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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Amanpour and Company. Here’s what’s coming up.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are trying to bypass our main issues.
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AMANPOUR: The Trump administration makes its opening move for peace in the Middle East, but the Palestinians haven’t been consulted. What to make of
this and President Trump’s other foreign forays. I speak to an expert round table.
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ROBERT F. SMITH, BILLIONAIRE INVESTOR: We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus.
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AMANPOUR: An incredible donation wipes out loans for an entire graduating class. It shows just how much student debt is crippling America.
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RUTH REICHL, AUTHOR, “SAVE ME THE PLUMS”: And I have to tell you that my first thought wasn’t, “Oh, this is my new career.” My first thought was,
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AMANPOUR: The famed food writer, Ruth Reichl, sits down with Walter Isaacson to talk about her fascinating career and her new memoir, “Save Me
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Remember the deal of the century? Well, the White House is pushing ahead now with the first phase of its plan for peace between Israel and the
Palestinians. That may be fairly unremarkable except for this fact, the Palestinians say they weren’t even consulted before the White House
announced that it would first hold an economic conference in Bahrain to spur investment. Here’s the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.
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MOHAMMED SHTAYYEH, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The cabinet stresses that it wasn’t consulted about the
reported workshop, neither about the content nor the outcome nor the timing. It clarifies that the financial crisis that the Palestinian
National Authority is living through today is a result of the financial war that is being waged against us in order to win political concessions. We
do not submit to blackmail and we don’t trade our political rights for money.
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AMANPOUR: Tough words indeed. Now, close allies of the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, will attend the conference. The administration
says the political plan for the region will come next. The Middle East is just one area where the president has promised history-making fixes.
To understand how it all fits into context, I am joined by the experts in the field, Kori Schake joins me here, she’s had top national security
positions at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House National Security Council. She’s now at the International Institute for
Strategic Studies here in London. Karin von Hippel was a top counterterrorism official at the State Department and she is now director
general of the Royal United Services Institute, also here in London. And in New York is Mark Hannah, a senior fellow at the Eurasia Group. His
latest report is on America’s mixed record on promoting democracy abroad.
So, welcome to you all.
Mark, we’re going to get to you in New York. First, though, I want to ask you ladies about the latest news regarding the peace process. What do you
make — and you’ve both worked for different presidents, Republicans and Democrats. What do you make, Kori, given that this is a Republican
administration, of this idea of reinventing the wheel in terms of promoting economy first, economic investment to the Palestinians as a first step?
KORI SCHAKE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL, IISS: I think it’s unlikely to supplant the desire for status and political stature that the Palestinians
justifiably want. And I also think it’s very unlikely to be taken seriously given that the Trump administration had cut off humanitarian
assistance to the Palestinians. So, there’s not an assumption of good faith on the part of the United States as a mediator at this point.
AMANPOUR: So, that is really important, Karin.
KARIN VON HIPPEL, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: Yes.
AMANPOUR: The whole idea of the honest broker, the assumption of good faith, the steps that Kori was saying, whether it’s, you know, moving the
embassy to Jerusalem, cutting off humanitarian aid, closing down representative offices that represent the Palestinians —
AMANPOUR: — in the United States. What happens when the United States loses that decades-long, you know, moniker of honest broker?
HIPPEL: Well, you know, they have lost it. And this peace plan has been done — has been shrouded in such secrecy, no one has had sight of it, and
there are a number of experts that really could have helped. Jared Kushner doesn’t have the experience. He’s working with one or two others that know
the region but seem to have more of an agenda. And so, they aren’t seen as honest brokers and I don’t think anyone anticipates that it will succeed.
Of course, we all want it to succeed, everyone in the region does, but I think most of us, you know, really think it will be very biased in Israel’s
favor and not at all a balanced deal.
AMANPOUR: Mark, I don’t know whether you want to weigh in on this issue because you have been, you know, really examining the U.S. and its
promotion of democracy abroad and its promotion of values abroad [13:05:00]. I mean, how do you see this particular episode of trying to
restart the peace process on these somewhat uneven terms at the beginning, playing into this debate?
MARK HANNAH, SENIOR FELLOW, THE EURASIA GROUP FOUNDATION: Well, I think, unfortunately, to some extent, it’s typical of American foreign policy and
that it’s looking at the world through our values, it’s thinking that, “Oh, if only the Palestinians would pick themselves up by the boot straps,” and
it’s almost like Jared Kushner is over there peddling, you know, the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism as the solution to the
So, we’re taking an American lens and looking at the values that we so cherish like economic opportunity and self-reliance and things like that
and bringing that to this debate where, to Kori’s really smart point, the Palestinians just want dignity, just want recognition, just want
sovereignty, and to stop the Israeli occupation. So, I think there is an ignorance that’s being reflected in this.
AMANPOUR: I mean, many people are saying that this is not new. I said reinventing the wheel, I was being sort of sarcastic because it’s not new.
The Reagan administration tried something like this. But also, so did Bibi Netanyahu in about 2009, and it got absolutely nowhere because most people
believe that — and I would like you to weigh in on this, that how do you have a credible economic plan if there is no political context? And I just
read you Hanan Ashrawi who is one of the first Palestinian peacemakers to engage with the West, member of the PLO Executive Committee.
She said, “We are perfectly capable of building a vibrant economy once we control our land, resources, borders and lives. Integrating Israel in the
Arab world while maintaining its brutal occupation of Palestine is delusional.” Is it delusional?
SCHAKE: I certainly don’t think it’s going to work. Moreover, this notion that somehow people will give up their political liberties in return for
promises of prosperity, that’s not an American, that’s Chinese domestic policy and Chinese foreign policy.
The notion — American foreign policy is that people have inalienable rights and they loan them in limited ways to governments. So, I don’t
think that the Trump administration is actually advocating an American foreign policy. They’re actually indistinguishable from Chinese foreign
policy in what they’re proposing for Palestine.
AMANPOUR: Golly, I mean, that’s pretty radical to hear you say that —
SCHAKE: I think it’s true.
AMANPOUR: — given that the Chinese are such challengers to the whole American value system, not to mention its economics.
HIPPEL: I mean, to be fair, one of the negotiators today said, “We do have a political plan, we just haven’t revealed it yet,” and I think this is
really the problem is you can’t go around and tell everyone, “Everything is going to be fine,” and you can’t hear about what’s going to happen to your
future. They need to be involved in it.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, to sort of expand on that, and we’ve all talked about Jared Kushner because he’s been handed this, you know, responsibility
by the president. I mean, he believes that, why not, he’s fully aware that he’s not a foreign policy expert, that he is not a diplomat, but that he is
as close to the seat of American power and therefore, speaks with the president’s support, which is massively important for anybody who gets
So, he said this about some of the issues we were just talking about, about reacting to the fact that the Trump administration appears to have fully
sided with Israel on all these key issues before unveiling part of his peace plan. Just listen to what he said.
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JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE U.S. PRESIDENT: When we made the decision to recognize Jerusalem, the president asked, you know, “Will this
make your job easier or harder?” And the answer I gave him was, “I think, short-term, it’s probably harder because people will, you know, be more
reactive and emotional. But long-term, I think it helps because what we need to start doing is just recognizing truths and I think that when we
recognize Jerusalem, that is a truth.” You know, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that would be part of any final agreement anyway and I think
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AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, there’s a bit of an issue with that last statement, right? Because in the peace process that exists right now,
which is all versions of Oslo and the Clinton plan and all these other issues, that was — Jerusalem is one of the issues that’s meant to be
discussed between the parties.
SCHAKE: My sense is that the problem is less that the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem than that they did not give a prospect
for East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital. That that’s the kind of one- sidedness that’s collapsing people’s confidence that the United States is an even-handed broker in this.
HIPPEL: Right. And it’s not too late to do that. He still could do that and he would get a lot more support if he were to do that [13:10:00]. But
it is interesting that they don’t do that. I mean, it really does tell you that they are very much pro-Israeli much more than trying to be an even
AMANPOUR: I mean, Kushner also spoke a truth and that is this process is gridlocked.
AMANPOUR: It is broken.
HIPPEL: That’s true.
AMANPOUR: Nobody is doing anything or getting anywhere.
AMANPOUR: So, that’s correct. And he believes, because he comes from a business background, that alleviating economic hardship and giving some
incentives is a way to go. I mean, we’ve discussed why that might be problematic. But what do you make of, and I’ll bring Mark into this as
well, this nascent now but gathering steam coalescence around potentially a one-state solution, that the whole idea a two-state solution with equal
rights, equal empowerment is gone and that it might be a one-state solution? I mean, is that even viable?
HIPPEL: That’s not viable for the Israelis long-term, right, because they will end up being a minority in their own state, and that won’t work if you
want to be Democratic. You can’t be Democratic and a one-state — or it can’t be a one-state solution that’s Democratic, let’s say it that way.
AMANPOUR: And, Mark, I mean, on the whole issue of democracy and equal representation.
HANNAH: Right. I mean, you can’t honor what Kori was talking about with inalienable rights with the Palestinian people if you don’t give them the
right to self-determination. And so, no. Yes, the window for a two-state solution is quickly closing and I think it’s tragic. Actually, it’s not
tragic, it’s folly because we have an opportunity to change that.
But as long as the United States maintains this, you know, “special relationship” with Israel, it’s not going to be perceived as an honest
broker among our Arab partners and among the Palestinian people. They equated this conference that’s going to take place that Jared Kushner is
trying to organize as having the kind of boot of Israel, boot of the United States on the neck of the Palestinians. So, they’re not perceiving the
kind of goodwill that the Trump administration would like.
It’s not too dissimilar from Trump trying to — President Trump trying to sell beachside condos to Kim Jong-un in the DPRK as a vision for, you know,
opportunity, freedom, American values, these kinds of things. It shows a real blind spot, real myopia.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let’s talk about that because I was going to expand this to other areas, very, very major areas that President Trump has come
feeling that he can unlock this sort of log jam, whether it’s in North Korea, whether it’s in Venezuela, where real democracy there is at stake,
whether it’s in Iran, whether to bring them to a much more thorough deal encompassing all the issues in the region.
Let’s talk about North Korea — or all of them, really, because President Trump has spoken very loudly and clearly and he sort of ratcheted up a lot
of pressure and people say — I was talking to General Petraeus yesterday on this program, this is the Trump modus operandum. If you read “Art of
the Deal,” it’s punch the opposition or the person at the other side of the table in the nose and that should be a precursor to everyone getting
together and having a win-win situation.
How is that working out, Kori, regarding Kim Jong-un, who both of whom professed add great love for each other over the last two summits?
SCHAKE: I don’t think it’s working out very well. I think the president’s approach makes three fundamental mistakes. First, it expects that creating
chaos creates opportunity and advantage, and it may create opportunity but it makes the circumstance a lot more unstable. And when you were talking
about a nuclear armed North Korea, that’s not a good thing. So, more stability would be a good thing.
Second problem is that the president seems not to realize that the United States is strongest and manages these problems best in coordination with
our allies. And that gives us the ability to get our arms around a problem in a much stronger way and he completely discounts that. And then the
place where the president’s policy, I think, is best is Venezuela, in part because they have done the least there and they have let the Lima Group of
regional countries take a leadership role and have focused on financial sanctions, on using the tools of transparency and governance and the rule
of law to our advantage.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me put that to Mark, because it also is about democracy. So, the United States has recognized Juan Guaido, president of
the National Assembly, as the legitimate president of Venezuela. That is a — that is to try to spread freedom and democracy in the face of, you know,
a very populist democratically elected but bit of a dictatorship over there, the Maduro dictatorship. But it’s [13:15:00] not working, Mark,
it’s not working. They gave — they assume that Guaido had a lot more power on the street than he actually does.
HANNAH: Well, a lot more power and a lot more popularity. And he’s only going to lose popularity if he becomes perceived as this puppet of the
Europeans and the Americans. It’s important — you know, I think it would be a wonderful thing if Juan Guaido became the head of Venezuela but it
wouldn’t benefit him — we wouldn’t be doing him a great service if we installed him through military intervention because he wouldn’t be widely
perceived as a legitimate ruler.
For better or worse, a lot of the Chavistas that are so passionate in their continued support for Maduro, which this doesn’t often get reported but the
“PBS Newshour” just did a great segment on this, that they support him precisely because of what the United States has done on that continent in
the name of democracy promotion where we used democracy promotion as a pretext for regime change in the 1970s and ’80s. And so, that’s fueled the
fire of Maduro and the Chavistas there.
If we want to learn anything from our history, it’s that we don’t do a great job of democracy promotion when we do it at the tip of a rifle by any
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you, while we’re at it, and you have written a specific report about America’s record currently of exporting democracy or
at least trying to, you know, persuade others around the world of its value system, and you have looked at various areas where you say it’s not going
so great. Tell us what you found out.
HANNAH: Sure. Well, what we found is widespread adoration of Democratic ideas, of American style democracy. We — and the report is entitled “From
Democracy Promotion to Democracy Attraction” because what it sees is the more durable way of spreading democracy is doing it through sort of the
power of America’s example, where we often measure the Democratization of other countries by institutions or laws or these structural variables, but
we fail to appreciate the diversity of views, beliefs, values, ideas that are shared among the people that populate those institutions or enforce
those rules. So, we become surprised when those institutions start eroding.
So, we took seriously political culture and decided to ask people in eight countries, China, Japan, India, Brazil, Germany, Poland, and Nigeria and
Egypt about what they thought about certain attributes of American democracy. And what we found that there was surprising support for these
ideas in unlikely places like China, like Egypt.
Of course, the main drivers of anti-Americanism we found — not of course but one thing we found was that opposition to President Trump largely hurt
our image abroad, at least in these eight countries, as did American intervention is, and that was we ran a regression and that was the number
two variable that contributed to anti-Americanism. And the third is the gap between the rich and the poor. So, perceptions of economic inequality
in this country really hurt America’s image abroad.
On the positive side, on the pro side of the ledger, direct connections to a country’s diaspora here in the United States contributes heavily to pro-
American sentiment. So, that has implications for policymakers when it comes to immigration, specifically, as well as our cultural exports, soft
power, consumption of movies, American news, American music, contributes significantly to positive ideas about the U.S.
So, this democracy promotion that we’ve done with irresistible economic incentives and irrepressible military threats has largely failed to
establish or foment really stable and long-lasting democracies around the world.
AMANPOUR: I think that’s really fascinating. And sort of to end our conversation, Karin, the idea of this projection of soft power, you know,
values, democracy and that there’s so many people around the world who really, really love that, they just trying to figure out how to get to it.
When you see what’s going on in Iran, for instance, I mean, Iran does have politics as well.
HIPPEL: Sure. And divisions. Divisions (INAUDIBLE).
AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes, exactly. And obviously, the administration is hoping for regime change from within.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you obviously must study this a lot and —
AMANPOUR: — talk about it a lot in your think tanks. Where do you think that is going to go?
HIPPEL: Well, can I just say one point just to reinforce this last point on “The Art of the Deal,” I think that people around the world would be
more supportive of U.S. foreign policy under Trump if they thought it was going to be win-win. But in fact, it isn’t going to be win-win under
Trump. It’s about Trump — he keeps saying America first. He doesn’t say, you know, what’s good for both of us and I think people can see that.
On Iran, what I’m mostly worried about right now is that both Iran and the United States are nervous that [13:20:00] one side or the other will do
something, maybe it could be a mistake. And so, they’re both preparing for, you know, defensive operations in a sense but they may misinterpret
that as offensive and that’s really my biggest concern right now.
AMANPOUR: Sort of bumbling and stumbling into something —
HIPPEL: Into war.
AMANPOUR: — yes, accidental.
HIPPEL: Right. Because they see what Iran is doing where Iran may be protecting itself or preparing to do, you know, depending on what type of
military maneuver the U.S. does and that may be misinterpreted as an act of aggression.
AMANPOUR: And I just wonder, again, talking about the sort of negotiating style —
AMANPOUR: — as “The New York times” pointed out, Mr. Trump’s problems with all these three countries, which we’ve been talking about, reveal a
common pattern, take an aggressive, maximalist position without a clear plan to follow it through —
AMANPOUR: — followed by a fundamental lack of consensus in the administration about whether the United States should be more
interventionist or less. So, in other words, ramping up the pressure, pulling back, and then where’s the leverage?
HIPPEL: Yes, where’s the plan?
AMANPOUR: Where’s the plan?
SCHAKE: I think that’s exactly right. And the president appears to want to talk really tough about the use of force but when push comes to shove,
appears to be willing to fold, as he did when the administration was ramping up pressure on Iran a couple of weeks ago. And that really
undercuts America’s deterrence and its leverage in these situations if people doubt that the president will follow through on his administration’s
AMANPOUR: Well, I think this has been a really fascinating discussion. Wish we had so much time for much more, Kori Schake, Karin von Hippel, Mark
Hannah, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
HIPPEL: Great report, Mark.
AMANPOUR: So, we’re turning now to an incredible act of generosity which shines a light on a dark corner of American life. The billionaire
investor, Robert Smith, is the nation’s richest Black man. So, it was already a special occasion when he came to give the commencement address at
Morehouse College, one of the most historically significant Black colleges or universities. But this line is, of course, what stunned the audience
before going viral just about all over the world.
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SMITH: First of all — now, I’ve got the alumni over there, and that is the challenge to you, alumni. This is my class, 2019. And my family is
making a grant to eliminate their student loans.
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AMANPOUR: Really a remarkable statement, a remarkable pledge. And in that instant, he changed the trajectory of all of those students.
All too often in America, student debt is a lifelong burden. Even President Barack Obama famously wasn’t able to pay off his loans until he
gained national prominence and sales of his memoir skyrocketed. In fact, student loans are now the second largest category of household debt in the
United States. That’s second only to mortgages, bigger than debt from car loans and credit cards.
Susan Dynarski is professor of public policy education and economics at the University of Michigan. And she’s joining me now from Ann Arbor.
Susan, welcome to the program.
SUSAN DYNARSKI, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: Just let me get your take on the remarkable moment, the remarkable generosity of Robert Smith.
DYNARSKI: I certainly wish I had been a graduate in that class. It’s a relief to students to have their debts paid off, I’m sure. These students
will be able to move a lot more quickly and to milestones like buying a house, marriage, buying a car.
AMANPOUR: I mean, look, we did say that, you know, it’s still — there’s still a huge, huge issue all over the country over this. What he’s done is
worth, apparently, about $40 million. But there are still some 40 million people holding about $1.5 trillion in loan debt around the country. Why,
for people around the world, and maybe people in America who are not fully aware of this, why is this so, so high?
DYNARSKI: The student debt per student is not actually much higher in the U.S. than it is in many other countries. So, students borrow similar
amounts in Sweden, they borrow much more in England, they borrow in Australia. So, student debt is kind of the norm across the world. What’s
not the norm is that repayment is very difficult in the U.S. So, while most students come out with pretty moderate debts, they have great
difficulty repaying those debts because we have a very archaic and poorly regulated loan repayment system.
AMANPOUR: Wow, you’ve just stunned me. I actually I did not know that student debt around [13:25:00] — or student borrowing around the rest of
the world was sort of comparable to that in America. We hear that in the United States the average graduate has nearly $30,000 in debt on average.
And we said it’s the second largest category of debt that’s being held around the country.
So, go deeper into that, then. If student debt is sort of a common theme around much of the world, then what is it about the repayment differences?
Well, first of all, if we want to think about who’s having problems on their student loans, it is actually not the people who have the largest
debts. So, we read in the paper or hear on the news about people who have debts of, say, $100,000. Those debts are not typical at all. Those who
have the largest debts are those who have gotten graduate degrees in, say, law or business or medicine, and they earn good incomes and they pay off
their debts quite well. For them, investing in a student loan is a fine choice.
You actually see, paradoxically, that the likelihood that somebody is going to default on their loan goes up as the size of the debt goes down. So,
those who are most likely to default on their loans have debts of only a few thousand dollars.
What’s remarkable about these students is not the size of their debt but that they dropped out of school after only a few semesters. So, they have
acquired the debt but they have not acquired the education that they could use to help pay off that debt. And that is then exacerbated by our student
loan payment system, which doesn’t work as well as it does in other countries that have similar debt levels.
AMANPOUR: So again, let’s just be clear because I got the impression that actually it’s people with massive amounts of debt that are in trouble, not
just in trouble but I guess even more forced to take potentially jobs that they might not want to take, whether it’s in, you know, high paying private
sector rather than, let’s say, public service, having to pay off those debts.
But you’re talking about almost like — I mean, I don’t want to sigh micro- debts, but you know, almost like a whole load of debt that is little that is causing so much problems for people who can’t get a job because they’ve
DYNARSKI: That is exactly correct. So, you know, the typical debt that’s in default is just a few thousand dollars. Students who have those debts
typically went to a two-year community college or a for-profit training institute. They typically come from disadvantaged backgrounds. And for
them, going to college is risky. It’s a good bet in general, but for some people, it won’t pay off, and taking out loans in those circumstances is a
The for-profit institutes are particularly dangerous because they charge very high tuitions, people do exit with relatively high loans, and they
don’t get an education that will pay off for them.
AMANPOUR: Explain to me that then because what is for-profit in the constellation of state, private and for-profit?
DYNARSKI: So, about 80 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. go to public institutions, so state institutions, local community colleges, places like
the University of Michigan. And then there are private nonprofit schools and then the smallest sector are for-profit schools. They tend to be
teaching labor market skills, career training, in the rest of the country, they’re referred to as sub baccalaureate training. There are some for-
profits that have BAs, but most of them are sort of short-term programs.
And the evidence, unfortunately, is that the payoff to these programs is precisely zero. And the population that tends towards these schools goes
in with quite low incomes, comes out with quite low incomes, comes out with debt and then runs into trouble. This was particularly true during the
great recession when people flooded into schools to escape a weak labor market. They found that the public schools were underfunded, overflowing
and moved into the for-profits where they acquired large debts and then started defaulting at very high rates.
AMANPOUR: But this is something that the current administration, secretary of education, is promoting, no? I mean, this whole idea of for-profit
DYNARSKI: It’s been a problem. So, you know, the for-profits were getting more regulation, more oversight during the Obama administration. The
Justice Department was stepping in. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was stepping in to provide some regulation of these schools. The
U.S. Department of Education has done a very poor job of regulating the for-profit schools and as a sector, it performs really badly.
You know, in theory, it’s got great promise. It could be an incubator of innovation. In practice, it has not produced educations that have
benefitted students and it has resulted in enormous student debt.
AMANPOUR: Why is that?
DYNARSKI: Why? I’m not quite sure but what we see is that they don’t deliver an education that pays off in the labor market. They tend to spend
a lot less on instruction than do public schools. So a lot of the budget at for-profit institutions goes to advertising or it goes to profits as
opposed to going to education.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about your own personal experience because you didn’t come from a massively wealthy family. You couldn’t fall back on
that cushion, and you had to take out debt yourself. So describe your trajectory.
DYNARSKI: I came from a low-income family. My dad was a high school dropout. Improbably, I ended up at Harvard University where taking out
student debt was a very safe bet. So I took about $10,000 out in the ’80s to go to Harvard.
My mom took out parental plus loans. She took out more for me and she scraped by, I know. I went to grad school and took out another $40,000 in
It was the best investment I ever made. It made the job I’ve got now possible. But I will admit that I didn’t finish paying off my loans until
about two years ago.
AMANPOUR: Wow. I mean, that’s just shocking. And I hear that a lot of debt is also incurred not just on tuition but also on living expenses as
well, getting loans for living expenses.
DYNARSKI: That’s right. I mean, most of the cost of going to school, if you’re at a public school, a community college, is actually living, you
know. You’re not working or not working full-time and you need to pay the bills.
So that is indeed a source of borrowing, especially at the community colleges. That’s what most of the borrowing is about.
AMANPOUR: So this debt is growing very, very rapidly. It’s — it is. It just keeps growing in terms of, you know, proportion of the economy.
And that you have just mentioned earlier that there are very significant differences in how American institutions allow students to repay and how
European, for instance, here in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Can you break down why it’s easier for students here in Europe to pay off their
DYNARSKI: Happy to. So, in the U.S., the U.S. government provides the loans. So they’re public loans but it leaves to private companies the job
of actually collecting the debt. So a set of — many of them, former banks, now actually collect student debt in the U.S. In most other
countries, it’s a government function.
And in countries like Australia and in England, if your earnings are quite low after college, you don’t pay anything at all on your student debt. And
then if your income goes up, you’ll pay a fixed percentage of your income to your student loans and they’re flexed up and down if your earnings flex
up and down.
In the U.S., in theory, there are programs like this and if they were working as intended, we’d have very few defaults on student loans. The
fact that they’re not working indicates a problem in the process and it’s these private companies which the Department of Education has done a very
poor job of regulating.
Students have a hard time getting into and staying in the payment programs that would benefit the most, that would let them have their loans forgiven
if they weren’t making much money or working, for example, in a nonprofit job. So regulating these companies and overseeing them is critical. And
the Trump administration has stepped away from that job.
In the past, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stepped in to regulate these loan collection companies and protect borrowers, but that’s
been shackled under this administration and hence not been able to protect student borrowers.
AMANPOUR: So what do you make — what is the solution? Because you’ve also said earlier on that women and minorities in the United States, you
know, suffer the biggest impacts of all of this, of this burden. And we’ve had several Democratic presidential candidates talk about a radical
overhaul of this process. What is the solution?
DYNARSKI: There is no one solution. There’s a — we need to take care of those who currently have debt and so fix the repayment system. I don’t
think there’s any way to avoid having substantial government involvement in this process, either in supervising the companies correctly or having the
government actually run the repayment system.
And then looking forward, we need to make sure that the most vulnerable students are not taking out loans. In most countries, students at sub
baccalaureate schools like our community colleges, our training institutes, they don’t borrow for college. It’s not even called college. They’re
training or apprenticeships.
In the U.S., students who are disadvantaged borrow at a much higher rate than they do in other countries and that could be fixed by changing or
reducing the cost of college as some of the candidates have proposed.
AMANPOUR: Well, it is good to know that there are solutions out there. Let’s hope that they get implemented for the sake of so many millions of
young Americans. Susan Dynarski, thank you so much for joining us.
And we turn now to a giant in the world of food writing, a born storyteller with an unwavering love of food, Ruth Reichl made her name as restaurant
critic for the “L.A. Times” and then later for the “New York Times.”
As a child, she fell in love with “Gourmet Magazine” which she would go on to helm for a decade as its editor in chief. And it’s all chronicled in
her new memoir “Save Me the Plums.” She opens up about all of this to our Walter Isaacson.
WALTER ISAACSON, CONTRIBUTOR: Tell me about the first time you saw “Gourmet Magazine”.
RUTH REICHL: I was 8-years-old and my dad was a book designer, and he liked to spend his weekends looking through old bookstores, and he would
take me along. And usually, he would just get a pile of magazines and sit me on the floor with these magazines.
And I guess one day he couldn’t find anything else so he found these, like, really vintage “Gourmets” from the ’40s and it was a revelation to me
because the magazine — the story I opened to was one that was written by Robert Tristram Coffin who was a Pulitzer Prize winner, the poet laureate
of Maine, and a really beautiful writer.
And he wrote about rolling out to — with lobsterman. It’s like late at night, they pull out the lobster pots. They rode to a deserted island.
They built this huge bonfire and you see the flames crackling up in the air and you smell the lobsters cooking and they eat as much as they can. And
then they fall back on the damp sand and the stars are up above and the fish are leaping in the water and they fall asleep. And they wake up with
the rising sun and they get back in the boat and they follow the sun’s path.
ISAACSON: And as an 8-year-old, you read that?
REICHL: As an 8-year-old, I read it and it changed my life because I had been reading about princesses on glass mountains and flying horses and
magic. And suddenly, I saw that real life was as interesting as anything magical.
And it was about paying attention. And so I became not only interested in food but interested in nonfiction, in words. And I begged my father to get
me a subscription to the magazine.
ISAACSON: So it’s a bonding experience too with your father as you’re growing up, right?
REICHL: Yes, to my mother’s horror. My mother thought food was ridiculous and was a truly frightening cook. The first story in my first book is
about my mother inviting people to a party for my — to celebrate my brother’s engagement and putting 26 of them in the hospital with food
So I’m not from a family of great cooks. And suddenly, you know, I’m cooking, I’m looking at these recipes in the magazine and my dad decides to
start taking me — first he takes me to Yorkville, where he first came to the United States as a German and lived in Yorkville. And then we go to
Chinatown and Little Italy and Spanish Harlem.
ISAACSON: So all over New York City and you’re trying everything from pickled herring to all these dishes that your father loves, right?
REICHL: Yes. And my dad who was a very formal, reticent European man, he suddenly was opening up to me. And I understood that food would be a way
to get to know people. So the magazine really meant something to me. It changed my life in an important way.
ISAACSON: And then you go out to Berkeley and you’re sort of part of the hippie back to the earth food [13:40:00] movement that revolutionizes
American cooking back then. You helped run a restaurant, right?
REICHL: Right. I opened the restaurant with a bunch of people and people say, you know, oh, she’s a chef, I’m not a chef. We were a group of
overeducated people who loved to cook. And it was kind of like, oh, let’s open a restaurant and we baked our own bread and made salads.
And it was Berkeley. It was the ’70s. And you know, Alice Waters was doing her thing and there was a group of food people who all knew each
Meanwhile, my husband and I are living in a commune and we’re dumpster diving and we’re living a really alternative life. And one day, I was
writing about art, which was the — I have a masters in art history so I was writing about art for magazines.
And one day, one of my editors came into my restaurant and it was literally as if a lightbulb went off over his head. He just looks at me and says,
you know, you’re a much better writer than our restaurant critic is and you know food. Have you ever thought about writing restaurant reviews?
Now, I have to tell you that my first thought wasn’t, oh, this is my new career. My first thought was free food.
I mean, my husband and I are dirt poor. We are living on nothing. We aren’t going to restaurants. I don’t have a credit card.
And suddenly, they’re giving me hundreds of dollars to go to fancy restaurants. My thought was, you know, most restaurant reviews are really
boring, you know? They’re consumer reviews. They say, you know, buy this, don’t buy that, this is too salty, the service wasn’t so good.
And I thought, why would you write like that? And so I wrote these little short stories and I kind of wove the review through them, but they were
probably the weirdest restaurant reviews ever written.
I mean, you have to remember, this is like the ’70s. And so I wrote science fiction and I wrote love stories, I wrote Westerns. So these
reviews got a kind of cult following.
And so I wrote these for six years and I never — I thought this is what I’m doing until my real life happens. I mean I still thought I was going
to go teach art history somewhere.
ISAACSON: When you move over to become food critic for the “New York Times,” do you have to write in a different voice?
REICHL: It was a shock I have to say. Because when I got to New York, I discovered that every restaurant had a huge picture of me in the kitchen
with “Wanted” written across the bottom and they were offering a bounty to anybody on the staff who spotted me in a restaurant.
And I suddenly realized that the impact that “The New York Times” restaurant critic has on restaurants is enormous. And I decided that if
they know who I was, I was going to have to be someone else. And so I wore really elaborate disguises.
ISAACSON: Tell me about one.
REICHL: OK. So, one of my favorites was Chloe.
REICHL: Chloe was a blonde. To be Chloe, I bought the most expensive wig I had ever bought and I went and got a make-up person to — I mean I do not
normally wear make-up and suddenly I’m this woman.
Chloe wore a lot of make-up and she had long red fingernails. And I had a vintage couture suit made by Chloe, which is where the name came from, and
she wore very high heels and she would go out.
And one of the things that Chloe liked to do, to my husband’s horror, was sit in the bar of a very high-end restaurant by herself and wait for a man
to come along and say, you know, would you join me for dinner. And I want to tell you that there is no disguise better than having dinner with
someone who doesn’t know that you’re in disguise.
ISAACSON: Take me through the process of reviewing a restaurant, especially for the “New York Times.” How many times do you go? What do you order?
REICHL: Well, at the “New York Times,” you never go fewer than three times. And for important reviews, for instance, the Le Cirque review which
was my — which I did very early in my tenure at the “New York Times,” I think I went 11 times and sometimes in disguise and sometimes not in
I mean that review was — I mean I think it’s what I will end up being most remembered for. I went many times in — disguised as a frumpy Midwestern
housewife and was treated abysmally, really abysmally. And the last time I went, I decided — I didn’t make a reservation in my own name but I decided
not to go in disguise.
[13:45:00] And my nephew, who was working on “Wall Street” made the reservation. He said, well, I could only get a 9:30 reservation but let’s
go at 8:00 and see what happens. We go at 8:00, and the owner, Sirio, sees me, and there are all these people milling around and he parts them like
the red sea, takes my hand, leads me forward, and says, “The king of Spain is waiting in the bar but your table is ready.”
And then they dance around and you know, may we — can we bring you some champagne, white truffles, black truffles, caviar. And I ended up writing
about what happens to an ordinary person which was not very nice and then what happens to the restaurant critic of the “New York Times”.
And I wrote it in two takes, which was my way of saying anonymity is really important. I mean it’s who you are in a restaurant can change how a
restaurant is for you.
So for that reason, I always went sometimes in disguise, sometimes not in disguise. I would go with a small group and a large group. I would go
I almost always went once alone because it’s a very different experience as a woman alone, eating. So I mean, at the “New York Times,” I once said,
you know, what is my budget? And they said we’ll let you know when you go over it.
ISAACSON: Tell me about getting a phone call from James Truman.
REICHL: OK. So I am the restaurant critic of “The New York Times,” and I pick up my phone at home one day and it’s someone who says, this is James
Truman. And I honestly didn’t know who he was.
And he said, “You know, I’m the editorial director of Conde Nast.” Conde Nast was the premier luxury magazine company. It owned — I mean it was
owned by the Newhouse family. Cy Newhouse famously spent more money than anybody else.
I mean it was a lavish lifestyle there and they owned “Vogue,” “The New Yorker,” “GW”, “Allure”, “Brides”, “Vanity Fair.”
ISAACSON: And most importantly, the magazine that you as an 8-year-old fell in love with.
REICHL: And “Gourmet.” And so I go to meet James Truman, thinking that he’s probably looking for a new restaurant critic. And literally, when he
said, I’m looking for a new editor in chief for “Gourmet.” I dropped my spoon into my cup. It was just like, what?
And you know, I had loved that magazine so much. It had meant so much to me. And I had felt that it had gotten increasingly stodgy.
It had been a wonderfully adventurous magazine for much of its history but as it matured, it became, I thought, a magazine for rich people who, you
know, gave the recipes to their cooks and —
ISAACSON: But aren’t you worried about things like being a restaurant critic and being “New York Times” restaurant critic and then Conde Nast
Publications that you’re sort of catering to rich people?
REICHL: I didn’t think that for any reason I was the right person to be the editor in chief of “Gourmet.” I mean I was a writer, not a manager. I
didn’t know anything about budgets.
I mean I was basically an ink-stained wretch. I mean I wrote about a life of luxury as a restaurant critic but I took the subway to the restaurants.
I mean I did not live in that rarefied world of the Anna Wintour’s but I loved the magazine and I really wanted it to be great again.
ISAACSON: Why wasn’t it great?
REICHL: It had lost its ambition. I mean, the owner, the man who started it, had had a vision of what the magazine could be. And in the early
years, it had shared writers with the “New Yorker,” you know, amazing articles were in that old magazine. You know, Ray Brad Bradbury’s
“Dandelion Wine” started as an article in “Gourmet Magazine.”
ISAACSON: You had the most beautiful magazine particularly because you attracted Richard Ferretti, an amazing art director. Tell me how that
relationship worked and what did he do for you?
REICHL: Richard pushed the envelope in so many ways. I mean one of the things he said was, you know, [13:50:00] all the magazines use the same
food photographers. What if we got people who have never worked with food? What if we got news photographers?
ISAACSON: So you get journalistic photographers and suddenly it’s not sort of a stylized chocolate cake but a story you’re telling.
REICHL: But it’s a story. And then Richard started actually storyboarding the shoots as if they were movies. You know, let’s invite people to a
party every month and let’s — you know, we knew what conversations were taking place at that table. We really were trying to give you something to
I mean I always imagined that people took “Gourmet” to bed and that they sat there looking at those centerfolds, those beautiful vistas that Richard
created, and that they dreamed themselves into them. And that’s what print can do that digital doesn’t do.
ISAACSON: Why in heaven’s name, then, did Conde Nast and the Newhouse’s shut it down?
REICHL: You know what? I don’t know. I mean there’s no question that, you know, our advertising went really south. In the last year, our ad
pages, we lost more than half of them and “Gourmet’s” ad strategy had always been to go for luxury ads.
And as one of my publishers explained to me, if you’re Tiffany’s and your ad spend has been cut in half, are you going to cut “Vogue”? Are you going
to cut “Gourmet”? And he said that’s going to happen to us everywhere and it did.
I still do not understand why — I mean we had a million dedicated subscribers who loved the magazine and to this day, not a day goes by that
somebody doesn’t come up and tell me how much they miss the magazine.
And you know, as a magazine editor, you would kill for that kind of connection to your readers. You know, this was a magazine that really
mattered to people. And you know, they could have fired me, gotten rid of staff but I do not understand why they didn’t save the brand.
ISAACSON: Your book is not just about food and magazines but it’s about your life. Your life as a mother, your life as a writer, your life as a
woman, your life juggling the many things that you have to juggle from weird male bosses to family issues at home. Tell me a little bit about
REICHL: Well, I really wanted this book to be useful to people who were not food people. And I mean one of the most — for me, the most exciting
things about the reaction to the magazine is I’m hearing from so many young women who are, you know, in their 30s are juggling how to be a mom and to
be a boss.
And part of what I also wanted the book to be was like I really — I had to learn to be a boss and I think that I was a very different kind of boss
than most men would be. I mean I actually went into the magazine and said to people, I don’t know what I’m doing, help me.
And it was extremely collaborative. I mean I think that most men would not want to say to the people who work for them, I don’t know what I’m doing.
And I realized as a leader that the best thing you can do is hire people who are smarter than you.
So, you know, when I hired Richard Ferretti, I wouldn’t have dreamt of telling him how to run his department. Zan Stewart, who ran the kitchen, I
wouldn’t have dreamt of telling her how do you do that.
I hired a managing editor and said, you know, teach me how to manage people, help me write these memos. I don’t know what I’m doing.
And I went to the staff and said, we have a mandate to change this magazine. What are your ideas? And they remade the magazine. I didn’t.
And I feel like that message is an important message for other women who are, you know, becoming managers. I mean there’s no real training to be a
manager and we all sort of get, you know — we get pushed upstairs and suddenly we’re given jobs that we don’t know how to do and there’s no shame
in saying to people who are working for you, you know, let’s do this together, help me.
ISAACSON: Ruth, thank you so much for being with us.
REICHL: Thank you. This is really a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: That is it for our program tonight.
Thank you for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow night.