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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London. And today, we examine the
Middle East most intractable conflict, the one between Israel and the Palestinians. There is still no new peace proposal on the table despite
the Trump administration’s promise. Instead as Israel gears up for an election, there are mounting complications to peace and to governance
The United States has created yet more distance between itself and the Palestinian side, announcing today that it’s closing its east Jerusalem
consulate and folding it in to the new American embassy in Jerusalem which in itself is controversial. Since the U.S. broke with the international
community to relocate that building from Tel Aviv last year.
And perhaps more ominous, the Israeli attorney general says that he will indict the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And that’s on charges of
corruption. Allegedly involving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of champagne and fine cigars and soliciting a U.S. visa for a business member
— a businessman friend.
Netanyahu vehemently denies all the allegations and vows to fight them in court, while also vowing to fight the next election. And here there is
more controversy, because he has provoked international outrage by forging a pact with the extreme right Jewish power party founded on a racist
Meantime, a new alliance of former security and military figures in Israel is also contesting the elections the blue and white collision, which is
ahead of Netanyahu’s (inaudible) party in the polls right now.
Joining me to discuss all of this is the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. There were moves to indict him too when he was in power, which
prompted his resignation. He then went to prison for 16 months on charges of corruption. And Mr. Olmert joins me now from Tel Aviv. So, Prime
Minister Olmert, welcome to the program.
EHUD OLMERT, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Good evening.
AMANPOUR: Can we get to the bottom of this case that may lead your nation in to uncharted territory? What is the difference between the threats to
indict the sitting prime minister on these charges of corruption and what happened to you?
OLMERT: Well, very briefly since I wrote about it in my autobiography for more than 900 pages, just briefly I was charged on all kinds of things that
took place many, many years ago, long before I became prime minister. And I don’t want to go in to this now as I said, I never admitted, never
accepted. But that’s not the case.
Everything that Netanyahu is indicted for major indictment is of things that took place while he is prime minister. Major things, so there is a
big difference between these two events. I was never charged or nor accused nor indicted for anything that was done while I was prime minister
of the state of Israel.
AMANPOUR: OK, so we’ve separated the sort of prime ministerial mandate. While this was happening to you, Benjamin Netanyahu was your political
opponent. And he said that under these legal threats–
AMANPOUR: — you had no moral mandate to make crucial decisions. Would you say the same of him and what do you think is the correct order of play?
I mean I guess you’ll say that he should resign. But he’s not going to resign and he denies–
AMANPOUR: — these allegations.
OLMERT: Number one, I want to say that not only that he say that I shouldn’t resign, but he was very much apart of the conspiracy that brought
me down. With American money that was given to him by major American figures that tired to buy the elections in Israel as they try to buy the
elections in America.
This is apart of a story which will still be told one day. This is about Netanyahu’s past performance. I don’t want to pass a judgment about the
possible indictment of the prime minister. This will be done in the hearing at the attorney general and then at Supreme Court.
But what I do want to say is what Netanyahu is doing now in order to protect his political career, in order to better the possible changes and
the legal system is seriously endangering the basic fundamental values of democracy that we have practiced in Israel since the proclamation of the
state of Israel is — he’s attacking the attorney general, he is attacking the police, and he is the — the acting prime minister.
As a prime minister he is battling against all the law enforcement agencies over the country and he’s also taking all kinds of strange, one should say
even dangerous steps such as the lines with the Jewish power, the extreme right wing parties he’s trying to polarize the state of Israel between the
left or between those who he — whom he consider to be the left wingers whom he more or less call traitors.
And we are talking about people that until recently were the commanders of the Israeli army. This is absolutely insane, you know, to think that the
major opponents of Netanyahu are Major General Benny Gantz who I think is likely to become the next prime minister.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me dig down into some of this prime minister — let me just ask you a few questions on — on important issues that you’ve raised
because this Jewish power party the Prime Minister Netanyahu who has — is forging an alliance with has been criticized even by APack in the United
States, which is a store supporter of Prime Minister Netanyahu who APack calls the Jewish power racist and reprehensible.
How can the prime minister really continue in this alliance? Won’t it become untenable even for his American supporters?
OLMERT: Look, the prime minister is at this time is focused on one thing and only on one thing, to remain prime minister. I personally think that
he will not be able to continue after the elections.
And as I’ve said, I think that it is likely; it’s not certain, it’s too early, we still have the months in this volatile area and months is a long
time but I think that — that it’s likely that General Gantz will become the next prime minister of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu will go to fight
his battle in court.
But the alliance that he formed with the right wing is part of the strategy that he has adopted throughout his tenure as prime minister. He was not
involved in any major or serious negotiating process with the Palestinians.
Hey boycotts Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority in spite of the fact that Mahmoud Abbas is committed to make peace with
Israel and he fights against the terrorism and he helps the Israeli security forces to fight against terror.
So he should have been partner for negotiations but he is not because Netanyahu doesn’t want to meet with him.
AMANPOUR: OK. So there’s another important issue .
AMANPOUR: That’s another important issue and you’ve raised it before. It is the position of the Israeli prime minister and to an extent his current
American supporters in the Trump administration that there is no partner for peace. That Abbas and the president of the .
OLMERT: No, no, no. Christiane. Christiane, if I may, I heard — I don’t know, I’m not privileged to this information but I read like everyone the
press and the press quotes President Trump as saying that he has prepared the peace plan for the Middle East, which he calls the deal of the century.
Now if this is true and I think it’s true, then I congratulate the president. Why? Because I think that if President Trump who is known to
be a very man with great pride, if he decides to call a plan named after him as the deal of a century, then it means that it must be based on a two
state solution concept.
And if he will promote it and if wants to succeed with a plan that he names after himself, then maybe no matter which government will be in Israel
after the elections, there is a chance to resume negotiations.
I hope that the government that will be after the elections will not be the right wing — extreme right wing liquid government but a moderate
government that would be interested in joining with the Palestinians to resume the process that I started with Mahmoud Abbas 10 years ago.
And we almost — almost — almost resulted in a peace accord between the two of us. It’s possible. I think it can be done. I think that if the
president of the United States will be dedicated to it, than I can only congratulate him for wanting to do it, and I hope that the Israeli
government after the elections will be one. They will (ph) be interested in establishing a creditable process for negotiations.
AMANPOUR: I can see where you’re coming from because you did enter a credible process for negotiations, which at the time the Palestinians
rejected, I know you have all sorts of reasons for that, but you say that President Trump has everything to play for a peace proposal that in his
name, and yet today we hear that they are further sidelining the Palestinians by closing the east Jerusalem consulate which was the main
area of communication with the officials who could get there, folding it into a embassy that’s already controversial.
You know that the Palestinians have cut off conversation with the U.S. side since the moving of the embassy and since rejecting their sides so where do
you see this whole (ph), is it because you believe there’ll be a different Prime Minister in Israel?
OLMERT: Number one, Christiane, I entirely — I can join you with some questions about these moves, but I’m not in a position and I don’t know
enough of information within the administration to want to pass any judgment, what I say is this, President Trump — and you know him better
than I do, is a man with considerable ego right, if he calls a peace plan the deal of the century then he understands that it must be something that
will be minimally accepted to the Palestinians, otherwise there will not be a deal okay. It would be called the deal of a century but it will not come
So I believe that obvious preliminary (ph) stages now only a platform upon which he will then come to the Israeli side to say okay now lets make a
deal and this deal must be based on mutual concessions, and it will have to involve a painful, painful concessions by the Israeli side alongside more
or less the planned types (ph) submitted to the Palestinians, I think that this is the only possible plan, I think that the administration in America
understands it. And ultimately they will try to push for it and I hope that the government in Israel after the elections will be a good partner
for such a plan in order to make peace because in my mind this is the most important item on the national agenda of Israel and on the agenda of the
It will (ph) entirely the Middle East I think the Palestinians are getting more and more ready for it. And I think Mahmoud Abbas is a credible
partner in spite of all the criticism leveled against him by the Israeli spokesman. And I think that we can make peace and it will change the
Middle East, and who knows, maybe the President of the United States will seem (ph) to have been the most unlikely president to push for it will
eventually will be the one that will convince the two sides to conclude what has started by me and doctor Abbas 10 years ago.
AMANPOUR: Well you know, obviously everybody looks forward to peace in your region. But you know, it may be that Prime Minister Netanyahu
continues to be prime minister while he’s potentially fighting charges if this indictment is brought down. He would if he won the next election, be
the longest serving prime minister since the founder of your state, David Ben-Gurion. And this is what he said about his intentions and about these
charges, listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I intend to serve you and the countries Prime Minister for many more years, don’t believe all the spin, I
intend to serve as Prime Minister for many more years, but it’s up to you. It’s not up to the civil servants, it’s not up to the television studios,
it’s not up to the pundits and journalists, it’s only up to you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean you know, he’s defiant and he’s a very savvy political operator and he’s very good at using the media. He might survive
and continue as prime minister and fighting the charges, what do you see realistically over the next month or so in your country?
OLMERT: I think that Benjamin Netanyahu has finished his service as the leader of the state of Israel, it may take a month. It will probably take a
few more because the political process will take it’s time. But towards the end of the year, Netanyahu will have to spend most of his time in the
district court in Jerusalem and not in the prime minister’s office.
I think that what he is doing now, he’s provoking the Israel citizens against the civil service, the law enforcing agencies which is against the
fundamental values that we believe in, in our country. I never did it.
I resign from position of prime minister when these charges were level against me, much minimal charges not anything similar to what is level
against Netanyahu. But I decided that the prime minister office is not the place to fight it. It has to be outside of the government. That’s what I
He is using the prime minister’s position in order to fight against the law agencies of the state of Israel against everyone. He is using the
international scene, he is using the prime minister’s position.
He is flying back and forth. He is not staying in Israel; he is now staying over seas most of the time rather than stay in Israel in order to
run the affairs of the country. And he’s fighting for his–
AMANPOUR: All right. Yes.
OLMERT: Let’s not be overly impressed.
AMANPOUR: Well, it’s–
OLMERT: Israel are serious and responsible and they will choose a leadership which will be credible, responsible and will take care of the
security of the state of Israel and move forward towards peace.
AMANPOUR: It’s obviously endlessly interesting. And everybody’s always focused on your small but really important part of the world. And we
always try to get the perspective and the answers also from the (inaudible) from the prime minister’s party and his spokespeople will continue to try
to do that.
But for the moment, Ehud Olmert, thank you very much indeed for joining us. And now for more perspective on all of this, I am joined by Israel’s
veteran political observer and anchor of the Channel 12 Network, Yonit Levi. She is also in Tel Aviv. Yonit, welcome back to our program.
YONIT LEVI, CHANNEL 12 NEWS, ANCHOR: Yes, endlessly interesting is so accurate. Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, you heard former Prime Minister Olmert describe the sort of political and legal status and the peace status as well. What was your
takeaway from what Olmert said and how do you think it’s going to play out over the next weeks and months?
LEVI: Well, Christiane, I mean you must say one thing and he — of course Olmert is one of many Netanyahu’s (inaudible) opponents and it’s important
to bear in mind that Netanyahu has not yet been convicted. He hasn’t even been officially indicted of corrupting charges.
But indeed the ground is shaking under his feet because the attorney general has decided to indict him pending a hearing of course, a hearing
that will happen only after the elections. This is quite a wild ride.
These are unchartered territories, never before in the history of this country has a prime minister been running for office again while having
this huge sort of shadow of these legal problems and for the first time in a decade there is this challenge — a real challenge from the opposition
from Benny Gantz.
And I found it quite interesting that Olmert said, and again being from his position saying Benny Gantz is going to be the next prime minister of
Israel. I think a lot needs to happen in the next 36 days until the Election Day for that to happen.
AMANPOUR: When you say that, why? Because he’s not as strong in the polls as Olmert would like to believe. What is the political sort of table
setting? How does it feel amongst people? Where are the people in Israel right now?
LEVI: Well, it’s important to note that for the first time last week the very new party called the blue and white party that Benny Gantz basically
initiated two weeks ago, nearly two weeks ago with two other former chiefs of staff. And of course (inaudible) is also a prominent player in this
interest politics in Israel.
This party passed the (inaudible) in opinion polls and also very important for Israeli — the Israeli politics, because to be a prime minister you
don’t have to only to lead the largest part, you also have to be the leader of the biggest block, a collision that you need to form that has to be
larger than 60 members because the Israel parliament has 120 members.
So for the first time Benny Guntz actually passed Netanyahu in the polls. But it’s important to remember, Christiane that Benjamin Netanyahu managed
to stay prime minister I think for three main reasons for the past ten years.
First of all, he has cultivated — successfully cultivated the era of being Mr. Security. He is the only one who can deal with Israel’s complex
problems and there is no viable opposition and the third reason is that he convinced Israelis that any criticism — criticism of him was politically
Now what has shifted very dramatically is now that there is a political party made out of three former chiefs of staff of the Israeli army, it’s
very hard to say — for Netanyahu to still say I’m irreplaceable and I’m the only one who understands Israel’s complicated security issues.
So it’s going to be a very interesting really kind of war between — between these two parties, between these two figures.
AMANPOUR: Yes. What do the people make of this announcement of intention to indict? And you were correct to point out that he has not been indicted
formally, he’s not been convicted obviously, but it’s an intention. And when the attorney general, who by the way was appointed by Netanyahu,
decides to do this kind of thing, how have the people of Israel reacted to that?
LEVI: Well first of all, I think it speaks — first and foremost it speaks to the health and the strength of the judicial system in this country. No
one is above the law. I think it’s very important.
You pointed out that Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general was indeed appointed by Netanyahu but he is impartial and — and it’s also important
to note that that is why when Netanyahu says the attacks against him or this indictment is politically motivated.
That’s a claim that’s being hard to substantiate on his part because as we said, Mandelblit, the attorney general is his own appointed — appointed
but it’s important to say first of all it’s been a very dramatic week. Israeli’s are reading this — this sort of draft of indictment or decision
to indict Netanyahu, it might shift some of Netanyahu’s own supporters.
But again, I think the full effect of what has happened and what the charges are will only be clear on April 9th.
AMANPOUR: Let me play you a couple of sound bytes from Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend on FOX and also from President Trump about — about this
situation. We’re going to play them both together and then we’re going to talk about them.
PETE HEGSETH, CO-HOST, FOX AND FRIENDS: If you’re think are deep state is bad here in America, it’s really bad in Israel. And they — they have not
been able to beat B. B. Netanyahu at the ballot box and so they’re trying to beat him through these trumped up — he calls it a witch hunt, call it –
– call it what our president calls it, trumped up charges.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don’t know about his difficulty but you’re telling me something that, you know, people have been hearing about but I
don’t know about that. I can say this that he’s done a great job as prime minster. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s strong.
AMANPOUR: So that was President Trump being asked about it after the attorney general announced his attention and Trump was in Hanoi, we were
all there covering the Summit with Kim. And then of course you heard the anchor supporter on FOX News put his case for the prime minister.
I guess — I mean you — the — the — the question I asked you about he’s denying it. He vows he’s going to fight it. What effect do you think this
is going to have on the election campaign itself? And how are people taking him going into alliance with this Jewish power group that is, as I
said, has even been criticized by some of the Prime Minister’s strongest (ph) supporters like APAC (ph).
LEVI: Yes. Well first of all, it must be said and it might sound familiar to an American audience that of course the leader of this country is
blaming his woes or his legal woes on sort of cabal of the media — of the leftist media and the politicians and some of the judicial system and the
police investigators for his — for his woes.
And this is convincing — this is trickling down to — to — to a lot of Israelis at that — at this point. It’s — you mentioned (inaudible) and
the — and — and the Jewish power very, very, very far right extreme party in Israel. This has received a lot of blow back in Israel itself and it
now has received a lot of criticism for this.
It’s clear that he’s doing this as political tactic to enlarge his own right wing blog. But I will give you this scenario, Christiane, for
example if Netanyahu — this is very early to rule him out and we should keep on reiterating the fact that under Israel law he can continue to be
prime minister even until he is convicted and after a trail.
He doesn’t need to step down. If he is actually — if he actually wins on April 9th and then this won’t be a coincidence that the trump plan comes
forth after the elections and then Netanyahu says, you know what, I have to form a responsible unity government.
And then Benny Gantz who is the X-factor in this election who has said he will not sit Netanyahu who says, you know what, for the responsibility for
the national cause, I will create this government with him. So this changes things and it changes the fact that Netanyahu had to help the —
the very extreme right wing party of Otzma Yehudit, the Jewish power.
AMANPOUR: As I said, endlessly fascinating, and we could talk for a long, long time. Yonit Levi, thank you so much for joining me tonight, and we’ll
keep an eye on this issue. Many of the issues on this show are complex and problematic, with consequences that play out over years and generations.
Our next guest says the best way to approach any long-term decision is both an art and a science. Best-selling author Steven Johnson is an expert of
the history of innovation. His latest book is “Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter Most.” And he told our Walter Isaacson how to
grapple with our biggest dilemmas, whether they’re personal, professional, or civic issues affecting entire societies.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
WALTER ISAACSON: Steven, welcome to the show.
STEVEN JOHNSON, AUTHOR, “FARSIGHTED”: Thank you. Great to be here.
ISAACSON: So you’ve always written about creativity, innovation, now decision-making. What is it that causes somebody to be creative?
JOHNSON: Well, you know, that’s been the great kind of mystery of my research, overall, of these books, is trying to figure it out. And I’ve
written about so many different topics. You know, I’ve written about cholera and video games and neuroscience and all these things.
But as you say, there’s a shared common thread that runs through the whole body of work of “where did these transformative ideas come from.” When the
world changes because of some spark in someone’s mind, how does it happen?
And you know, the biggest thing that I feel is that our language for describing innovation is all wrong and that we have this incredibly rich
set of metaphors to describe a moment of sudden inspiration –
ISAACSON: A light bulb moment.
JOHNSON: – that a single person has – you know, the lone genius has in a flash of inspiration. I mean, just think of, like you say, a light bulb
moment, a eureka moment, aha moment, epiphany. Like there’re so many words for this phenomenon. And it’s – it’s part of the story, for sure, but the
most transformative ideas I think actually take a different form in that they are much slower and kind of evolutionary, in a sense.
I call them “slow hunches,” right. They start with this feeling of something being interesting, but you’re not really sure why, or there’s
something that’s kind of playfully curious, delightful, for some reason, and you’re drawn to it, but you can’t put our finger on it.
And they stay in that state for really long periods of time, and it’s often through collaboration with someone else or through a network of people that
what is only a fragment or hunch in your own mind becomes something that is really usable or actionable in the world. And it’s a combination of slow
hunches and networks instead of kind of lone genius and eureka moments.
ISAACSON: How important is diversity to creativity?
JOHNSON: I think this is a really important thing to stress in this day in age, which is, if you think about it, we have the most diverse new incoming
Congress in history, in terms of gender, in terms of age, crucially, which is a big part of it.
When we celebrate things like that, we often are saying, you know, we like this because it’s a sign of equality of opportunity, or it’s a sign that
these groups of leaders will be more tolerant of this, more representative of the country as a whole.
But I think this is another point, which is, just from the science, we know they will make better choices, and that the – that as a body they will be
smarter. It’s another argument against gerrymandering, right.
When you – when you take those voting blocks and make them all of like- minded people, you actually kind of reduce the collective IQ of that group, and they’ll make worse voting decisions, in a sense.
ISAACSON: In your latest book, “Farsighted,” which is now out and I assume coming out in paperbacks –
ISAACSON: – one of the favorite examples, I think, is the beginning of your book, which is Charles Darwin deciding whether or not to marry.
JOHNSON: You know, it – I first come across this passage in Darwin’s journals when I was writing where good ideas come from about innovation,
which had a whole long riff about Darwin’s notebook, as Darwin kept these wonderful notebooks all of his life.
But they’re particularly interesting during the late 1830s, as he’s coming up with the theory of natural selection, because you can see this idea,
maybe the most important scientific idea of the 19th century forming on the page.
And he argues with himself, and he does all these amazing things. So I was – you know, I spent a lot of time reading through his journals for that
book. And from that research, I stumbled across this hilarious little kind of interruption in the middle of his journals, where he takes time off from
debating, you know, how natural selection came about, and starts weighing this other question, which is, should he get married.
And he creates basically a pros and cons list. On the – on the side of against marrying, he had things like, he’s afraid he’s going to give up the
conversation of clever men in clubs. And on the side of for marrying, he has things like wanting to have children, but he also has a line that’s
something like, an object to be beloved better than a dog anyhow.
So it’s not quite – it hasn’t aged quite as well as maybe what we want. But what struck me about it was, this is the – the pros and cons list is
the one technique that most of us learn in our lives to make a complicated decision. If Darwin I doing it in 1837, 1838, that means basically we’re
using a tool that’s at least almost two centuries old, probably older.
And surely the technology and the strategies have advanced since then. And so, I thought it would be interesting to go and look at the science that’s
out there and also to think about the ways in which it connects to the innovation work.
Because in a sense when you’re making a complicated life decision, whether it’s a work decision or a personal decision, it’s a — in some ways it’s
about creativity, right? It’s about imagining some new alternative and not just taking the path that’s right in front of you.
ISAACSON: And thinking out of the box when necessary.
ISAACSON: Ben Franklin did it too in a slightly more sophisticated way–
JOHNSON: Yes. As you have written about, I think it’s one of the things that’s so great about Franklin is that it’s so important to our history as
a country is that one of our founding fathers really kind of invented the self help genre. And he called it moral algebra. And he basically
described a pros and cons list.
But the key thing that Franklin did, that was more advanced is that he had a kind of rudimentary sense of what we call waiting, right? So that when
you create a pros and cons list, some of the things on the list are more important than others, right?
Presumably for Darwin having children was more important than the conversation of (inaudible), presumably, maybe. Who does with Darwin? And
so what Franklin advised is make the list up and then cross out the ones on either side that are of equal weight or equal importance to you and so,
most of us don’t do that actually.
So, in a way the science for most of us of making a complex decision or the tools we use have actually gone backwards since Franklin wrote that note.
ISAACSON: Explain how that system worked in something like President Obama’s decision to try to take out Osama bin Laden?
JOHNSON: We tend to celebrate the results of great decisions, but we don’t tend to actually focus on the process that led to those results. And the
decision to execute the raid on bin Laden’s lair in Pakistan is just a wonderful example of a nine month process.
One of the big things they had to figure out was is the mysterious figure in this compound, is this actually bin Laden? And so they had the team
come up with as many possible explanations of who this person could possibly be. No interpretation was too silly. In fact, many of them are
And then later in the process, once they had decided that bin Laden was there that they thought bin Laden was there. Then the question was what
should they do about it? Should they just blow up the compound, should they ask the Pakistanis for permission and all that stuff.
And they went through a very rigorous process of what’s sometimes called scenario planning where you’re kind of imagining possible outcomes and
challenging your assumptions. And not just assuming that everything will work as planned.
And one of the things that they came up with which is brand (ph) I think in this process was they rigorously tried to think about how could this go
And one thought was that if they did and — what they ended up doing, the helicopter raid unannounced through Pakistani airspace that the Pakistanis
would be so angry at the U.S. for doing this that they would abject them from all of Pakistan.
And that would — Pakistan was a primary supply route to get in to the war in Afghanistan at this point. Months before the raid, they actually opened
up a second kind of access route around Pakistan in to Afghanistan just on the off chance if that happened.
And it’s that kind of long-term thinking and the challenging of assumptions and that kind of decision process that I think is what we should be seeking
out in our — and celebrating in our leaders, right? I mean you never see at a presidential debate anybody ask, so what is your process for making a
How do you weigh the evidence, where do you seek for advice, what kind of team do you get around, team of rivals kind of plus (ph), like that’s never
really a question. But that may be the most important thing to ask of our leaders in a way.
ISAACSON: Well, now we’re sort of at the other extreme. If you ask President Trump that, he would say I do it on gut, I do it on instinct. I
sort of do it by my feelings. Is there a virtue in that approach as well?
JOHNSON: There are plenty of things in life where you want to go with your gut, including maybe getting married. I mean, I think most of us shouldn’t
like draw up a spread sheet to kind of decide to get married. But there are many ways in which our gut can fail us with a complex decision, where
there are lots of variables.
But I will say this, that — and this is one of the great findings I think from recent neuroscience. Years ago in the early days of brain imaging
technology, the kind of pat scans and FMRI scans (ph). When these new tools arrived that enabled us to san the brain and show where activity was
happening in the brain in kind of almost real-time.
All these neuroscientist were so excited because they were like look, finally we can figure out, you know, what part of the brain lights up when
you are looking at people’s faces and what part lights up when you’re doing mental arithmetic or whatever it is.
So they did all these scans but it turned out to be able to make sense of those scans they had to look at the brain at rest. They had to look at the
brain not thinking about anything. And so they put people in these scanners and they said OK, now look at faces or do mental math.
And then they did a second scan and they said don’t — don’t anything. Just sit there. And what kept happening was that the scans where people
were not supposed to be doing anything turned out to be more active than the scans where they were given a task.
And they were more active in the evolutionary modern parts of the brain. The most human parts of the brain. And what they realized that people were
doing, eventually, is that they were day dreaming.
And they were doing kind of mental simulations of the future without even realizing it and they were doing these rapid fire, sometimes it’s called
cognitive time travel, where you kind of get in that state where you think well, next week if I ask for that raise and then maybe I could get that —
we could put down that — that down payment on that new apartment.
And then what would happen if we give up — and then you start running these little scenarios in your head and we now think that that kind of day
dreaming or mind wondering is a crucial part of human intelligence. And the lesson of that, I think, is that you want to leave time in your life
for that kind of day dreaming, for that kind of mind wandering.
You can’t have a screen in front of you and have that kind of mind wandering. You can’t be listening to a podcast. You — you have to be
free to kind of let your mind roam a little bit. And that — that part of our instincts, in a sense, our intuition is very important.
ISSACSON: It’s wonderful because everybody from Leonardo Da Vinci to Einstein always believed that day dreaming and procrastination was so
important to creativity and now you’ve proved it.
JOHNSON: Well, you know it was originally discovered by this neuroscientist, Nancy Andreasen, who had had a background in — in poetry,
actually. All these other scientists were looking at these scans and saying our machine must be broken.
You know. But she said no, no. I know that when I’m in that kind of daydreaming state, my brain is working very hard. This is — this is what
it must be.
ISSACSON: And it probably is what separates us from other species is this ability to daydream about the future.
JOHNSON: I think that the — the evidence is that even our closest relatives and you know primates and other mammals have a very limited sense
of the future at all. And so the ability to move back and forth in — in – – in rapid succession from recent past to near term or long term future that may be as important in some ways as language itself. And it may be a
part of our capacity as a species for innovation.
ISSACSON: Whenever I try to either be innovative or make a decision and try to be farsighted, I’ll hit a blind spot. A blind spot, obviously I
don’t know it’s a blind spot because I can’t see it. What’s your life hack for avoiding blind spots?
JOHNSON: And this is one of the things that we don’t, I think, talk about enough as kind of historians of technology and of ideas are the people who
got really close to a break through idea but failed to see something.
So in — in “How We got to Now,” the show and book that I did, we talked about this great kind of failed inventor. He was a French inventor who
invented in the 1850s a device for recording audio. Breakthrough device 25 years ahead of Edison.
But you never heard of this guy because he failed to include one feature, which was playback. Right. That you could record the audio but you
couldn’t hear the audio you had recorded.
And this turns out to be a highly sought after feature in people purchasing audio equipment as they like to able to hear it. And he — it wasn’t that
he wanted to add that feature, he — it was so thoroughly in his blind spot that he — he never even imagined it.
He was trying to build an automated dictation machine basically. And he thought if you could record the scribble of kind of sound waves that people
would learn to read that language and you could speak into it and you would have kind of an automated shorthand.
ISSACSON: And so you’d see the scribbles but you wouldn’t hear the playback and .
JOHNSON: He just thought well, if we can read alphabets, we can — we’ll be able to read sound waves, which was actually a pretty good bet. It just
turns out unfortunately humans can’t read sound waves and to this day they can’t read sound waves.
ISSACSON: But I suspect if he had hung around musicians, a musician could have told him hey, we want playback.
JOHNSON: That’s to me where the diversity piece and the — and the — and the idea of the blind spot are — are so connected to each other is that
the — what somebody who has different — literally a different angle perspective on the problem, they’re much more likely to see around the
And — and when you look at — when you look at people who have been, you know, great innovators, you know we like to kind of condense it down into
this story of this one, you know, person.
And there are some true geniuses, you know, Da Vinci and so on. But almost always there are people around these — these brain people who — who help
them see or compliment their skills.
You know bring something else to the table. And — and so part of, you know, teaching people about this when you’re trying to encourage kids or
encourage your own kids or students to be creative and to make better decisions in life it’s teaching about them the ability to kind of seek out
those complementary talents. Like learn to work well with people who are different from you, and you will end up having a more creative and more
ISAACSON: Steve, thank you very much for being with us.
JOHNSON: Thanks so much.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: Now, it’s fair to say that among the biggest decisions leaders have to make is how to keep their countries and their citizens safe. And
some of the most vulnerable can be journalists who are working aboard. The world is still shaken by the brutal murder and dismemberment of “The
Washington Post” journalist Jamal Khashgoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey last October.
His was the most vicious murder, amongst 34 journalists who were killed in 2018, while doing their work, and because of their work – almost double the
number killed in 2017, according the Committee to Protect Journalists. And I am a member of that organization. Hundreds of journalists remain
imprisoned or held hostage for their work around the world.
And when those people are held hostage abroad, how should our governments get them back? Pay up and protect hostages now, or refuse to negotiate and
discourage similar incidents in the future? The executive director of the CPA, Joel Simon, is no stranger to this difficult debate. Indeed, I’ve
been speaking to him about this, exploring this dilemma in his new book, “We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping Hostages and Random.”
Joel Simon, welcome to the program.
JOEL SIMON, AUTHOR, “WE WANT TO NEGOTIATE”: Thank you so much, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So you’ve written a book that’s quite provocative because it goes right against the grain of this whole nation – notion that nations do
not bargain, do not pay random. Why did you write the book, and what conclusions did you come to regarding hostages who are journalists?
SIMON: Well, I wrote the book because the Foley family, Diane and John Foley, came to me when their son, Jim Foley, was kidnapped in Syria. So he
went missing at the end of 2012, and after some time, they concluded that they were not getting the support they needed from the government. They
were on their own; they came to me, and they asked for my help, if I could help them raise a ransom to win his release.
And I was, of course, very concerned about that, very concerned, because it was illegal potentially to pay money to the Islamic State. In the end, it
was not successful, and Jim was killed. And after that, Diane came to me, and we had a conversation about this premise of you should not negotiate,
you should not pay random.
I was concerned that paying ransom could actually increase the threat to journalists by making them more of a target. And Diane said to me, said,
“Well, how do you know that’s true? How do you know that it actually increases the risk?” And I said, “Well, I really should look into this.”
I’m a journalist, after all. I need to – I need to spend some time getting to the bottom of it. And that was really how I began the research for this
AMANPOUR: Let’s just work through a few of these case studies. So Diane Foley, mother of Jim Foley, whose son was the first to be so brutally,
publicly beheaded – obviously, Daniel Pearl, that happened to straight after 9/11 – and this is what Diane Foley said about the government
response when she went to them for help, and this is her testifying before Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE FOLEY, MOTHER OF MURDERED ISIS HOSTAGE FAMES FOLEY: Our family and three other families of hostages held with Jim in Syria were threatened by
Colonel Mark Mitchell, member of our National Security Council, with prosecution by our government, although there was never any precedent if we
attempted to raise a ransom to free our loved ones.
He also very clearly told us that our government would not ask allies to help negotiate for release and would never conduct any military operation
to rescue them. He made it very clear that our United States Government planned to abandoned these four Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So she obviously, as the mother of Jim Foley, as any mother in this situation, took it very, very badly, and believed that the government
was practically responsible for her son’s ultimate murder. What were you able to tell her, given that the position and the long-held position of the
United States and Britain is never ever to pay ransom?
SIMON: Well, when I started researching the book, I wanted understand, well, what was the premise of this, what is the basis, why is this the U.S.
and the – and the British position. And there’re basically two justifications for not negotiating. One is that it increases the risk that
there’ll be further kidnappings.
But when I actually did the research and dug into the data, there wasn’t a lot of evidence to substantiate this. Kidnapping is primarily a crime of
opportunity. And once the market exists, in other words once somebody will pay and families will pay and companies will pay, there doesn’t seem to be
a strong correlation with the policy of whether you pay or not in terms of whether it increases the risk for others.
Really what I found is that this is — this is something of a political slogan. It does sound good. It does reignite to a certain extent. But
other countries around the world have found creative strategies.
It’s not about paying rents and we’re not paying rents necessarily, it’s about supporting families and finding a way to creatively resolve these
kinds of hostage situations. And in the case of Diane Foley, and the other American families, they essentially felt abandoned and unsupported and on
their own at really the most difficult moment.
AMANPOUR: I spoke to my friend Didier Francois, the French journalist who was–
AMANPOUR: — held with another group of international hostages by ISIS for a long time. At one point, they knew Jim Foley. They had seen him in
custody as well.
And they were held by sort of a foursome of ISIS kidnappers, some of them British who were known as The Beatles. Then they were released. And this
is what Didier told me about how that happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Did you ever think you were going to be free?
DIDIER FRANCOIS, FRENCH JOURNALIST: Well, basically what I knew is what my government and my country will do everything it can to free me. No, they
are not responsible for the fact that I was caught. I was detained.
And it was a decision of my capturers. They are the one to blame. So, my government will do everything they can. But they were not bound to
succeed. If they decided to kill us, they would have killed us. They have killed many people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, break that down for us a little bit. Obviously there is a different policy between European governments and the U.S. and the U.K. on
But how do you think from what you know governments or their intermarries (ph) or whatever reach out to ISI types and make these kinds of deals. How
does a successful release of a hostage after paying a ransom happen?
SIMON: Well, it’s very variable and every case is different. And that’s the — that’s what’s so important. That’s why you need a policy of maximum
In some cases, there are — in the case of the French, there’s a small sort of crisis group that operates within the (inaudible). And they work with
the intelligence services and they make these connections and there’s allegedly — I don’t know all the details, there’s allegedly a pool that
they can access when they choose to pay ransom.
I looked at the Spanish government, and they — while they officially deny it, there is lots of evidence that there direct negotiations in other
cases, there are private intermediaries. Every case is different, every circumstance is different.
And the question is, will your government respond for you? Do they feel they have an obligation, or do they have a policy of no concessions? It
sort of depends to a larger extent of the politics of that particular country and what the voters if you will believe is the government’s
AMANPOUR: So, part of what CPJ does in full disclosure, I’m a board member, have been for a long time is to also work to protect the lives of
journalists, not just in these situations but their ability to work, get them out of prison and alike.
What is CPJ doing now to try to get some accountability for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi? And it is extraordinary to say and it’s
horrible and heartbreaking to say that the level of violence against journalists seems to exponentially ratchet up.
SIMON: The Saudi government has been directly implicated at the highest level in this brutal execution and murder premeditated and the tactics they
employed were the tactics of a terror group. And what is so particularly galling and upsetting is that the Trump administration has become an
accessory after the fact of this brutal crime.
They are facilitating and helping the Saudi government cover-up this crime. They are not demanding accountability. They are not pushing the Saudis to
come clean about this. They are making excuses for them.
That not only inhibits the possibility of achieving justice in this horrible murder, it sends a terrible message to governments around the
world that they can kill journalists and as long as you have a relationship with the United States and with the Trump administration, you will not be
AMANPOUR: Isn’t CPJ filing a lawsuit to try to get the intelligence–
AMANPOUR: — U.S. intelligence to reveal it’s files and what it knows.
SIMON: We filed a lawsuit under the freedom of information act to request that the government release records related to the crime. Basically what
they knew in advance. Did they know that there was a risk to Jamal Khashoggi and did they fail to warn him as they are obligated to do under
AMANPOUR: President Trump touts the, I think, 17 or so hostages around the world — Americans held hostage who his administration has got back whether
from North Korea or Turkey or elsewhere.
Now I don’t believe any of these are journalist but, you know, I mean they have got certain people back.
SIMON: I — I actually think they deserve credit. I — I think we have to give them credit for engaging on this issue. For — for being flexible in
these situations. So — so I think — I think we have to recognize that they — I mean part of it is Trump’s obsession. You know anti-Obama
obsession because Obama absolutely struggled with this issue.
And — but Trump has made it a priority. He wants to demonstrate that he is able to bring American hostages home whether they’re held by rogue
states or whether they’re held terror groups and — and I — I — we have to acknowledge that there’s been some success.
AMANPOUR: The ongoing relationship between President Trump and the American media seems to just not be resolved and — and maybe it’s not
resolvable. Here’s a conversation or a part of a conversation I had with Kellyanne Conway, one of his most senior advisors, about the relationship
between the press and the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE U.S. PRESIDENT: We see things every single day on T.V. and in print that I promise you, I swear to God, are
patently false and nobody calls or they don’t believe when we tell them what the truth is.
And my main grievance has always been simple. I said it during the campaign, I said it during the transition when I — when I also said look,
the president and the media are going to share joint custody of the country for the next four or eight years.
I’ll say eight years now. We have to figure out a way to responsibly co- parent as they say in modern language. And that goes both ways.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I’d like you to comment on what she said and do you think that perhaps the press is overly emotional in their coverage of President Trump.
SIMON: Well look, first of all I hate her analogy that the media and Trump are — are co-parents. I mean that’s got to be the most dysfunctional
family ever. You know .
AMANPOUR: No, but she’s saying it’s got to get functional. It is dysfunctional but it needs to get functional.
SIMON: Well the — the relationship is dysfunctional but the — but the healthy relationship is adversarial. You know there — there should be
conflict and there should be healthy productive conflict.
They’re — they don’t have necessary have the same — the same goals and it’s a role the media to hold the government accountable. And every
government has the same — the same criticism and the same complaint.
If you are in power you — and you are dealing with — with — with media that’s covering you critically and not paying attention to the things that
you think are important, of course you’re going to have that criticism.
But — but I – I — and — and I — you know whether the media has become too emotional, you know, perhaps. But you know Trump has become too
emotional. He is goading the media. He is provoking. And so yes, there is some — there is some back and forth that’s unhealthy. But I think that
president, in my view and obviously I’m going to see this as a press freedom advocate, you know has the lion share of the blame.
AMANPOUR: What is the state of play in terms of journalists in the international arena? You know obviously more and more get killed every
year. What is the percentage now compared to last year. And what kind of journalists today are most at risk covering what issues.
SIMON: You know what we’ve seen is a sharp spike in the number of journalists deliberately targeted for murder. And what we’re seeing is
that investigative reporters who are doing stories specifically looking at corruption issues and — and accountability journalism are being targeted.
So that’s very concerning to us and the other thing we’ve seen, Christiane, over the last several years is record numbers of journalist imprisoned
around the world. Over the last couple of years we’ve recorded the highest numbers ever.
So what you’re seeing is this — this post increase repression against journalist and an increase in targeted violence particularly against
investigative journalist. So clearly it’s a very difficult and dangerous environment, really unprecedented in many ways.
AMANPOUR: All right. It’s very worrying. Joel Simon, thank you so much for joining me.
SIMON: Thank you so much for having me on, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And it is a sad reality check that an increasing number of journalists are killed and persecuted in a world that so desperately needs
their eyes and ears on the ground and their facts and their knowledge of our precarious world.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.