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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
Twenty-one years since Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Peace Agreement ended decades of violence. It was backed by the United States but the deal is
now threatened by Brexit. My conversation with the Irish deputy prime minister.
Then, daughter of Indian immigrants, Anita Malik, is running for U.S. Congress in 2020. How she plans to change the face of Arizona politics.
Plus, atonement, enduring love, Hollywood blockbusters based on books by Britain’s best-known contemporary novelist, Ian McEwan. We talk about his
latest, a cautionary tale about artificial intelligence.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Twenty-one years ago, peace overcame conflict in Northern Ireland with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement between the U.K. and the Republic of
Ireland. Backed by the United States, the peace achievement was the jewel in the crown of American diplomacy during the Clinton administration. But
now, the accord is facing its toughest threat yet and that’s Brexit. Because of the risk of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the
Republic of Ireland being imposed again.
The speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, was in Ireland this week, pledging support for the Good Friday Agreement. And I sat down with her in Dublin
for an exclusive interview. And she told me that this deal was a major achievement in the annals of American diplomacy and Congress wouldn’t
tolerate any harm coming to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: A U.S.-U.K. trade agreement that would be a reward for weakening the Good Friday accords is just not a
possibility. But maybe they can accomplish it without doing that. We just wanted to make sure they understood that as a consolation for leaving the
E.U., they’re not getting the U.S.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A very clear message indeed. The Republic of Ireland welcomes it. Such high-profile American support for that peace deal. As Foreign
Minister Simon Coveney told me during our interview in Dublin.
Foreign minister, welcome to the program.
SIMON COVENEY, IRISH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: How important is this moment for you and for your country?
COVENEY: Well, I think it is a significant moment. I mean, we are celebrating the centenary of the birth of an independent state, if you
like, in Ireland, which was the painful and violent and difficult birth. But it’s one that has many decades later led to the modern diverse outward-
looking island and Ireland that we see today, and that’s something that my generation of politician wants to protect and enhance and they are
connections and relationships that we’re celebrating with the visit of Speaker Pelosi to Ireland.
AMANPOUR: So, I’m really interested because you say, you know, this independence, this peace, that erupted out of violence, you’re very, very
committed to protecting. In other words, as we all know, the Good Friday Agreement between Ireland and Northern Ireland and Britain could be at risk
because of Brexit. What has Speaker Pelosi been able to say to you that might assuage some of your fears?
COVENEY: So, to really understand why that’s a problem, you have to understand the Irish peace process and the conflict that led to the need
for a peace process. And what I mean by that is that for many years, it was the physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland that was a
source of such friction. People were stopped and inspected by armed soldiers. It became a border where there was a lot of smuggling, there was
a lot of gangland terrorism, and it became the symbol of the division of the Island of Ireland.
And so, an all island economy has developed on the back of that peace process and on the back of joint E.U. membership that has, in many ways,
reinforced the peace process.
So, let me give you some examples. Every year, half a million lambs from farms in Northern Ireland come south of the border to be slaughtered.
Every year, almost 40 percent of all of the milk produced on Northern Ireland farms comes south of the border to be processed. Every year, tens
of thousands of cattle are purchased by farmers and buyers in Northern Ireland south of the border and then taken north to be fattened and
slaughtered. And that’s just agriculture.
And that movement and that commerce has built relationships and has built normal trading environments that has allowed a peace process to bed in and
has allowed neighbors to talk to each other as people who trade with each other as opposed to people who see themselves as coming from a
different identity based on nationalism or unionism.
AMANPOUR: So, the underlying message is that absent all of this, you could go back to a lot of friction and there could, again, be the economic
imperative or the trade imperative, what, for war?
COVENEY: Well, I mean, I think, you know, we need to be careful with how we describe the tensions around this. But certainly, we don’t want to see
the peace agreement and what has come from that start to be reversed and go backwards.
AMANPOUR: So, this Good Friday marks 21 years since the deal, the peace deal was signed.
COVENEY: That’s right.
AMANPOUR: First, let me ask you about the United States and Speaker Pelosi who seems to have told the British government and indeed Prime Minister May
that Brexit will risk a U.K.-U.S. so-called bilateral free trade deal. But most certainly, she said, if the Good Friday Agreement is compromised,
there’s no chance of a U.K.-USA trade deal as all the Brexiters insist there will be some instantaneous deal.
Does that give you comfort? Does that help? Does that put the wind in your back towards trying to get this resolved if the Brexiters don’t
believe that somehow this could be a magical, immediate U.S. trade deal?
COVENEY: Yes. Well, I mean, first of all, I think everybody needs to be realistic about the length of time that it takes to negotiate trade deals.
On average, it takes about seven years. So, the complexity of a trade deal between the E.U. and the U.S. or the U.K. and the U.S. in the future will
But I think people should remember here how the Good Friday Agreement came about. And the role of the U.S. in that, the role of people like George
Mitchell and others. And so, the peace agreement in Ireland, between Britain and Ireland, is owned by the U.S. too. It’s part of your
investment. It’s part of your success in terms of international diplomacy and the links between Ireland and the U.S. and Britain and the U.S., you
know, they’re very, very close bonds, both politically and in terms of history.
And so, I think what Speaker Pelosi is saying but also people like Richie Neil and otherwise, it’s not just one voice coming from Washington, it’s
pretty strong message. And it’s very clear that the Good Friday Agreement is valuable, it is an example to the rest of the world about how a peace
process can work, how you need to keep working at it even decades later.
And I think there would be a lot of concern in Washington if any deal that facilitates the U.K. leaving the E.U. were to fundamentally undermine a
peace process that the U.S. feels a real ownership and attachment too. And that is why I think you’re getting such a clear message from Minister
And from our perspective, look, we’re not asking the U.S. to take sides. You know, we ourselves want the closest possible relationship with the U.K.
They’re our closest neighbors, our closest friends, and we want to have a Brexit that they can live with but that also protects core issues on the
Island of Ireland. And the fact that that view is shared in Washington, I think, is reassuring.
AMANPOUR: There’s another view that’s gaining a lot of currency, and that is, frankly, the break-up of the union but also, it’s happening on this
island, there are think tanks, there are universities which are thinking about, you know, a United Ireland.
AMANPOUR: Thinking about how and what that would mean. Just give me a sense of where you think this is going.
COVENEY: We have been very careful to not to link the two issues of Irish reunification.
AMANPOUR: You may not be but people are and think tanks.
COVENEY: Yes, some are, some are and one political party in particular is. But what we’re trying to do here is find a way forward that everybody can
live with, unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, and indeed a British and an Irish government that provides for a prosperous, optimistic
future for Northern Ireland and for the Island of Ireland.
If, instead, they crash out with no plan in place to deal with the consequences of that, in my view, the consequences for Northern Ireland are
very stark and very negative. and we need to be honest about that. And the medium-term consequence of that, of course, is that if Northern Ireland is
suffering, if unemployment is increasing, if the economy is damaged, if there’s tension on the border with the Republic of Ireland, well, then,
nationalism in Northern Ireland will look for more extreme solutions. In other words, if a majority of people in Northern Ireland and in the
Republic of Ireland vote for the reunification of Ireland, well, then it happens under the Good Friday Agreement.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe the extension to the end of October guarantees this deal, a soft Brexit, or a crash out and a hard deal? How do you view
COVENEY: Well, I think a crash out and a hard Brexit is still unlikely because it’s madness, you know? Everybody loses if Britain crashes out of
the E.U. Britain loses the most. Ireland probably is next in line in terms of losing. But the rest of the E.U. is damaged as well.
So, if, at the end of October, Britain crashes out without a deal, it will be an extraordinary failure of politics.
AMANPOUR: I just want to broaden this a little bit. I hope you don’t mind. Ireland is a very popular country. It’s on the world stage. It’s a
very popular country for people to come to. What happens here, you know, is viewed, you know, generally favorably. Including the fact that you’re
trying to get a seat on the Security Council and also that your prime minister is the first openly gay prime minister of the republic and one of
the few openly gay leaders in the world today.
I wonder whether you can simply talk about how, in this 2020 election campaign in the United States, for instance, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South
Bend has just announced and he would be the first openly gay candidate, if he’s successful, president of the United States. What do you tell nations
about that issue and what it means today?
COVENEY: Well, I mean, I’m very proud of our prime minister, (INAUDIBLE) in Ireland. He’s a good friend of mine. He was also a competitor because
we competed for the leadership against each other but we have become good friends.
But in many ways, he is a symbol of what Ireland is today, a modern, diverse, open country that’s tolerant of difference, is no longer phased by
issues around sexuality. You know, our prime minister is, you know, is half Indian, half Irish, so he’s mixed race. And, yes, he’s openly gay,
but he is comfortable with that. Ireland as a country is comfortable with that, although many people may see us from afar as a country that is more
conservative in terms of religious values and so on.
But I think it is a measure of how Ireland has changed, particularly in the last two decades. Our attitude to migration, our attitude to foreign
nationals, making their homes in Ireland. And we want to share that approach to how we see the world with other parts of the world. Because in
many ways, the story of Ireland in terms of our global nation, Irish people all over the world, is one of migration, and change and tolerance and being
part of new communities, whether it’s in Buenos Aires or Boston.
And I think that has led to not just a positive release in Irish society, if you like, but it’s also led to economic development, because so many
people want to come here, live here, build global businesses out of Ireland because of that open approach towards difference. And it’s something that
I and the prime minister that I work with will work hard to develop further.
AMANPOUR: All right. Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, thank you very much indeed for joining me.
COVENEY: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: A message of progressive politics there from one of America’s closest allies. And still to come on the program, Britain’s critically
acclaimed novelist, Ian McEwan, beloved around the world.
Meanwhile, the U.S. 2020 election train is steaming full speed ahead. And while all eyes are on the presidential candidates, our next guest is
running for a seat in Congress. Democrat Anita Malik is the daughter of Indian immigrants with a background in tech and she wants to unseat the
experienced Republican incumbent, David Schweikert, in Arizona’s sixth district. And she told our Michel Martin how she plans to transform the
traditionally conservative district.
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: So, you decided to run, you throw your hat in the ring, figuratively speaking.
ANITA MALIK, (D-AZ) U.S. CONGRESS CANDIDATE: Yes.
MARTIN: You, against some people’s odds, and here you are, a first-time candidate, you win your primary, you’re running a very competitive race,
you’re within a couple of points of the incumbent —
MARTIN: — which was, you know, a lot of people kind of shocked by your race, it’s starting to get a lot of national attention because you’re like,
wait, what’s going on here, this is part of this blue wave. And then, you know, the curve ball. Your husband got sick. What happened? Tell us the
MALIK: Yes. You know, we had won the primary. A couple weeks after that I had my big first debate with the incumbent and he was feeling sick, you
know, we thought it was the flu, nothing to be concerned about, kind of on and off. But after that debate, that Friday, I remember it very clearly,
you know, that rest of that weekend took a very drastic turn.
And there was personality change a little bit but it was mostly just he wasn’t functioning in a normal way and I — you know, I was running a
campaign, here I was the nominee. And so, I tried to keep going. And a few days later I realized that there was something really
So, still think it was the flu because, you know, his symptoms were flu- like. So, I took him in to the doctor, you know, cancelled some appearances, and they were concerned enough that they said, “We don’t know
what this is but you need to go in to the emergency room, it could be meningitis.” What it ended up being was bacteria got into his bloodstream,
they still do not know how it happened, it happens to people sometimes as a fluke.
That bacteria went into his brain and it caused five abscesses in his brain, which is very unusual to have that many, let alone for it to happen
in the first place. So, that started us off on — I don’t even know the best word, best adjective for that journey, but it was a journey that was
very difficult to process because there weren’t a lot of answers, you know, even these top surgeons didn’t know always what to tell us. There was no
answer of how this was going to turn out.
And he was in the hospital for the next six weeks, all the way through to election day.
MARTIN: I can’t even think of any scenario where that would not have been frightening, exhausting, terrifying. I mean, he’s your husband, he’s the
father of your kids.
MALIK: Right. Yes.
MARTIN: But on top of all that, you’re trying to figure out how to run this campaign. What was the thought process? I mean, was there ever a
point at which you thought about withdrawing?
MALIK: Yes. You know, I mean, the information came so trickling in about what the — what was going on with him, what would the next step be, which
hospital was he moving to next, right. So, every day was just putting one foot in front of the other and figuring out, how do I manage everything.
Obviously, the kids were my number one priority, I had to pick of the three things that were happening where I would focus that energy.
We had the family with him so that I could be places where I needed to be but also make sure I saw him every day and was there to talk to his
doctors, and I talk to the party. I mean, I was honest about it. I said, “What do we do here? You know, I’m on the ballot but I want to do this.”
And in his moments of being aware, because I will tell you, in six weeks, it went up and down with different, you know, things that happened with the
brain, that is normal. He doesn’t remember a lot of it. But in moments where I knew he was with us and having those conversations, we talked about
it, and he wanted me to see it through.
You know, we are the type of family that believes — you know, we’re that risk taker family, but we’re also the ones that — it’s just — it’s
principle. There is so much wrong in this world, and I wanted to obviously have all the wins. I wanted him to be OK, and we wanted to win this race.
But it was one of those moments where I just had to keep going and I felt compelled that that was the right thing to do for everyone. I will say the
community; my team were amazing. I had a lot of support and knowing I had that support once we were able to communicate it a little bit was — gave
me that ability to have that strength to do it.
MARTIN: So, election day comes —
MARTIN: — you fall short. You fall short.
MARTIN: And you know, not unusual, a first-time candidate running against an entrenched incumbent. You know, no disrespect to —
MARTIN: — the incumbent but incumbents have advantages.
MARTIN: You fall short. Then, dealing with the aftermath — and this is one of the reasons we called you is that you wrote —
MARTIN: — about this in detail, the bills start rolling in. What was the shocker?
MALIK: The shocker was I thought that I have, you know, 35,000 to 40,000 normal bills after insurance, after deductibles, you know, you have your
80/20, some things they tagged on us even though we were in network hospitals but they were out of network physicians. But then one day I
opened the mail to add to my pile and I received a bill for $142,000. Now, I was on insurance at the time.
MARTIN: Can I hear that again? $142,000?
MALIK: $142,000 for 10 days of hospital care.
MARTIN: That’s not the cumulative, that’s one bill?
MALIK: No. That’s one bill, yes. Yes.
MARTIN: OK. And what was that for?
MALIK: One — that was for 10 days of hospital care. So, none of the doctors at that time, all that separate, and he had a surgery in that
timeframe, but that’s separate, the surgeon’s cost. So, this was just for the hospital care. He was in the ICU, neuro ICU. And you get that bill
and my first instinct was, I need to make a call right now.
And, you know, I checked the time and I called the hospital immediately, I tried to figure out what was going on, why didn’t insurance pay for this.
I couldn’t tell my husband. It took me about two days to tell him because he was going through this process of how did this all happen to me, you
know, remembering things, trying to understand what’s going on, and then also dealing with the bills that we thought we were going to manage $30,000
to $40,000 and he was helping with that process and feeling, how do we get here, even for that amount, right? You know, I didn’t go out and
buy some fancy thing that I can’t afford.
MARTIN: What did he say when you told him?
MALIK: He handled it much better than I did, to be honest with you. You know, I really went through panic mode. And he listened to me, I told him
all our options, I told him, you know, “We can file a claim with the insurance, we’ll work with the hospital, this is, you know, what the plan
is, this is what we’re going to do.” And he looked at me, I remember, in our kitchen, I remember it distinctly, and he said, “I’m just grateful to
And I mean, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to know that people, families, the people that go through the illnesses have to deal with this
at the end and to feel that. That suddenly now you have a new burden and it’s a burden on your family as well. That’s not okay. It’s not okay.
MARTIN: One of the reasons that you ran for Congress is to defend and presumably shore up the Affordable Care Act. It’s my understanding that —
MARTIN: — you have insurance because you’re an entrepreneur and I believe your husband is as well, right?
MALIK: Right, yes.
MARTIN: Through the Affordable Care Act.
MARTIN: Now, some people would look at your situation and say, “See, this is exactly the problem. The Affordable Care Act makes you kind of a serf
of the land,” right? You’re tied to —
MALIK: Right, right.
MARTIN: — only one, you know, place and you have very few options, it isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. You know, and other —
MARTIN: — people look at that and say, “See, look. See, what would have happened if this family hadn’t had access to insurance through the
Affordable Care Act?”
MARTIN: And you know, what do you say about that?
MALIK: Yes, I think, like all policy, it’s extremely complex. But the bottom line for us and for, I think, all families is the Affordable Care
Act is not perfect and we have to remember that. But to completely get rid of it and to say we’re going to repeal it without a real solution to get to
universal coverage, which is something I believe in, is not going to work either.
For us, if we hadn’t had the preexisting conditions that are in place today, he wouldn’t have even gotten any insurance. I mean, he now has a
major preexisting condition. If we were, you know, at a situation where, you know, it was a choice between — it really became a choice between life
and debt, really, right, and life and death.
And so, for me, the ACA is not perfect and there’s a lot of work to be done. And we have to remember that people have been pulling things out of
it. You know, Arizona at the time when I had to choose a plan had one plan, and so that’s the situation we were in.
But guess what? I have insurance for my kids. We can go to — his follow- up care has been covered. We’re not paying those high amounts. We have insurance. And so, I’m grateful for it. I’m not angry at the system for
this bill in terms of the ACA, specifically, but I think that I’m angry that we don’t have more standards in place, we don’t have more protections
in place and that we haven’t moved to universal coverage so that people don’t have to have this capitalistic sense of, well, you get what you pay
MARTIN: One of the things that you wrote about in your piece, in your blog post —
MARTIN: — for medium is just how devastating it is to go through a serious illness to be trying to take care of somebody and these bills are
coming and now the financial worry takes over.
MALIK: Right, right.
MARTIN: So, what’s the answer to that? Is it universal coverage? Is it single payer?
MALIK: It’s a Medicare for All type system. It’s universal coverage. My frustration is talk about how we’re going to get there. The reality is
that families are facing this every day, every day. And instead of actually making progress, building the ACA into that universal care model,
into Medicare for All, making those steps, we can make those steps.
I guarantee you if we could have that across the aisle conversation if we really wanted to, if we are really focused on this microeconomic story of
what’s happening to families. That’s why I shared my story, because I don’t think we actually look at it from the family level.
MARTIN: But you do have the aspiration to be a policy maker.
MALIK: I do.
MARTIN: What’s the answer? Is this singer payer health insurance or is there some other model that you would embrace? And if so, what is that?
What does that look like?
MALIK: So, I believe in — I do believe in Medicare for All. I would embrace that. I would sign off on that. Every American deserves
healthcare. It is a right. I’m firm on that.
I always just want to say that, you know, how are we going to get there? Let’s start working on it right now because I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated
as not a policy maker but as a voter and a constituent and a person that’s struggling with that and — but that is the answer.
Without that, we can’t start to improve our process. We can’t start to improve people’s life span. You know, there’s a reason we don’t focus on
wellness and prevention here. So, if we have universal coverage, if every single person has that health care baseline as a foundation, it doesn’t
mean we’re not going to have other, perhaps, private insurance market on top of that, you know, until we get full system. I think that will take
some time. But let’s first give everybody insurance. Let’s start there.
MARTIN: So, the idea of Medicare for All means what? That there is a pool, there’s an insurance mechanism that’s available for people who can’t
get insurance on the private market —
MARTIN: — or don’t want to and that, what, then there’s a private insurance market on top of that? Is that the idea?
MALIK: I don’t think private insurance will entirely go away immediately. So, that’s why I say yes. There might be private insurance on top of that,
I think that’s okay. I would like to see that insurance market have more regulation and standards so things like the in network, out of network
problems don’t happen because that happens on a very regular basis. We need to regulate that industry a little tighter but I think it’s not an
exception to say that this is going to go away completely.
MARTIN: And as to the cost question, how is Medicare for All paid for, in your view?
MALIK: Well, what I challenge people to look at when we talk about how is it paid for is what is the cost of everything right now. You know, what is
the cost of people not having healthcare that rises the cost of everything? And this is an economic issue, healthcare as a whole. And so, how it’s
going to be paid for.
I mean, there’s a lot of things we can look at, we can look at our tax system, we can look at the way we tax capital gains. There’s a lot of
different ways. And if we make — we have to remember, Medicare for All doesn’t mean it’s a complete handout. I think we should have subsidies for
people that can’t afford it but it’s a buy-in option as well. You know, this isn’t a complete like let’s give away everything away for free and
people often forget that in the rhetoric around Medicare for All.
MARTIN: You’ve gone through this incredible experience.
MARTIN: Well, I think the first question I think a lot of people are going to ask is, are you prepared to run again? You fell a little short last
time. Are you prepared to run again?
MALIK: I am. I am prepared to run again, and I am running again. We’re very happy to be announcing that. And it’s, you know, it’s — we fell
short but, you know, we’re in a conservative district that it takes time. It takes work. And I feel very strongly that this is a time, that this is
the cycle, we’re getting more attention for the foundation that we built in this district, and we’re ready to do it.
MARTIN: And what about funding your campaign? Are you pledging not to take any money from healthcare interests?
MALIK: I did not take any corporate PAC money, healthcare, fossil fuel, any of that last cycle, and I pledge to not take any corporate PAC money
this time. That’s very important to me. You know, I also don’t believe that money determines the winner. That’s kind of an old school way of
looking at politics. What I believe is you need enough money to fund your campaign, to get your message out, to do it strategically.
MARTIN: And forgive me for asking but you also —
MARTIN: — have, what, like $180,000 worth of debt to pay? If I have that right.
MALIK: Yes. For me, this time, it is extremely costly, and I will have to treat it differently. I will be a candidate, to be quite honest, that this
year I will be working. I’ll be back consulting for tech companies because I do have this large debt.
But that doesn’t diminish my passion for this. It actually makes me more keen on doing this because — and I want to send the message that, look,
healthcare is important. Obviously, we need to fix that. We need to do something. We need to solve those problems but we also need to look at
what is the candidate that we’re looking for. What is our democracy about? Should it be that way? Should it be that only people that are completely
financially secure can run for office and represent us? And with the wealth divide, that’s going to be — continue to be a problem.
MARTIN: And how is your husband? How is he doing?
MALIK: He’s doing amazing. He has crossed all his recovery milestones and that’s why I was able to get to this decision. He’s been given his driving
privileges back, which is great for me as a co-parent because he can take the kids places. And so, yes, he’s doing great.
There is — you know, everyone has told us there’s no reason to have any concern. You know, he’ll have his check-ups and — but again, this was not
a chronic condition or something. This was a fluke, a very, very scary one, and we’re just very grateful for everyone that treated him and worked
on his case.
MARTIN: Anita Malik, thanks so much for talking to us.
MALIK: Thank you. I really appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: Now, if music or indeed literature be the food of love, play on. That was Shakespeare, a genius admired by every British school child and
writer, including my next guest, one of Britain’s most notable contemporary novel novelists, Ian McEwan.
Work such as “Atonement”, “Enduring love,” and “On Chesil Beach” have been transformed into award-winning films. And all his books are read across
the world, joining the likes of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Hamlet” in Britain’s school syllabus.
His latest novel, “Machines Like Me,” is set in a 1980s alternative reality, where a robot is part of a love triangle, questioning the impact
of artificial intelligence. And most especially as McEwan told me here in London, raising the issue of moral choices.
Ian McEwan, welcome to the program.
IAN MCEWAN, AUTHOR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Prolific, very well known all over the world, your latest is “Machines Like Me,” and this is where you come to tackle the big, I think
moral conundrum of our time, and that is the automation of humanity. And you talk about Adam and Eve. What brought you to tackle this right now?
Why was this the subject of your latest novel?
MCEWAN: It’s been a lifelong interest way back in the 70s. I wrote a television film about Bletchley and the characters, they’re talking to each
other about whether a machine could think — which was great preoccupation of a great computer scientist and codebreaker, Alan Turing. And I followed
its massive disappointments over the years.
But just lately, we were living through our kind of Silver Age. AI is suddenly intruding on our lives. I heard some parents talking about
whether you should tell your children to say “please” or “thank you” to Siri or Alexa. There’s a composition you could not imagine 20 years ago.
AMANPOUR: Does AI scare you, or does it fill you with hope?
MCEWAN: Well, in mind —
AMANPOUR: In human form.
MCEWAN: Yes, my mix of it is total fascination and some dread. For example, we’ve already had — we’ve just lost 400 people with a tragic
encounter with AI in two airplanes, Boeing 373s. It thought it was stalling, the brain thought it was stalling. A five-year-old child looking
at the window could have told you, the plane was not stalling.
On the other hand, the consequences of this and the shifts in our own morals is going to be an extraordinary story, actually, and we’re already
exploring it, of course, in TV dramas. We have been exploring it because I guess Frankenstein is our modern text for what can go wrong.
AMANPOUR: You mentioned the air disasters, which of course were in Ethiopia and Indonesia. And now those Boeings have been grounded, pending
some kind of fixing of this AI which just shows that the computers are not — you know, the things that we are putting our lives in, it’s really quite
a dramatic lesson in fact.
I’m interested that this book — it’s remarkable how you describe Adam, in this book, and the couple who come in contact with Adam, and how they sort
of become a threesome in a very human way.
MCEWAN: Yes, I mean, a three-cornered love affair is one of the kind of oldest plots around, so into this rather modern discussion, moral dilemma,
I wanted to really see what will happen if we just get really close up to this matter.
Is the narrator, Charlie, who buys an artificial human really just playing a computer game, a very sophisticated kind, having this person in his
house? Or is he brushing up against a sentient moral being with full consciousness.
So when Adam he goes off to sleep with his girlfriend, and he’s very much in love with her, and they spend a night of shame. What interests me —
AMANPOUR: He sleeps with Charlie’s girlfriend.
MCEWAN: He sleeps with Charlie’s girlfriend. The main interest for me is, in fact, the morning after. That conversation that Charlie and Miranda
have around in fact, is he right to feel cuckolded? Is he really betrayed? Or as she says, you know, it’s different. This is just a machine. Come
on. Cool down. That’s a conversation I feel we might be having increasingly. It’s not just whether children say thank you to Alexa or
At some point in the future, we are going to have to confront the possibility at least, that we’ve made machines that can actually feel and
AMANPOUR: And machines that feel, think and have their own moral parameters, their own moral universe, because Miranda then starts — she
has a dark secret of her own.
MCEWAN: Well, Miranda has committed an act of revenge. Adam, I think is – – we might well give our thinking creatures our better natures. We’re very good at — we know from our religions and philosophies and our gossip how
to be good. Being good all the time is really difficult for us.
AMANPOUR: The revenge is that she accuses somebody of raping her.
AMANPOUR: Which actually didn’t happen.
AMANPOUR: But she is getting revenge for the fact that this somebody did actually rape a friend of hers.
AMANPOUR: And got away with it.
AMANPOUR: And then Adam, the computer, the AI guy tells the police.
MCEWAN: He shops her, and not only might we want to cut Miranda some slack because the man is a loathsome rapist who is otherwise going to walk free.
MCEWAN: But the future life prospects of a little four-year-old boy are going to be profoundly affected if she goes to prison.
AMANPOUR: Because she has a kid now.
MCEWAN: She’s about to adopt this child. But if she has a criminal record then that could be all over. So I’d rather stacked it. I’m interested to
know that some people tell me they’re very much on Adam’s side in this and others have outraged by Adam’s decision. I’m using the old fashioned
techniques of the novel to explore a moral issue.
AMANPOUR: It’s very relevant to our times with the whole #MeToo moment that we’re going through and accusations and counteraccusations and who
gets away with what, but even in your — I think, probably most famous book because it was an early one, and it got made into a film, “Atonement,” you
tackle the similar issue about a man falsely accused of rap.
AMANPOUR: And assault. And what happens to him? I guess, I mean, that was a long time before the whole #MeToo. What is it that sort of sparked
your interest in that?
MCEWAN: Well, it’s extremely difficult because rape is an absolutely vile crime. Often, there are no witnesses. And often people are standing up in
court contradicting each other. And actually, the system cracks under this. And also we know that men of power and celebrity and status and
wealth abuse their situations.
But also we know that sometimes we’re all human and false accusations can be made. And there’s a danger that accusation can become due process. Yet
at the same time, we really need to check some historic set of abuses.
So I’m not sure there’s any easy way through this and places where there are no easy ways through are places where novelists like to go.
AMANPOUR: Novelists, storytellers, people who are the guardians of our history and our civilizations, and you are very careful, I think in a way
to pick really important modern day social issues, across all your work, whether it’s what we’ve just talked about here, whether it’s climate in
“Solar,” whether it’s the Iraq War in “Saturday,” whether it’s — you know, a couple’s inability to consummate their wedding night because they’re just
— they don’t know, they’ve never been taught how to have sex and relationships in “Chesil Beach,” which is also a film.
Is that what you feel your storytelling — is that why you tell stories these days? Not just for the great joy of writing a novel, but also to
weigh in on these great social issues of our time.
MCEWAN: I never really feel that that’s what I’m doing. And yes, “Solar” and “Saturday” touch on these things. But the intimacy of “Chesil Beach”
is not one of the great burning issues of our time and a fetus narrating a novel, likewise.
AMANPOUR: I love that in a nutshell. That’s an amazing device.
MCEWAN: But I take it, I suppose, it is a somewhat old fashioned view of the novel and it is very good at exploring the ethical dimensions. In
fact, as soon as a novelist describes two people in a room, they could be strangers or lovers, it wouldn’t matter. There’s a cloud of ethics around
them because the novelist has to sit somewhere. And his gaze, her gaze has got to have some kind of moral vantage point.
But I don’t pick issues. I mean, I’m pretty good at leaving space between novels. I’m very good at not writing. I am doing it right now. I’ve got
maybe nine months a year ahead before I address anything. When I am not sure —
AMANPOUR: Is it in your head yet?
MCEWAN: No, no idea complete blank. I am a blank slate. And that’s where I quite like to be the end of the novel. So I don’t — they just well up
really. They choose me. I didn’t think well, should I just take off the major issues of the day? It doesn’t feel like that to me ever.
AMANPOUR: Because you are a 21st Century writer, one of the real handful of great modern British literary novelists. Do you feel like you’re also a
public intellectual? I mean, we don’t really have that in our sphere right now. In other countries, they do.
AMANPOUR: But do you feel that that’s an area where novelists should be or that you would be, could be?
MCEWAN: I don’t think I have — I mean, when I think about public intellectual, I think of a man like Ben Ardon Levy (ph) or my old friend,
my late friend, Christopher Hitchens, who was always in there every day fighting battles.
I feel I cannot write novels unless I guard ferociously my solitude. So I pop up now and then maybe with an article in a newspaper, but then I sink
back because I do need this quiet space around me to live with ghosts really, these characters that take over my life for two or three years.
MCEWAN: Very hard to take the TV studios or the soapbox and write a novel, for me impossible.
AMANPOUR: But you are quite open about your politics. What upsets you, makes you feel really depressed and bad about our world today? What the
worst thing that’s happening to us now?
MCEWAN: Two things that are colliding, I think, one is some form of toxic populism has entered the blood streams of many, many countries around the
world, from Turkey to the United States, including Britain, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and at the same time and inseparable from this is the
issue of climate change, because populism does not give a fig about climate change. This not — it is not in its bloodstream to worry about that.
And I think we’re at a very important turning point. All of our predictions about climate change turned out to be too conservative. I
mean, that actually now, we’re on an accelerating slope. We really need some brilliant political will to start to push us in another direction. We
haven’t even begun to inflect that emissions curve that we thought we could.
And we’ve got just the wrong kind of governments in power, who are much more concerned with nationalism, with whipping about — anti-scientific,
anti-rational. So they seem deeply related now to me. The more recent issue of this populism and the fact that it is rendering us incapable of
reacting to climate change.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you’re known for doing a huge amount of research, let’s say Saturday, when you actually — one of your protagonist was a surgeon.
And I just want to ask you, if you don’t mind, can you can you read from this passage? Do you mind?
AMANPOUR: Okay, that’s the passage from “Saturday,” and then we can talk about it.
MCEWAN: “For the past two hours, he’s been in a dream of absorption that has dissolved those sense of time, and all awareness of the other parts of
his life. Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He’s been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past or any
anxieties about the future. In retrospect, though never the time, it feels like profound happiness. It’s a little like sex in that he feels himself
in another medium, but it’s less obviously pleasurable, and clearly not sensual. This state of mind brings a contentment he never finds with any
passive form of entertainment — books, cinema, even music can’t bring him this. This benevolent dissociation seems to require difficulty, prolonged
demands on concentration and skills, pressure, problems to be solved, even danger. He feels calm and spacious, fully qualified to exist. It’s a
feeling of clarified emptiness of deep muted join.”
AMANPOUR: I mean, I’ve never heard surgery described like that. It gives such depth and understanding. How did you get to that place?
MCEWAN: Well, I’m describing something here, which I’m afraid we don’t really have a word for. People talk about flow and some other words. We
don’t have a natural word to describe what you I know will have experienced, working in a team solving a difficult problem. And solving
it, well, sometimes alone, but actually, it’s very nice to do it in a team of people to accomplish something difficult.
It’s a peculiar kind of joy. But at the time, it’s just, you don’t even exist. As I say, you know, you’re just out of time, doing the thing
itself. You’re completely in the present, and you feel as if you are now – – you’ve earned all the duties and responsibilities and pleasures of having a consciousness.
That can happen in writing. But it can happen in cooking a meal. It can happen in a game of tennis. It can happen on a hike. It’s one of the
greatest human satisfactions, I think to solve something difficult, to do something difficult — run a mile in under four minutes, whatever it is.
So that’s what really fascinates me. I love those moments when they come. They are very rare. It is two hours when you don’t — at the keyboard, or
long hand where you don’t even know you exist. You are so completely in the thing itself. It’s such a joy.
AMANPOUR: I’ve heard you say that that joy, for you anyway, has been somewhat tempered by the addiction that even you have to your smartphone.
MCEWAN: I confess.
AMANPOUR: That these wonderful, empty moments and spaces just don’t exist anymore because even you —
AMANPOUR: You have to feel it.
MCEWAN: I confess that I look back to the 70s and 80s and early 90s, where solitude was much easier to come by, it was a general social good. When
I’m asked to give advice to young writers, I say, turn all the machines off. Buy a notebook and a pen and spend at least half an hour day with
your own consciousness and walk through your mind as if through a garden.
MCEWAN: It’s difficult. It really is difficult. But it shouldn’t be that difficult because we read books for example, and that’s
way of cutting yourself off from everything.
AMANPOUR: And the great thing is book reading — real book reading is actually, it’s holding steady and increasing.
MCEWAN: If someone has said to me, Christiane, 30 years ago, pointed to my portable typewriter, my Olivetti and said one day that machine will be the
portal to all knowledge, instant news, every fascinating as well as terrible things you’d want to know about the world and human nature and it
will be your writing machine. I would have said, not possible, how could it be? It’s a typewriter.
So you know, I use freedom sometimes. Switch it on. I can’t access the internet for four hours. It’s quite a good program. Otherwise, it’s just
has to be discipline. But with — you know, when a breaking story, you know, if Notre Dame is burning, it’s very hard to concentrate.
AMANPOUR: Do you realize what you’ve just done? You’ve just appropriated news speak, a breaking story.
AMANPOUR: Human — normal humans don’t talk like that. But now they do.
MCEWAN: Now they do. Now I do.
AMANPOUR: But I just wanted if you could comment on something I heard described, the building is meaningful, because as in Egypt, where Egypt
didn’t build the pyramids, but the pyramids built Egypt.
AMANPOUR: Notre Dom has such an influence on France, Paris, and our Western culture.
MCEWAN: Yes and no. Hugo has locked it in time and space forever. And it’s lovely to hear readings from “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” It sends
shivers down my spine. I haven’t read that since I was 18.
AMANPOUR: You realized, it went right back up to the top of the bestsellers in Amazon and this and that.
MCEWAN: Oh, has it?
MCEWAN: Oh, wonderful.
AMANPOUR: Because of this fire.
MCEWAN: Anyway, apart from thinking, well, at heart we are Europeans really, and maybe we shouldn’t be too full of despair. I also thought any
building that is going to last 850 years is going to have a narrative of ups and downs and in 200 years’ time Notre Dame will still be there.
People will say, “Did you know that the roof caught fire way back in the 21st Century.” And so it will be absorbed into a giant narrative that is
including a huge chunk of Medieval History.
AMANPOUR: When I asked you before, what gave you most cause for despair? I want to ask the reverse question?
AMANPOUR: Of all the world leaders who we see on a regular basis, who is the one you most admire right now?
MCEWAN: God, that’s really difficult. I mean, over the last few years, I remain full of good feeling towards Angela Merkel. I feel that although
she’s made some errors, and Germany is now facing a crisis of its own with populism and alternative for Deutschland, I still think she stands as a
beacon for the liberal, open, tolerant democratic society that I treasure, and I think is under such attack.
When I said this to someone, about a year ago, I was immediately attacked in all our right wing press. They said loafer. And I felt fully justified
at that point. But she’s fading, you know, she’s no longer going to be around. “Mutti” as she is called in Germany.
MCEWAN: Mother — often headline writers in Germany say, do we let go of the apron strings? Mutti’s apron strings? And of course, you know, it is
a worrying moment. So had you asked me a few years ago, I probably would have said Obama, although he is not a great decision taker, there was
something about the spirit of that man and Michelle Obama that were truly inspiring. Amazing. She’s just been at the O2 here.
AMANPOUR: That’s the stadium. She does stadiums now.
AMANPOUR: And sells them out.
MCEWAN: She sells them out. But it’s interesting to see it. Lots of my friends were at that concert, if you can call it that. And they said how
wonderful it was to see so many young black girls who feel that she is sort of opening up a future for them.
AMANPOUR: What would you say to American readers, you know, people who follow you read your books?
MCEWAN: Well, I mean, the institutions of the United States have taken quite a hammering and I don’t know whether this storm last another two
years or another six. But I think the institutions are sort of holding up more or less.
AMANPOUR: You wrote about the first — the Gulf War in 2002. That was a previous American President George W. Bush helped by a British Prime
Minister, Tony Blair. Is this worse than that?
MCEWAN: I think that the assault on truth internally to the United States is a real concern. And I think the kind of permission that
the Trump presidency has given to others around the world, including Bolsonaro in Brazil, but right across the strongman kind of notion is very
There was a poll here in Britain, just last week, 54 percent of people want a strongman. But they want their strongman. They want a strongman. When
they say, “I want a strongman,” they mean, I want to leave the E.U. without any more talking and frazzle. Well, I want my strongman. My strong man
wants to revoke Article 50. And the whole point of a democracy is to save those people from my strongman and to save me from theirs.
We ought to have learned that lesson by now, so I am right to the smack the bottoms of that 54 percent.
AMANPOUR: Corporal punishment is not allowed.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, though, you told me about truth. And obviously, the novel and storytelling, you’ve spoken out quite convincingly against
this sort of modern mania of trigger warnings and safe spaces and platforming and all the rest of it.
As a writer, as a storyteller, what is the risk with all of that? With people allowing themselves to have these shelters, these actual fake
shelters, I would say?
MCEWAN: Well, I guess we’re talking about the university campus, which we really should be —
AMANPOUR: Yes, we always have to give warnings now of what we’re doing on the air.
MCEWAN: Right, but I mean, when I think for example, of a reading list or literary canon. These are the books you should read. The whole point
reading list is that it should be challenged. But the point of the challenge is you should be adding to it, not taking things out of it.
So if you say there are too many white men — dead, white men on the list – – Conrad, Hemingway, et cetera et cetera — then you should be enriching it, not saying nobody is to read “Lord Jim” anymore because he has some
attitudes that we don’t like. That would narrow your reading list down — there would only be Toni Morrison, which would be great in the way, but you
really want diversity.
And the richness of possibility of the exchange of ideas is lost if you start banning speakers. Obviously, anyone who has got hate speech is
another matter. But people who would disagree with you profoundly is all part of — I think, the managed excursion or the project of a university.
So to quote my antihero, Chairman Mao, “Let a hundred flowers blossom.”
AMANPOUR: You have said, if it wasn’t for the women readers, the novel would be dead.
MCEWAN: Absolutely. My son and I once tried to give away free 400 books in a little park outside our house. We carried them out. And every woman
we met said, “I read that. I read that. Oh, can I have that. Can I have three?” And any man we approached were, “No, sorry, mate. No, no. I
don’t want to.” We couldn’t give one book away to a man. And that led me to the conclusion that without women readers, the novel would have died
long, long ago. It probably wouldn’t even got started.
AMANPOUR: Who do you read? Who is your favorite novelist?
MCEWAN: I think the mental space of the imagination so far, so I resist the idea of hierarchy so much. But you know, I’m a great lover of the
American half century, second half of the 20th Century, I think it will really was the American Century for writing.
So Updike was a wonderful figure who became a friend in the last seven or eight years of his life, I went to stay with him. And Saul Bellow, who I’m
rereading at the moment. I know he’s got some great unfashionable views. But gosh, does he make the street sing.
I mean, just — “Chicago” just seems to hum and throb through those pages. That high, low quality of dealing with ordinary life and high end of power,
intellectual exchange, all on the same page. Oh, sometimes within the same sentence and it thrills me. Very hard for us to do that in Britain.
There is something still, I think joyous about the project, at least of classlessness in the United States that we do not have here. We can have
working classrooms, but they are that. In the United States, they call it the Great American Novel. So my admiration remains undimmed.
AMANPOUR: That’s a great way to end. Ian McEwan, thank you so much.
MCEWAN: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Some literary lessons there from a real master of his craft.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.