
agendas of which he was hostile to underlines that fact.
We were vigorous on climate change action. He hated it. We were vigorous also in intervening in the economy to save it from recession during the
global financial crisis. He hated that, because he saw it as too interventionist.
And, finally, we sought to build a national broadband network, which he sought to terminate. And the reason for it, because a national broadband
network in Australia, which would give fiberoptic to the home right across the country, constructed by the government, would, of course, give a
platform to his competitors, like Netflix, to his FOX cable entertainment network in Australia.
So, he co-opted the conservative parties into killing it, and, therefore, Australia has ended up with a second-rate broadband service as a result.
AMANPOUR: And, very finally, he’s obviously a businessman. That is what has motivated him throughout his career. Do you think that his power and,
therefore, the power of News Corp, FOX News, et cetera, is diminished in a post-Trump world? Or do they just regroup and continue?
RUDD: Well, I believe Murdoch is now a past master at regrouping.
He’s done it time and time again. Anyone who thinks also that this agenda dies with Rupert Murdoch, who’s now 89 years old, is wrong. His son Lachlan
is every bit as conservative and is every bit wedded to the continuation of his monopoly in Australia and his power in the world.
The Murdochs, certainly in the case of Rupert, are addicted, in my judgment to three things, money. Why do they like Trump? Because they have benefited
hugely by the tax cuts, the corporate tax cuts that have flowed to News Corporation in the United States.
Number two, apart from money and their business interests, his interest is in far right ideology. Climate change is the example. And number three is
that Murdoch, if you get to know him, has a deep interest in power. Those are the three things which drive him.
And my judgment is, it’s time, given their bullying behavior in America, their bullying behavior in Australia, their bullying behavior in the United
Kingdom, that we stood up and said, enough is enough, hence my call for a royal commission in this country.
AMANPOUR: Kevin Rudd, thank you very much indeed for joining me.
RUDD: Thanks for having me on the program, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Now, after that interview, and before we broadcast it, we reached out to News Corp, of course, several times for their response to
those specific issues. They didn’t get back to us.
Meantime, former Prime Minister Rudd also weighed in on a different issue. And that is the conclusion by a special military inquiry that Australian
troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghans while on mission there.
The dead were civilians and prisoners, victims of what the Australian defense chief called a distorted culture in that elite unit. It is the
first time a member of the American-led forces in Afghanistan has taken such dramatic accountability for its own troops.
And it stands in stark contrast to the United States. President Trump has granted clemency in three war crimes cases.
Now, my next guest, celebrated film director Steve McQueen, has just come out with an epic work of cinema. “Small Axe” is a series of five original
films from Amazon Prime and the BBC that explore life in London’s Caribbean community, offering both an intimate and historic perspective like never
Here’s a clip from the first film, “Mangrove” about Frank Critchlow, a real life figure, whose restaurant, Mangrove, becomes the center for black
activism in London at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAUN PARKES, ACTOR: This is a restaurant, a respectable restaurant, and I want to keep it that way.
Ain’t to say I ain’t grateful for all your offering of support, but I can’t make no complaints, you know? It’s a restaurant, not a battleground.
WRIGHT: I hear you. The food is good.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, this is a deeply personal project for McQueen, whose parents immigrated to London from Grenada and from Trinidad and Tobago.
And he’s joining me now to talk about it.
Welcome. Welcome, Steve McQueen. There you are, I think, in Amsterdam.
These are extraordinary films. I have managed to see three of them. I just want to know what actually — what was the genesis of this? Why did you
decide to do this, and when did you start?
STEVE MCQUEEN, FILMMAKER: Well, I started 11 years ago, the planning of it.
Well, it took that long in order to sort of get some kind of distance in some way, some kind of perspective on this particular time. So — and also
just basically to get the courage to delve into sort of my background and the things that made me who I am today.
So, it just took an amount of time. And, also, it was a want and a need and a must. And I knew I had to have the sort of the — the — how can I say,
the mileage to put in, to get out, as it were, for these films.
AMANPOUR: They are really extraordinary.
I mean, they are phenomenal, beautiful little — stories. I was going to say little stories. They are not massively long films, but they are really
packed full of all the experience at that time.
And maybe people forgot that they are set in Notting Hill and Shepherd’s Bush, in West London mostly. It was the heart of the Caribbean, West Indian
community. And now, of course, it’s very gentrified, very much different.
And it really takes you back to that moment, and particularly that clip, where Frank and his Mangrove restaurant becomes the place, not just for
eating and socializing, but for activism. Talk to me a little bit about that history, which maybe sometimes we forgot if we ever knew at all.
MCQUEEN: I think — again, I think the whole idea of community was a thing for Frank, the whole idea that people from the West Indian community could
come and be in his cafe, a home away from home.
But, also, other people migrated there people like Nina Simone, Vanessa Redgrave, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix. A lot of people sort of came
(INAUDIBLE) as well as the intellectuals, the Black Panther Party in the U.K. and others, and normal people.
So it was this space where everyone was treated equally. And, of course, ideas were sort of shared between dinners and between drinks.
And I think that environment for some people became very, how can I say, problematic. And I think that’s why the — sort of the powers at be or
whatever were very instrumental in trying to close that cafe.
AMANPOUR: And let’s not forgot — I think I may have said it — but, obviously, the owner of the cafe, it’s based on a real — actual real
And we have just seen the pictures. Yes. We have just seen pictures as we have been talking about Letitia Wright, the actress who shot to stardom as
Shuri in “Black Panther.”
And you have her as a member of the Black Panthers, the British Black Panthers, in the film. And I want to play this little clip where she’s
talking about the importance of politics and this restaurant, Mangrove.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The British state, with over a million black people living here now, is in grave danger.
WRIGHT: But that shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us here.
I think the Black Panthers need to actively prepare in order to defend the black institutions and businesses that can come under threat.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Like Frank Critchlow at the Mangrove.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Come on, man. Frank is not interested in the movement.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What do you mean?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We have nothing but love for the man Frank, all right? But that man’s blood runs pure red on politics, if you can call an
inveterate gambler pure.
WRIGHT: Frank is a charming and gentle person who doesn’t realize what he has done for our community in simply providing us the space.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Steve, it is — again, it’s dramatic. And you have so much more in there. We weren’t able to play some of the clips, which show the police
raid on Mangrove.
And, also, it is also a courtroom drama. And, again, people may not remember, if they ever knew, that the Mangrove Nine achieved an
unprecedented victory against police racism.
Tell us about it.
MCQUEEN: Well, it’s a situation where the Mangrove Nine were charged with riot and affray.
There was a demonstration the police harassment on the Mangrove, a peaceful demonstration, which was sort, how I can say, disrupted by the police and
plainclothes police, and people were taken away.
People were arrested, and charged with riot and affray. The first sort of, as they say, trial, as such, was thrown out of court. But then there was a
second trial. The second trial was at the Old Bailey, the highest court in the land.
Basically, that court is for serious crimes, treason, murder, and other serious crimes. And these nine were being — were being tried for riot and
So, the state had an idea. They wanted to make an example out of these people. And that’s why they were there. But what happened in the end was,
two of the — well, three, but, at the end of the day, two of the Mangrove Nine basically defended themselves.
And that was Darcus Howe and Altheia Jones-LeCointe. So, they — for first time, these black British citizens could actually talk and cross-examine
and, how can I say, have a direct conversation to the state, as it were.
So it was one of those things where it was a very — it was actually one of the longest cases of its time, 56-days. And in the end, they were all —
well, basically, most of them were basically found not guilty, and then others were found guilty of lesser crimes, and their sentences were
But the most important thing that came out of this, all of this, as well as what I just said, was that this was the first time that police were
basically — by the judge, they were told that the police were racist in this particular case.
And, again, one of the — you just said, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, and that is — she is played by Letitia Wright.
Letitia Wright, when she was reading the script, she is quoted as saying that she had no idea about this history. And a couple of times, I have said
Why is it do you think — what did British — the British black community think of as black history, black activism? Why did they even not know some
of this incredible industry?
MCQUEEN: To be honest with you, I don’t know. I mean, again, you will have ask the powers that be. I don’t know.
I mean, one of the longest trials…
AMANPOUR: What about you, Steve? When you were growing up, did you know all this stuff?
MCQUEEN: No, not at all. I had no idea.
And you know what’s so funny? My father was a very good friend of Rhodan Gordon, who was one of the Mangrove Nine, a very dear friend of his. They
grew up together in Grenada.
But even I didn’t know that he was involved in the Mangrove Nine. And I think, because of the distress, the post-distress disorder, which caused by
constant raids by the police and harassment even after the trial, that people were not so forthcoming in talking about these things within the
Of course, people knew. But they weren’t celebrated in the way that I wanted to do now. These people lived and died. And what I can do as a
filmmaker is — and as an artist is basically make them the heroes that they were to the general public, not just in the local community which they
AMANPOUR: And let me just ask you as a filmmaker.
Obviously, Letitia Wright is a big star. John Boyega, who stars in “Red, White and Blue,” which we’re going to talk about in a moment, is also a big
star because of “Star Wars” and others.
But you also have really empowered and given a massive platform to so many young black actors, and I think black — some of the filmmakers were black.
One of the — one of the cameramen was — is Antiguan.
AMANPOUR: Is that conscious?
MCQUEEN: Yes. And I would say, you know what. It’s conscious in the fact that the talent is out there. It’s conscious in the fact that these are
amazingly talented people. I mean, you know, my cameraman, Shelby (ph), a black gentleman from Antigua, obviously the protagonist or the actors. And
so, but it’s so rich and the fact that I wanted to give them an opportunity like this is — I thought privileged that I could do that because you see
the talent that is on the screen and the want and — you know what’s interesting to me as well, is how these people could play themselves.
They can play themselves in a way I imagine, you know, unfortunately, they couldn’t before because the roles they were given, the opportunities that
they were given wasn’t sort of designed for them. It was for other things. and this is the rich part of British history, and these five films in the
way was my attempt in a way to fill that gap. That missing link within our narrative as British citizens.
AMANPOUR: Let’s move to the one that I just mentioned with John Boyega who plays the starring role, and he’s a young man who has studied. He’s got,
you know, a masters I think and maybe would get a PhD in scientific research. He always wanted to be a forensic researcher, but his aunty, and
aunties play a big role in your culture, I think, she tried to persuade him to do something more. Here’s a little bit of that clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how are you doing?
JOHN BOYEGA, ACTOR, “SMALL AXE”: Good. I’m good. I got my application.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you never fill it?
BOYEGA: I thought about it, but I wanted to do forensics since I was 8 years old, maybe even longer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Leroy.
BOYEGA: Yes, aunty.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know practically you all your life. You’re smart enough for research science, forensics, whatever you choose, but when I
think about you sitting behind a desk alone, I can’t see it. You and Lee are the same. You need to get out there and express yourself, Leroy. Your
talent does not lie behind closed doors. It should be a benefit to the community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Leroy, Leroy Logan, also a real-life figure, he did join the force, but, boy, did he come up against racism. And yet, you do end on a
kind of hopeful note. Talk to me about that. I just want to ask do you have hope particularly in the wake of Black Lives Matter that these structural
institutions can change?
MCQUEEN: Well, I just want to correct you on the — you said aunties. Aunties are all women in the black community because everyone looks after
each other, you know. So, that’s just the women in general, (INAUDIBLE), you know, people who look after each other.
As far as Leroy Logan and John Boyega and hope, yes, I’m extremely hopeful. It’s — but, you know, everything — every — how can I say this? I am
extremely hopeful, but I’m only hopeful because of what the young people are doing and have done, because every generation people have to take the
baton and move on and the way the young people have taken the baton right now and what they have done — as far as what they have done in reaction
George Floyd has been absolutely incredible during the COVID crisis.
It’s just been amazing and, you know, it’s so heartfelt to see these young children, people, on the street. My daughter included. This is amazing.
It’s incredible. It’s crazy.
AMANPOUR: Well, as you’re speaking, we can see John Boyega, it was in June and in Hyde Park as Black Lives Matter, you know, came over here as well. I
think we’ve got a soundbite that we can play because he really went viral with this intervention. I don’t think we do have a soundbite. But in any
event he really, as you said — yes, go ahead.
MCQUEEN: No, I think with John — well, when John was shooting “Red, White and Blue” he was shooting that. And I think the film had been personal for
him and then he went to Hyde Park and then he had been personal to film at the Hyde Park. So, that situation that happened in Hyde Park was in the
sort of narrative of making “Red, White and Blue” for sure.
He — we had an impact on him and he had an impact on us when he came back to finish the film. So, sometimes life and art, you know, they bounce off
each other. And I want to say also, you know, when — you know, John Boyega is playing the man, Leroy Logan, and literally, Leroy Logan, he was a
poster boy for the Metropolitan Police. He was put on posters to recruit ethnic minority policemen and police women.
John Boyega, obviously, you know, was on the poster of “Star Wars,” you know, a rising star, you know, one of the biggest franchises in the world.
So, you’ve got these two individuals in amazing sort of institutions and influences in institutions as such, and nothing to do with them, not for
their own fault were failed within those two institutions. You know, like I say, life and art.
AMANPOUR: It is — they are extraordinary. And Steve McQueen, thank you so much indeed for joining us tonight.
AMANPOUR: Now, “Small Axe” premiers today on Amazon Prime Video.
Next, we turn to the high-speed race for a coronavirus vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech today are asking the FDA for emergency use authorization with
Moderna soon to follow. This will week Moderna had announced preliminary results that showed their vaccine to be nearly 95 percent effective at
preventing COVID-19. And our next guest is the co-founder and chairman of Moderna, Noubar Afeyan, and here he is talking to our Walter Isaacson about
the herculean task of producing and distributing the vaccine, and why he believes immigration equals innovation.
WALTER ISAACSON: Thank you, Christiane. And Dr. Afeyan, welcome to the show.
NOUBAR AFEYAN, CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, MODERNA: I’m glad to be here, Walter.
ISAACSON: Congratulations on this new vaccine. It’s really exciting. Tell me how it works.
AFEYAN: Well, the vaccine is based on a brand-new technology called messenger RNA, and I said brand new and that obviously the molecule has
been around since life has been around, but the use of it as a drug or a vaccine is actually unprecedented.
Some 10 years ago the company Moderna that I co-founded and I now chair took on the challenge of taking early academic work and seeing if you could
actually create a molecule, a new class of medicine based on messenger RNA that would allow the person who receives it to use their own body, their
own cells to manufacture a protein of interest. That protein could be a drug, or that protein, in this case, could be a vaccine that will train the
So, essentially, the way it works is that, in this case, the vaccine is a molecule that codes for the spike protein, that very kind a of decorative
picture that people show about this coronavirus. The thing that enables it to get into human cells is what’s called a spike protein, and that spike
protein, we’ve taken the sequence, the DNA sequence of, made the messenger RNA and then encapsulate it had into a particle such that when we
administered it to a subject that gets into cells. They read the mRNA naturally and they make the spike protein.
Now, of course, there’s no virus in that person but the spike protein informs the immune system that there’s something foreign. The immune system
gets trained and then stands on guard for when the virus does show up. And now, the immune system is ready to attack virus, like the other vaccines,
and prevent it from being able to infect or certainly infect in a serious way that person. That’s how the technology works this. This would be the
first time that a messenger RNA vaccine is not only tested but at large scale and then approved by regulatory authorities when it happens.
ISAACSON: Yours does not quite need the same deep temperature refrigeration that the Pfizer vaccine needs. Why is that?
AFEYAN: Well, because we have been trying to develop this as a platform technology, so not just for one vaccine but for many, many different ones,
we foresaw that if this could work it wouldn’t just work in one case. We’ve spent quite a few years and made significant investments actually
developing the packaging technology, the particles and our processes such that we could make a product that’s stable for a long, long period of time
at only minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is those advancements that have given Moderna the ability to have a vaccine that can be stored at minus 20. Furthermore, we’ve continued to
improve and test this product such that just this week we announced results that we now can certify, attest to the fact that our vaccines can be kept
in refrigerated conditions, 38 degrees for a month, and moreover on a benchtop, on a table at room temperature for 12 hours. And what that means
is that we can ship this vaccine to central storage repositories for very long-term storage. But then from there to a point of administration, for a
month, it could be kept in our refrigerator and then, again — so this is ease of use, and it doesn’t require any different supply chain than what is
available only in the U.S. but throughout the world.
ISAACSON: When do you hope to get FDA approval?
AFEYAN: Of course, that is a question that depends a lot on the comfort of the FDA with the data that we submit. So, we have said we’re going to
submit data very shortly. They in turn will review the data. There’s a process, there’s an advisory group called VRPAC that will meet and give FDA
advice. But we hope and expect that all of that can be done say by the middle of December perhaps such that we can get the first wave of vaccine,
if emergency use authorization is granted already in December.
ISAACSON: What are you going to submit to the FDA?
AFEYAN: Our expectation is that we will submit to the FDA essentially the complete trial, that is exceeding 150, 160 cases that would be defined the
full trial. What we announced earlier this week was a first interim look at the trial which ended up being 95 cases. As you know, Walter, the way a
vaccine trial runs there’s a certain threshold of cases needed to be able to adjudicate whether the vaccine is working effectively and how
In our case, that number was slated to be 53. But by the time we were able to get the data gathered, there was such a rise in cases as we’re
experiencing, unfortunately, throughout the U.S., that we already had 95 cases. So, against the 95 cases, we reported that 90 in our experience were
from the placebo group. They did not receive the vaccine and only five were from the vaccine group, and that creates a 94.5 percent effectiveness.
Furthermore, all of the 95 cases, 11 were severe COVID cases, and all of those were in the placebo group, there wasn’t a single severe case yet in
the vaccine group. We also looked at age groups over 65, which is a particularly vulnerable age groups, and, in fact what, we see there is
highly consistent across all age groups so that we feel we have already preliminary evidence in the phase three that we should be effective at
protecting folks at those age ranges.
ISAACSON: President Trump and some of his supporters have seemed to charge that both you and Pfizer and maybe in conspiracy with the FDA held off
reporting all of this until right after the election. Any truth to that?
AFEYAN: No. In our case, if you follow the set of disclosures we made, we were the first to enter the clinic, I would say, and give a lot of credit
to our colleagues at NIAID and NIH for being poised to help us through the partnership we had already for several years to very rapidly identify the
sequence, make the mRNA and get it into humans. This was already done a few weeks after starting in March.
Since that time, we’ve been quite transparent about what our plans are. And among them, this summer, was a decision we made to actually increase the
diversity in our trial from the initial numbers we were getting to ensure adequate representation of people of color, in different segments, age
segments we wanted to cover.
To do that, back in July already, we indicated that we would, if needed, even slow down the trial in order to achieve that objective. I’m pleased to
say that 37 percent of our trial participants were in fact people of color, and that was a design goal in terms of ensuring that. Other than that,
which was disclosed quite a long time ago and in fact chosen in concert with NIH and all of our collaborators, I can tell you that the timing was
such that we were not going to get data before November in any event.
I can’t speak to our colleagues in Pfizer, but I find it hard to believe that they would engage in that either because, look, the end of the day,
this activity has a lot of downside, less upside for the companies engaged in it, and the notion that we would expose further downside to any slowing
down when people’s lives are at stake, I don’t see that happening.
ISAACSON: Have you talked to the Trump administration about the plans there might be for a rollout?
AFEYAN: Of course. All of this work is being done in very close coordination by — with Operation Warp Speed, which is part of HHS, in turn
part of the current administration’s overall group dealing with this. And indeed, there’s been an incredibly close collaboration such that the
rollout plans are in place. Supplies are ready to go out the door. We have already manufactured quite a bit of the vaccine, and it’s now down to day-
to-day planning pending the FDA’s green light to make sure that we don’t waste hours, forget about days, in getting the vaccine out because, again,
it’s going to be a long slog to get as many people vaccinated as we can, but we cannot delay it any more than that’s needed to ensure proper review,
safety, efficacy. That has to be looked at by the FDA.
But, yes, there’s been a very good coordination with Operation Warp Speed, and my hat’s off to them and the work they have done, not just for Moderna
but with multiple folks, fair, transparent and very much putting the goal in mind of getting the vaccines out as soon as possible.
ISAACSON: Are you concerned that if there’s no cooperation between the outgoing Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration that
could lead to some delays, might even cost some lives?
AFEYAN: Look, I would hope that that possibility has already been largely preempted by the establishment of the processes and the entities that will
conduct this, and I really would not like to see anything get in the way of that. But I have confidence that in the end, especially with this effective
a vaccine or a couple of this effectiveness of these vaccines, that we are not going to be subjected to that.
Look, there was a possibility that these vaccines were only 50 percent effective, 60 percent effective, that the experts who had already been
weighing in for months saying, don’t you dare approve a vaccine that’s barely effective and how do you know whether we can believe, all that have
should be, over time, counteracted by facts and by reasoning. And so, I think under these circumstances we have a solution.
Look, I consider this, Walter, a form of — you know how people have been saying that a mask may be the best vaccine. I think a vaccine is the best
molecular mask. So, messing with getting this right has downstream consequences that I really expect and hope will not be caught up in
ISAACSON: You’ve said that you hoped to get authorization sometime in December, that the rollout plan seems to be ready. What will an average
person be able to walk somewhere and get a vaccine?
AFEYAN: Hopefully, by the second part of the second quarter, by kind of spring, late spring, we’ll begin to see a broader coverage. And then,
hopefully, people will make themselves kind of available to receive the vaccine so that we get the maximum protection we can.
ISAACSON: How much will the government involvement in Warp Speed and funding this and pre-buying certain doses, how will that affect the cost?
AFEYAN: First, let me say that the very first investments that were made in this regard were made by BARDA and by our own shareholders. In our case,
we reached out to the public markets and secured initially half a billion and then $1 billion to deploy towards this task. As the year has passed,
2020, there’s been larger financial commitments made by Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government, such that we have said publicly that we have
received some — $1 billion funding to support the clinical and pre- clinical development of our vaccine. And then in addition to that, we have received $100 million dose ordered from the U.S. government. That’s all
So, in aggregate, that’s about $2.5 million that will go into supporting the development of, manufacture of and the supply of 100 million doses with
the ability to upscale the 100 million if the demand by the government is there. And, of course, that’s been a significant contribution because it’s
allowed us to move at risk in parallel with the development, something that we would not under normal economic circumstances do because it would be
difficult to justify to our shareholders that we assume the entire risk and that at the end, we would find out that the vaccine doesn’t work and we
have nothing to show for it.
ISAACSON: How much is it going to cost me?
AFEYAN: I believe the U.S. government has said that it will be free to the individuals receiving it and that’s something that I would expect to be the
case in most if not all countries.
ISAACSON: How — you’ve never produced 100 million doses. Are you worried about the supply chain? Are you worried about the ability to produce that
AFEYAN: Of course. Of course I’m worried in the sense that, you know, we – – given that this is at heart a startup, a 10-year-old startup, a (INAUDIBLE) startup, you know, we are in the business of foreseeing threats
and difficulties in trying to get over them and prepared for alternatives if they, in fact, affect us, and this is no different.
So, I could say that we have an excellent team in place with extremely competent leadership coming out of very experiences pharma companies that
have joined Moderna already a couple of years ago, and we’ve put in place a manufacturing process that I believe is the most advanced in this field
because this is a new technology. So, all the existing plans in the world, all the existing know-how isn’t going to help you make mRNA. mRNA is a
completely new molecule.
So, that, I think we are probably in a leadership positioning. But then, getting hundreds of millions of vials, getting it filled into the mouth
(ph), this we are doing through a network of partnerships that we’ve announced. There’s several folks in particular. We have a manufacturing
relationship with Lonza, which is, I believe, the largest independent contract manufacturing company of its sort in the world, and they — we
were very, very pleased they partnered with us early on to help support our manufacturing scale-up, and they themselves have dedicated their own
facilities to learn how our process works and make hundreds of millions of additional doses.
So, Moderna and its all facilities that have been wrapped will make hundreds of millions, they, Lonza, will make hundreds of millions. And
together, we have said publicly, we expect to have (INAUDIBLE) doses. And yes, there’s always risk along the way, but we’re doing everything we can
through experts, investments and support from the OWS logistics folks, by the way, who have helped us a lot to ensure that we can come through.
ISAACSON: You’re born of Armenian parents in the beautiful and troubled city of Beirut and became a refugee and then an immigrant. Tell me about
your life story and how that ties in with your theory of innovation.
AFEYAN: Well, indeed I was born and raised in Beirut before the civil war there, and we ended up being taken in as political refugees in Canada. They
were generous enough to take us, and that displacement, that uprooting definitely had an effect, and adapting and then trying to figure out how to
do the best I could do, kind of followed by coming to the U.S., in that case more to obtain a world-class education. That kind of uprooting, re-
rooting, kind of, I think, is very much at the core of what innovation is about.
I’ve come to think over the last few years that innovation is a form of intellectual immigration, and that is those subset of people that are
comfortable leaving comfort behind and that are willing to take on a risk for a hope for a better life become more humble, more unassuming, more
demanding of what the state owns them, kind of more defensive as it relates to protecting what they have as opposed to taking it for granted. All of
those things in innovation lead to daring to leap, daring to go to places where experts who espouse dogma (ph) tell you is impossible.
Moderna, mRNA as well as many other projects that — through my firm flagship pioneering, we’ve had the honor to be involved with, have — tell
the same story, and that you have to kind of escape, if I can call it the intellectual gravity, of expertise and be able to dare to look on the other
side and say, could there be a different reality, and then almost work backwards to make that reality attached to the current reality.
So, you foresee, you envision a reality and then you come back. And I think immigration is that because the people who immigrate think of a better
life, imagine a better life. It’s always not as good as they had imagined, but through hard work, it looks better than they imagined because it was
partly their doing, not just what awaited them in an oasis.
And so, I do find — you know, I’ve done this for 33 years professionally, and I do find that those two streams, the adversity, the survivalism you
hear about in startups, boy, is that something that you get exposed to when you physically get displaced. I really do think the immigrant mindset and
immigrants together are what make this country great, and I think we just have to keep building on that.
ISAACSON: Dr. Afeyan, thank you so much for being with us.
AFEYAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And finally, talk about beating the odds and taking risks for a better life. We have now long overdue recognition for an unsung warrior for
racial justice. Born in 1757 in what’s now Ghana, Ottobah Cugoano, was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of 13. He was later freed and
working in Britain. Cugoano was one of the 18th century’s most outspoken abolitionists and he has now become the earliest black figure in history to
receive a blue plaque on a London residence. It’s an honor which recognizes his contribution to England’s national heritage. And Ottobah Cugoano’s name
and his achievements will be permanently visible and recognized now forever.
That is it for our program. Remember, you can follow me and the show on Twitter. Thank you for watching “Amanpour and Company” and join us again next time.