Hala Gorani is an award-winning anchor and correspondent for CNN International, based in London.
Today’s special guest is one of CNN’s most experienced journalists. She anchors HALA GORANI TONIGHT, a show that brings viewers into the heart of CNN’s International operation and immerses them in the latest stories of the day. In addition to her anchoring duties, Hala often goes into the field to report on major breaking news stories like the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon in 2014 and the 2012 Egyptian Elections.
We had a wide ranging discussion about careers, politics, and social norms. We talked about how CNN has managed to keep Hala for 20 years… We discussed unconscious bias in women, where it comes from and how to overcome it. We compared Europe’s bloody path to peace to the Middle East’s current conflicts. We touched on the (non) impact of the Arab Spring. We even made time for tips on interviewing.
I loved every second of our high-energy conversation, but if I had to choose my favorite part, it would be something Hala mentioned closer to the end, when I asked Hala what advice she would give her 18-year old self. It amazes me how many women would say the exact same thing.
If you would like to follow Hala you can find her on Twitter @HalaGorani, or Instagram @hgorani. and of course also on CNN. She also serves as her dog’s PR agent and you can follow Louis on Instagram @louis_lately.
Read the Transcript
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to welcome you to the season one finale of When Women Win. Today’s special guest is one of CNN’s most experienced international journalists. Hala Gorani is an anchor and correspondent for CNN International in London. She anchors Hala Gorani Tonight, a show that brings viewers into the heart of CNN’s international operation and immerses them in the latest stories of the day. In addition to anchoring, Hala often goes into the field to report on major breaking news stories. We had a wide ranging discussion about careers, politics, and social norms. We talked about how CNN has managed to keep Hala for 20 years. We discussed unconscious bias in women, where it comes from, and how to overcome it. We compared Europe’s bloody path to peace to the Middle East current conflicts, and we even made time for tips on interviewing. Now, this shows a bit longer than previous ones, but as it’s the season one finale, I made an exception. So let’s get into it. Hala, thanks so much for coming on When Women Win. It’s such a pleasure to have you. Let’s start at the beginning. You were born in Seattle and raised in Paris. How did that come about?
Hala Gorani: (01:15)
Well my parents who are Syrians from Aleppo moved to the United States to study and work in the sixties and I was born in 1970 in Seattle where my dad was working, but I never lived there really after a few months they whisked me away to St Louis, Missouri of all places where I spent a few years and after that it was just a lifetime of traveling. My Dad had a job with an American company in Algeria where we lived for a couple of years and from there after my parents divorced I moved with my mother and brother to Paris where I was raised most of my childhood and teenage years and did some also university studies as well at Sciences Po.
Then you have a degree from Paris and also from the US.
Hala Gorani: (01:57)
And so what attracted you to journalism?
Hala Gorani: (02:00)
I think initially I always loved taking pictures. When I was in boarding school in France in the eighties, I created this really amateurish magazine and I always love documenting things and telling stories. I would’ve loved to become a photo journalist, but I just wasn’t a very good photographer and I think one of the keys to success in life is to know what you’re not good at as well as to know what you are good at. My pictures just were not good and I didn’t have the, I just didn’t have the instinct and the speed, the reaction speed you need to be a good photographer and I just didn’t have the technical ability either. But then I realized that when I wrote articles, especially when I started interning at AFP at Agence France-Presse and there was also a local newspaper that I worked for as an intern and then as a freelancer. I realized I A) that it made me happy. That whenever I could tell a good story, I was happy, genuinely, legitimately happy to see my work in print and also I thought I was good at it and I thought I could really, I could really communicate a story, well, much better than with a, with a camera. So I spared the world that and hopefully contributed something a little bit higher quality with the writing.
You went from writing to TV. So how did that happen?
Hala Gorani: (03:23)
It was quite accidental. When I was Sciences Po, I needed to do a mid a sort of midway through your studies you had to do an internship. By then I had already several years of freelance work behind me. So even though I was only 24, I had gathered enough experience so that I convinced them to let me write the TV scripts. That wasn’t necessarily my primary ambition to be on television. So, but it was, it was accidental. So after that I got a job, this was in ’94 when I was 24, two years after that I graduated from Sciences Po and I answered an ad. Can you imagine that I’m old enough to have answered an ad in a newspaper. This is really aging me. So a friend of my parents cut this ad in the International Herald Tribune and slipped it under the front door of our Paris apartment and he told my parents, tell Hala to apply for this job because I think she’s perfectly cut out for it. It was for Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg was launching a French language station and they needed obviously native French speakers with some journalistic experience to staff it. So I answered the ad, I sent my CV and I had a really, a vhs demo tape.
Oh my God.
Hala Gorani: (04:42)
That I sent along with it.
Now you’re aging yourself.
Hala Gorani: (04:47)
Now I’m aging myself. Well at least it’s not like an eight track or, you know what I mean, like. So I sent that in and I, and then kind of forgot about it and then a few weeks later someone from Bloomberg London called me and said, we’re sending you a Eurostar ticket and Eurostar had just opened to come audition for this anchor job that we’ve advertised and so they sent me this, this was the fanciest thing that had ever happened to me in my life, they sent me a business class Eurostar ticket and the Eurostar at that point was already amazingly exotic. So for me as a 25, 26 year old to be sent a business class ticket on the Eurostar, it was just the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me, and then I took a black cab. I remember to this day how much that black cab cost because Bloomberg reimbursed me for it. It was six pounds to go from Waterloo to the city of London Morgate, but the interview itself was basically reading a prompter. There was nothing really journalistic about it fundamentally. It was to present a business news cast. So it was a guy from the BBC who was doing anchor training and helping Bloomberg pick anchors for this new venture and the advice he gave me I still follow to this day. I still give other people because it was amazing. I can’t remember his name.
What was his advice?
Hala Gorani: (06:13)
His advice was when you’re reading the news, you’re not, you’re talking to people. Always remember that you’re talking to people. So the things that you naturally do when you’re talking to someone in real life, do those things when you, when you present the news and that includes things like breaking eye contact. Nobody really ever talks to you in real life by staring you down for half an hour without once looking away or once taking a breath. A natural way of speaking in real life. Can, you know, some of the elements of that you could use to make your TV anchoring more natural. You said things like, because this was for business anchoring, if there’s a very long complicated number in your story, it makes a lot of sense to look down because in real life you wouldn’t remember this very long, complicated number or this long complicated name or whatever. So it makes sense to do that when you’re anchoring as well. Just remember that, you know, he was giving me this advice and I thought, oh, okay, and I, and even to this day sometimes if I’m either advising a younger anchor or presenting the news myself, I’ll remember what this man told me all these years ago.
Wow. But I love that you mentioned that because I was wondering how it is for women going into journalism and what advice you would give young women who want to go into it.
Hala Gorani: (07:34)
It depends what kind of journalism, I guess. I think I was lucky after Bloomberg to work for CNN because that’s really when I became, Bloomberg was more of a presenting job. It was like anchor school because you had no prompter, no producers. It was automated. You had to make your newscast interesting on your own and learn how to be lively and learn how to ad lib. Whereas CNN was the real journalist, TV journalism experience where then it was just a I did a lot of reporting and I would advise anyone who wants to be on camera presenting to do as much reporting as they can first because presenting well is about being a good journalist in your interviews and how you ad lib a breaking news story, what source you trust, what source you think is dodgy and those are things really you learn when you do a news gathering and fact checking in the field and it doesn’t have to be in the Middle East, you know, wearing a flak jacket. I was telling you that my first job was with AFP and a regional French newspaper. I wrote stories on like lace factories in northern France when I was 23 years old that taught me as much about field journalism as glamorous quote unquote Middle East conflicts. Those are, you get more eyeballs on them, but you learn just as much doing the small stuff if not more. That’s the advice I would give. Yeah, just get the news, there’s a rush to getting news yourself that you don’t get doing other things. To kind of adding value where there was no value before. In other words, creating a product which is a new story based on solid reporting. There was nothing there before and then you’ve created that whole product.
What about if we look at it through a gender lens? Do women journalists or reporters rising through the ranks face different challenges to their male counterparts or is it equally competitive?
Hala Gorani: (09:44)
Obviously being a woman in any work environment is going to be harder for obvious reasons. Just because of the weight of history, of how much time women have had to make up that they weren’t part of the workplace and on a level playing field as their male counterparts before, but you have these incredible examples of female journalists at CNN who are actually doing some of the most amazing work, whether it’s Arwa Damon or Nima Elbagir or Clarissa Ward with whom I share an office so we talk a lot about everything and I know what she and I can see what she has to go through. So I think on the reporting, women have now achieved a certain amount of equality. I think they’re about paid the same. Although you’ve had this scandal.
Not at the BBC.
Hala Gorani: (10:39)
Not at the BBC. I will, and this is not just because I work for CNN, I fundamentally believe that pretty much when it comes to equal reporter versus, you know, at the same reporting level, that’s not so much the issue. The issue is in the executive ranks. The women reach the higher levels of the executive ranks and then kind of right below the leadership level and I think that is the one thing that needs to change, not just in journalism, in entertainment, in music, the music industry, in politics. It’s unbelievable to me that we’re still in a situation where women are 50 percent of the population and they might be 10 or 15 percent of elected officials or seven or eight percent, less than 10 percent of the fortune 500 company CEOs. Is it five percent? It’s insane that we’re still here because clearly so long as women are not reaching the very top, then their way of managing their sensibility, their way of their contributions to the corporate world are going to be undervalued and underrepresented.
Hala Gorani: (11:52)
That’s where I think the problem is.
But why do you think it’s there? I mean, like you say, we’ve got great women reporters, so if you take your industry, for example, very senior. I mean, you mentioned several ladies and especially at CNN, we see a lot of female reporters out internationally. Why are these women not getting to the executive ranks or to the leadership positions?
Hala Gorani: (12:16)
Well, I think for on the editorial side, for instance, I would never want to be an executive ever, ever, ever, and I think a lot of these women who are journalists don’t want to become executives either, so it’s another track that maybe. I think there are several. First, as I mentioned, the weight of many, many generations of women being excluded from the workforce of being, of not given the same opportunities, of not being taken as seriously as a man. I think my generation is the first one where women are absolutely taken as seriously. It’s this next generation, will they become the ceos, the chairwomen, the leaders, you know, there’s an issue of women taking time off for maternity for instance, where they’re not necessarily coming back and staying on that same track as they were for obvious reasons. If you take a year off, you come back. I think there’s that too. I mean, I don’t have kids, but I see it not editorially because editorially you don’t need to for a journalist, a female journalist who takes a year off and comes back, you can start right back where you were, but presuming as an executive it’s harder to then jump back in and go right back to where you were. I mean, I don’t know. You could tell me, you could tell me because I don’t know. That’s not my domain.
Yeah, I mean it works in other companies and other industries, so why not? You know, you take a year off, it’s not the end of the world. You know, you come back in, you have, why would you? I mean it’s UK law that they have to hold a position of equal seniority, but in fact I have a lot of friends of friends who’ve been fired after coming back from maternity leave. That’s actually illegal but it happens a lot and I don’t see personally why this has to happen. Okay. You took a year off to bear children, which is our biological function on this planet to sustain the species. So when you come in, really, has the world changed so much? And this woman isn’t any less ambitious or capable. Why can’t she just walk back in?
Hala Gorani: (14:17)
I completely agree with you. Look, the reality is there is still a lot of sexism. I mean, there is still a lot of sexism I think that maybe I think in the, and I’m not talking about necessarily my industry, I think in general women still have not achieved the reality of real parody, not just in numbers, but in how they are appreciated and utilized in the corporate world. That there’s, this is not some breaking news otherwise the numbers would be different.
Hala Gorani: (14:46)
Otherwise you wouldn’t have single digit percentages of Fortune 500 companies led by women and by the way, you know what I love is when I hear that a minister of defense os a woman, but when you look at Fortune 500 companies, when women are leaders, they are usually leaders in industries that are considered female oriented. Quite rarely will they be an automobile company chair person or do you know what I mean? A CEO, that kind of thing. So it could be.
There is one, the head of GM.
Hala Gorani: (15:13)
Of course. Every time I say something I’m like, oh, there’s a counter example.
And then there’s IBM and HP.
Hala Gorani: (15:20)
Yeah, yeah. But what’s the percentage though?
But here’s the funny thing, right? It’s because it’s so unusual that we know exactly who they are because you can count them on one hand.
Hala Gorani: (15:30)
You wouldn’t be like, oh yeah, the CEO of Toyota or Nissan or whatever. It’s accepted that they, I hate it. But for instance, female pilots. Here’s a perfect example. When that. Southwest airlines flight, the engine exploded. I was on the air when we got the first recording between the pilot and the control tower and it was a female voice. My bias is so strong, and I’m a woman, that when I heard the female voice, I thought that was the control tower voice, not the pilot and she of course was the pilot. We hadn’t transcribed it yet. We haven’t subtitled it yet with the kind of.
And I heard highly experienced pilot, yeah.
Hala Gorani: (16:14)
Who was a navy who had to by the way also struggle to get to where she was within the military and then became, she became a commercial airline pilot because sexism isn’t just men, it’s also women who I think internalize.
I think that’s a really, really important point. It’s absolutely true that because we are socialized the same. So our gender, our gender roles are defined in us between the age of five and seven by what we see at home, what we see, it’s what we hear at school, what we see on TV and so between the age of five and seven, boys and girls are socialized exactly the same. So we grow up with the same beliefs. So yes, absolutely. The sexism is fom women as well as men. Like we don’t see women in leadership positions.
Hala Gorani: (16:56)
But I wonder how many women are uncomfortable with women in leadership positions still. I mean, I don’t know the answer, I’m just asking the question. Are women more reluctant to accept a strong female leader than they’re willing to accept? What do you think?
I don’t know. I mean for sure the bias exists. So I think the question then becomes, right, do women recognize this bias and how willing are they to go to overcome it? You see. I think in my experience through Ellevate and the podcast I, my experience it’s really, really personal. So there’s a lot of women, for example, who have had very positive experiences working for women and therefore they can see women leaders and those who haven’t or maybe didn’t get along with their mother or whatever, then they wouldn’t see. They wouldn’t be as comfortable with that. So I think it’s our personal experiences that will determine how comfortable we are pushing back on our bias.
Hala Gorani: (17:55)
Yeah. But I do think this internalized bias is exists within women. I know it exists when I tell you the story of the female voice on that air traffic control tower recording. Why couldn’t I conceive of the fact that that female voice was a pilot?
Because there aren’t enough role models.
Hala Gorani: (18:17)
And that’s part of the reason I started this podcast and part and I think that’s what’s going to change for the next generation is our generation is providing more role models for the women coming through. That’s why for us, you and I, I mean come on like 15 years ago, how many female pilots were there for that to become a norm, a social norm, right? But more and more it’s changing and as these role models emerge, then I think that already will start to chip at the biases.
Hala Gorani: (18:44)
Well, definitely. I’m sure that’s the case. I’m sure that’s the case. It’s just, what about politics? I wonder why fewer women are in politics than it should be, I mean.
Well I’d love for you to tell me more about it.
Hala Gorani: (18:57)
No but I don’t know because I mean you cover. I wish I knew the answer to that, honestly. Is there some form of self censorship as well with women? Where you think, I’m not gonna get this job? I’m not even gonna try. It’s not for me. It’s already. It’ll be easier for a man to go. I don’t know what the reason is. I’ve never ever wanted to be in the corporate world. I’ve absolutely despised meetings. I hate conference calls. I get very, very antsy and impatient if something doesn’t work and just managing people just sounds to me like the very definition of a nightmare. One of my good friends at CNN is an executive producer and he says, he says to me, you really haven’t made it at CNN until you come cry in my office. It’s kind of a joke, but he’s basically saying there’s always this, men and women will go cry in his office because at some point someone has always reached kind of the maximum amount of stress they can handle and I thought to myself, just the idea of having someone come to me and tell me they are, they need to more vacation time or they got into some conflict with some college. I’m like, no, I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.
Okay, well I’m gonna come back to the positive, but let’s go on with this thread because I do want to know how CNN has managed to keep you for 20 years.
Hala Gorani: (20:25)
Hala Gorani: (20:26)
It’s like a long, long marriage. You know?
Hala Gorani: (20:32)
There’s love there. There’s love there that binds us. But like any very long relationship, it’s just you have to work at keeping it interesting.
So how did you, what have you done for 20 years at CNN?
Hala Gorani: (20:47)
You know, I have to, you have to keep your, you have to sometimes reboot your mojo. So for many years, and the most interesting part of my career so far as I mentioned reporting, it was when I anchored a show called Inside the Middle East and the reason I love that time in my life, it was pre-Arab spring, so it was during the Iraq war. So I would go there sometimes, occasionally report, but mainly it was just a question of finding interesting stories all over the Middle East and could be about women who have to learn the ancient art of Palestinian embroidery because their husbands are absent, they’re either in jail or they’re killed or whatever and so the women become the breadwinners for the family and so they had to relearn this. So you spend three or four days just slowly letting a story unfold, which is such a luxury and I didn’t realize what a luxury it was until it was gone. Things like street poverty in Cairo, I remember this story. There are so many children who are forced to beg or sell trinkets and things on the street. Many western journalists, when they come to the Middle East, they come to the Middle East when there’s an acute crisis, a war, a revolution, an assassination. The wonderful thing about the time I spent reporting in the Middle East is that it was almost never that. It was always going somewhere where we’re the only camera crew and we just decided to follow up on some interesting story and I think I learned more about the Middle East in those five years than in my entire career.
Hala Gorani: (22:27)
Because when you report during a crisis, you’re not really learning about the people, you’re learning about the people under intense pressure and trauma. You really learn more about people when you’re there when there’s nothing going on.
Yeah, makes sense.
Hala Gorani: (22:44)
I think. Thankfully, I was able to do both wars and that. So the 20 year thing, you know, now I’m a full time anchor so I don’t do reporting anymore and I have a show that is entirely my own show with my name in it and stuff and this becomes your baby, you know, it’s like the CNN thing is the marriage and the show is the child. You both have to nurture it and make sure it’s, you know, taken care of, fed and bathed.
Well, let’s talk a little bit about this wonderful time you had on Inside the Middle East. You mentioned a couple of stories. What did you learn? I mean, for me, when I did some research I saw that you did something on gay and lesbian life in the Middle East. We don’t ever hear about that, for example. So what was that story like?
Hala Gorani: (23:37)
Absolutely and at the time it had never really been done. This was the story that took the longest to put together because we didn’t just do one country. We did across the Middle East. So you had Saudi Arabia, a guy in Saudi Arabia who recorded something for us, a blogger in Iraq. There was one guy in Lebanon who was a Shiite who was happy to be on camera whose family had kidnapped him and thrown him in the boot of a car and tried to like rehabilitate him, make him straight again kind of thing. Obviously that always works, doesn’t it? We went to a gay bar as well, kind of underground gay bar in Lebanon and filmed there. People knew we were filming, but we had a very discreet kind of set up and stuff like that and didn’t show any faces and that’s really one of the stories that stuck with me because this is a region still that just absolutely needs to come to grips with the fact that people come from all sorts of backgrounds, have all sorts of religions, all sorts of sexual identities and preferences, and it’s a region I think that is still needing to accept itself and all its diversity.
Hala Gorani: (24:48)
And it’s what creates so many of the tensions and wars and sectarian conflicts that we see.
Yep. From your time studying the Middle East for five years, what did you see as the biggest, the two or three biggest challenges for the Middle East?
Hala Gorani: (25:08)
This was even, imagine, this was before the Arab Spring. I mea, after the Arab Spring I think the Middle East is going now through what Europe went through in the mid 19th century and you had a series of uprisings in 1848/49 in Europe that went from one country to the other, very similar to the Arab Spring and were killed off, were quashed, and then more repressive regimes emerged after until Europe went through two entire world wars and many other upheavals to get to where they are now. So I think the Middle East still has many decades, if not longer, of upheaval, of organizing itself ethnically and in a population kind of way to to reach some sort of compromise in the balance of power. Also the nation states, will they stay the way they are now with those colonial borders? Will they reorganize themselves differently? We’re seeing so many population transfers now because of all these wars in Syria especially. So I think the Middle East is at a stage now where it’s in the most tragic and destructive and bloody phase of kind of its wars of reorganization, you know, and then you have all these autocratic regimes who are fighting their own regional battles in Syria and in other parts of the Middle East as well. I think the Middle East just has not gotten to the point where it has healthy nation states that make sense. You know what I mean?
Well, I mean, but if you think about it, it was designed that way by the colonial powers. They were never meant to make sense. They were meant to divide and conquer.
Hala Gorani: (27:00)
And these nation states never existed before. The thing that Europe had that the Middle East still doesn’t have is that they had institutions after the wars to fall back on. There are no institutions in most Middle East countries to fall back on and they went from the Ottoman Empire to colonial rule to then what we have now. So there’s no framework even to get back to even after conflicts end, you know.
Yeah. It’s pretty sad actually, that we’d have to, I mean to get to where Europe is today, we’d have to go through two world wars. Gosh, I hope not.
Hala Gorani: (27:38)
Well, I hope. I don’t think so but I’m just saying that’s what it took for a region that was at war with itself for centuries to
Hala Gorani: (27:49)
To realign. Yeah, exactly. To have nation states also after the Second World War. This is why brexit is sad in a way because the European Union as an organization is the one successful pen national organization that got countries that were at war. Imagine how many tens of millions of people died in world war two. We’re talking about three generations ago here. This isn’t 500 years ago and after that war, these countries, enemy countries, got together and decided let’s create an entity that will allow us to cooperate economically and eventually politically create some sort of harmonious group of nations that at the very least, if they don’t agree, don’t declare war on each other.
Yeah and there hasn’t been a war since.
Hala Gorani: (28:41)
No but that, you know, when the European Union won a Nobel prize and that’s when Nobel prize I thought it made a lot of sense. Certainly more than others given to people who had done nothing to prove that they had a, you know, they deserve the prize. I thought the European Union was a good choice. It was a, it was an odd one, but I thought it was a great one.
Yeah. Unfortunately we don’t have the same machinations at the Arab League.
Hala Gorani: (29:04)
No, no. The Arab League. I mean, what does the Arab League do? I don’t know.
I literally couldn’t tell you.
Hala Gorani: (29:11)
I mean they, I don’t know what they do.
I mean they’re definitely not brokering peace between Arab states.
Hala Gorani: (29:18)
No, but what is it that they do? What are they meant to do? Because I still don’t know. If in the current environment of Middle Eastern conflict right now, this isn’t like a code red emergency for the Arab League to do something, then what is? I don’t know.
If I look at the Arab world right now and we see in Egypt what’s happening, arguably this dictatorship is more brutal than the last. We look at Libya. We look at, you know, all around the region, the Arab spring doesn’t seem to have created a lasting impact and what’s your view on that?
Hala Gorani: (29:59)
No, I think it’s just that this was the first kind of convulsion, you know, that then snapped back right in the faces of the people who demonstrated and much more repressive governments have replaced the ones that initially the protesters were demonstrating against. I think that it’s going to take much more, much more, I think much more suffering, much more conflict and bloodshed to get to a point where there will be real representative democracy in this region. The sad part is that all the able educated people who can leave and can you blame them? So who’s going to rebuild these countries? Who will be the non-corrupt elected representatives of the people.
In Syria. In Iraq.
Hala Gorani: (30:50)
Who will be the engineers and the doctors and the scientists and the architects. All these people. Why would they live in a country with corruption, violence, and where dissent is punished. So brutally. Do you know, if you can leave.
And this has been the story of Lebanon’s life, right? Exporting talent at an incredible pace because all, as you say, anyone with means, anyone with skill and means gets out. Yeah.
Hala Gorani: (31:19)
And Syria is a perfect example for that because before the Arab spring, despite the situation and they still had pretty good universities, they could train doctors well. They could train engineers well. They didn’t find work after obviously, but they were at least trained well and now all that’s gone. So the people left behind. What do they do? Even when there’s no more conflict, everything is destroyed.
Okay. Let’s shift gears a little and talk about something positive in the region. I mean, what if you had to look around and think, okay, we’re very aware of the challenges and the problems, but what are possibly some of the things that work in our favor in addressing these challenges? Is the high number of Arab youth, so the young age of the Arab population, is that a positive or a negative? I think 70 percent of Arabs are under the age of 30.
Hala Gorani: (32:18)
Yeah. You know, you say where’s the positive? The positive can be in countries like here, like Dubai, I was just in Oman. I mean you have in some Gulf countries are real desire have stand out, to encourage entrepreneurship, to open up big museums like the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and the rest of it and there is positivity and energy in some countries. You can criticize them for many things, but you asked for the positive. So that’s the positive. Look also at Saudi Arabia. You can criticize them for many things, but I’m going to focus on the positive. It’s some things that women will be able to drive soon and that you have movie theaters now. There is a desire to modernize and a desire to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of how women are treated and how they are hopefully can become more productive members of society. I was speaking with one of the members of the Royal Family, Princess Reema bint Bandar, you know, used to be the Saudi ambassador to Washington and she was telling me about how when women can drive, how that will change things so dramatically because she employs a lot of women and a lot of women would be late to work or not be able to show up at all because the person, the man who is meant to drive them couldn’t make it or showed up late. I mean, it’s a crazy situation when you think about it. Fully grown women having to wait for their son to drive them to work, for instance. So there are some positives for sure.
So if I were to sort of summarize all these positives, it sounds like it’s the progressive values of the upcoming leadership for the region, right?
Hala Gorani: (34:02)
Yeah and in some parts of the Middle East, not all and then with that, there have to be efforts on other, on other fronts to just kind of be more open to different opinions and different political positions and hopefully that’ll come with time. Hopefully. But the Levant though, Lebanon, Syria, all that. I mean it’s very difficult to be positive about Syria to be honest.
That must be tough for you being of Syrian descent.
Hala Gorani: (34:33)
Yeah. It’s very, very tough and you don’t realize how attached you are to a country until that country is ripping itself apart. I have to say, I was very surprised that Syria even had an uprising. Very surprised because it was the one country that it started late. It was in March. Egypt and others were in January. Syrians themselves were saying, I don’t believe that Syrians have it in them. They’re too scared. So when they started, I was extremely surprised and I had a brief moment of optimism and I thought, well maybe you know, maybe it’ll be like Morocco. Morocco had a few demonstrations. The king was quite clever with how he responded to them. He promised a few reforms and everything quieted everyone down.
But in Morocco they were asking for reform. They actually liked their king and so their demand was reformed versus in Syria was it regime change?
Hala Gorani: (35:31)
There was a bit of regime change, but I think they would have been quite happy with reform. Yeah.
But why? Why wouldn’t he just do that?
Hala Gorani: (35:39)
Why didn’t he is a good question because I think in the minds of some leaders, you give an inch and then you’re gone. It’s a very different situation in Syria, the group in power. I think they think that it’s either full domination or we’ll die.
Yeah, like it’s Stalonist mindset.
Hala Gorani: (36:06)
Because also they’re not of the majority, I mean, their ethnicity or sect. Yeah. But Moroccans and by the way, when I said this on twitter once, I said Moroccans see the example of Syria and are happy the Arab Spring hasn’t hit them. I said that on twitter and I got so much blow back for that because people were saying, well, there’s still repression in Morocco and there are people, they their political dissidence in jail and they’ll shut down newspapers and all that is true. But the reality is that most, that average Moroccans are happy that it didn’t happen in their country.
They’d rather have what they’ve got now.
Hala Gorani: (36:48)
Than what’s going on in Syria.
Hala Gorani: (36:50)
And you know what? Here’s the uncomfortable truth. Most Syrians I know would rather have what they had before 2011 than what they have now.
Yeah. I mean, gosh, how many refugee camps?
Hala Gorani: (37:00)
They’d rather the Assad government of before than what they have now, not because they don’t want freedom, but because they’d rather their country not be bulldozed to the ground and half of it displaced or killed. They’d rather be in that, you know, pre2011 autocracy that was stable and repressive and you knew what your limits were. This is the truth than what they have now.
Yeah, it’s the same for Iraq. I’m told by Iraqi friends.
Hala Gorani: (37:33)
Yeah. That before, you mean, before the American invasion.
Yeah. Under Saddam nobody was very happy, right? But the alternative has turned out to be just misery. Complete and total misery.
Hala Gorani: (37:44)
I think that what’s happening now is, as I said the first convulsion of many that will eventually give birth hopefully to a good situation, but for now it’s not there. Not this generation. I know you say try to find the positive, but I really can’t imagine how I could find anything positive about Syria because it’s not even over. We’re literally, in my opinion, in the middle of the war. I don’t think it’s anywhere near over.
I guess there’s also a long runway. I mean all these countries were talking about like their colonial masters didn’t leave all that long ago, you know? So they’re young countries is what I’m saying.
Hala Gorani: (38:22)
Versus the European states or even the US.
Hala Gorani: (38:27)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what I, I mean if you look at pre World War One, there were institutions. You could back on something. Here everything needs to be created.
Yeah. It’s all still too new.
Hala Gorani: (38:40)
Nothing exists. There is no functioning government, really, democratic government. Institutions that function. They’re all part of the autocratic, all powerful, you know, regimes. So that being said, brexit happened and Donald Trump was elected. So who knows, maybe everything we’ll wrap up soon and we’ll have multiparty elections in Syria. I don’t know. I mean, stranger things have happened over the last several years.
So obviously you covered, you have covered and maybe now you talk a lot about US politics.
Hala Gorani: (39:16)
Almost, pretty much everyday.
Everyday. So tell us who live outside the US, looking at what’s happening, seeing a really divided nation, how did Donald Trump win the last US election?
Hala Gorani: (39:29)
So there’s several reasons. The first one I think really is the sense of disenfranchisement of some American voters from mainstream politics and the reason they feel cut off is because US politics, modern US politics, have become fueled by corporate money, big lobby groups, the Democratic Party is completely divorced itself from working class America. It’s perceived as a party of coastal elites as Donald Trump many times and rightly energized his base with this idea that the Democrats are these intellectuals.
I can see that.
Hala Gorani: (40:10)
They get corporate, yeah. Clinton Foundation is this just a bunch of celebs and billionaires, you know, talking about world problems, but really not caring too much about the ordinary American. So there’s that. There’s this mistrust of mainstream American politics and it’s both directed at the Republicans and the Democrats. That’s why someone like Donald Trump who comes in and says, hey, I’m this self-made guy even though he’s not and I’m going to make America great again by bringing back this kind of notion, this America of yesteryear. The idea that some working class white and not just working class, but some white American voters miss in this new multicultural America, you know? So he made himself the champion of that because he’s a master marketer. He’s a master reality show communicator. He’s absolutely fantastic at getting a certain segment of the American electorate excited about his ideas. Even if there’s no real meat on the bone of the idea, it’s just kind of let’s make America great again. I’m going to bring back jobs. How? It doesn’t matter. He’s just going to do it. Just trust me. Then I think Hillary Clinton, could it be that she was a woman? Could it be that she was part of seen as the by excellence kind of representation of this mainstream American establishment? I think it’s a combination of those two things. She would argue, James Comey, the ex-FBI director who said he was going to reopen the investigation into her emails 11 days before the election cost her the election. Maybe there’s some of that as well, but I think American politics has turned into very much a machine that’s oiled by lobby and corporate money, right? And campaigns cost a ton of money now and with the Supreme Court ruling that super packs and packs that work in favor of a certain candidate can if they’re not directly linked to them, raise unlimited funds. It’s, how can any outsider really compete with that? I think Donald Trump was the product of the mistrust that has some American voters feel toward the establishment. The product of this is the first reality show president we have. This is decades of reality show, of a reality show diet that people have been consuming, including myself. I watched the real housewives of New York because I like to see what they wear and what their houses look like. You know, I tweet, I’m on Instagram, you know, I’m not above any of this, I’m not, you know.
He’s kind of one of us really because we all do the social media.
Hala Gorani: (42:59)
We’re all doing it now, aren’t we? But what I mean is this is, you always get the leader you deserve, right? In a sense. I mean in a democracy, if it is truly one person, one vote I guess, but this is what we have all created in a way. Worshiping Kim Kardashian and the reality show star that has done nothing but just be a reality show star. Spending a lot of time on twitter and social media and facebook and the rest of it. Maybe not keeping a close enough eye on how our leaders are elected and how campaigns are funded and you know, maybe all of that. The natural outcome of all of that is Donald Trump and here we are and we’ve got to look at it and say we all.
Hala Gorani: (43:54)
Did it, you know, so now are we happy with it? If no, then how do we change things? I think that’s kind of it, but it’s not just Donald Trump. I mean, it’s brexit, it’s Marine Le Pen, It’s the leaders in the Czech Republic and in Hungary and super nationalized inward looking leaders, anti-immigration leaders, and in the heart of the European Union. So in Poland. So you have, this is happening everywhere.
Yeah. All right, well let’s shift gears a little bit. I hadn’t expected us to have this massive global spanning political discussion, but I love it. So just a question. You’ve interviewed some of the biggest business and political leaders in the world. So what tips can you give us normal people and listeners on how to conduct a good interview?
Hala Gorani: (44:51)
Well, you’re doing a great job, by the way.
I was gonna say I’m asking for a friend.
Hala Gorani: (44:55)
No, no, no. I’m impressed with how well you’re doing not being a journalist because the trick is what you’re doing, which is to listen to what the person is saying. I think sometimes interviews are stale and uninteresting because the interviewer doesn’t really listen to what the person is telling them. The flexibility to go a bit off course, so not to necessarily ask what you thought you were going to ask because when you do it that way you, your brain is thinking of the next question as opposed to listening to the answer and then you’re thinking of the time that you have and you’re thinking, I haven’t gotten to this point, so I need to kind of wrap this up even though it’s kind of going well. So I’ve done interviews where I’ve asked maybe only a question or two in six or seven minutes because the person won’t answer so I don’t mind just going back to the question and asking them to give me an answer because it’s, because otherwise it’ll just be political speech, you know, like just a press release with bullet points kind of. That’s the advice I would give.
And how do you do that? How do you say, okay, you’ve just given me a political propaganda soundbite. I don’t want. How do you get them to go deeper?
Hala Gorani: (46:18)
I would say, you just gave me a political soundbite, propaganda soundbite. You didn’t answer the question. You know, I asked you this and you’re answering either with your spin that you’d prepared or you’re answering, you’re answering another question I didn’t ask.
You actually say that?
Hala Gorani: (46:38)
Yes, of course. You’re not answering the question, why? I mean, you know but you have to do it respectfully. I mean, you can’t be aggressive, but or you can be if you’re like certain interviewers, but I don’t think necessarily being aggressive gets you anywhere in interviews.
Well thanks for those tips, Hala. If you could have coffee with one person from history, someone you haven’t yet interviewed or someone who’s not alive today, who would that be?
Hala Gorani: (47:07)
Okay. I kind of, I always think I have to get a, I have to have a nice prepared answer for that one. Here’s the problem with having coffee with people, is if you admire their work, you’re inevitably disappointed because they’re human. So like for instance, my favorite singer, my favorite band of all time is Queen. So Freddie Mercury, I would love to, but I would love to see Freddie Mercury in concert. I wouldn’t love to have coffee with Freddie Mercury because do I really want to know what Freddie Mercury is? You know what I mean? Like I don’t know, like I guess any of the big profits would be a good one. Muhammed. Tell me, what, you know, ask them what would you make of the people who commit crimes in your name?
Hala Gorani: (48:04)
That would be a good one. Then you could come back to 2018 and be like, so I got this on good authority guys.
No, even better. I got it on voicememo on my iPhone.
Hala Gorani: (48:17)
Thankfully, I went back to the year 650, I can’t remember. 632.
No, I think that would be incredible to have a conversation with the Prophet Muhammad. Yeah. Wow, nice one. Tab Hala, what’s next for you?
Hala Gorani: (48:30)
I was thinking of doing a podcast and now that I’m seeing your setup here, I think I’m going to do it. I think I might do a monthly podcast rather than a weekly one because weekly is quite labor intensive.
It’s a lot of work.
Hala Gorani: (48:42)
Yeah and I have a daily show to worry about and stuff. So I think monthly to start and then keep just doing my show, it just launched in November, my show.
Oh, okay. What’s the name of the show so that all the listeners can tune in?
Hala Gorani: (49:01)
Hala Gorani Tonight. It’s British time, 8PM, Monday through Friday and then I guess here in this region it is, we’re plus three, right? So.
Hala Gorani: (49:09)
11PM. So after dinner you can settle in and watch. So I’m working on that. It’s, I have a very, very dedicated and passionate team and I’m the oldest one of the, this is also the thing I’m noticing is all my producers are like 30, so I’m starting to get. But it’s a good atmosphere. I mean they’re all younger and really, really good at their jobs. I’m very lucky to have them and mainly women by the way.
Hala Gorani: (49:42)
Of all the producers, the senior producer is a woman, the first producer is a woman and the second producer is a man, but then the writers and kind of the director of programming in London are all women.
Oh, that’s interesting. So Hala, before I let you go, I’m just going to ask you a couple of rapid fire questions if that’s okay with you.
Hala Gorani: (50:03)
How do you switch off when you feel overwhelmed?
Hala Gorani: (50:06)
I watch the real housewives of New York.
Ah, that’s your guilty pleasure.
Hala Gorani: (50:10)
It’s totally my guilty pleasure. Occasionally I get caught up in some like shameful celeb website. You know, if I get like I give myself 10 minutes and then I do crossword puzzles a lot.
So what is biggest fear?
Hala Gorani: (50:28)
Illness. That I become ill. Yeah. That’s my biggest fear and then my equally with that is the loss of my loved ones, if something happens to them. They compete, those two fears.
Hala Gorani: (50:42)
Hala Gorani: (50:43)
What advice would you give your 18 year old self?
Hala Gorani: (50:46)
I think, this is gonna sound vain, but I think I would tell my 18 year old self that as women we are taught to focus on our appearance a lot, right? And I spent many years of my life thinking I was too fat, not attractive enough, this, that, and the other. But now I look at pictures of myself at 18 and think what? I was really pretty when I was 18 years old and yet at that age I felt unattractive. I would tell my 18 year old self not to care so much about superficial things because with that confidence, a lot of happiness comes from being confident about yourself and I think women overall can learn from that.
Hala Gorani: (51:36)
I always had confidence in my work.
Hala Gorani: (51:40)
But not in my, I think I always, you know, I think as a teenager you always feel awkward and stuff like that. So that’s the advice I would give. But workwise oddly, I never lacked confidence.
Funny because I look at my situation, an ex boss of mine was thinking about getting into the anti aging business and we were having a chat about it and I was like, this is an industry that I really know nothing about. I can’t relate to it at all because I’ve never. Like, that’s just not a big deal for me and he said it very, very diplomatically that basically, because your confidence, your self worth has never been tied to the way you look. Basically, I’ve never been pretty so it’s never been a thing for me. Like I was never known for being this pretty person, right? I was known for my good grades. So for me, my identity is more tied to that stuff rather than the way I look. So, you know, never been pretty. I guess it’s a blessing.
Hala Gorani: (52:42)
Well I can’t even imagine, but see, but that’s, to me that’s problematic that you would think that because you’re actually very pretty, like so. But what, you’re kind of making my point in a way because the fact that a man with your, the equivalent physical traits will be like, I’m hot. What’s the problem? You know? I mean it’s, that’s what I mean. Like why is it that women, we still, I still care today whether I look older or whether I look at myself in the mirror and I see a new wrinkle or whatever and men would never ever think that. They wouldn’t care. Their energy is spent differently and I think it’s because of how we’re raised. I know. I mean, I’m making big generalizations here. I know all women don’t feel this way and whatever, but I do think that there’s that. If I’m to give advice to my 18 year old self is possibly not, you’re pretty, but don’t care so much about whether or not people think you’re attractive or charming or whatever. I think the less you care about it, the happier you are in some ways and when I said I was confident about my work, I’m confident enough that if it doesn’t go my way, it doesn’t destroy me. Do you know what I mean? I still feel like I have something to contribute and something to do even if this goes away. Whereas I think with your, how your self worth is defined as a woman with your physical attractiveness, you know, in your mind, especially when you’re younger, it can really hurt your confidence.
Yeah. I agree.
Hala Gorani: (54:21)
Right now I genuinely care very little, believe me. I mean the older, because that’s the thing is too, when you’re younger you do have you care more. The older you get, the less you care and the happier you are usually.
Of course and the older you are, generally I think the more confident you get and the happier you get.
Hala Gorani: (54:39)
Yeah, that’s very true.
That’s been for me.
Hala Gorani: (54:42)
Things that when you look back at things that mattered when you were 20, do you not wonder what on earth you were thinking? No, seriously.
It was just. It feels like somebody else’s life. I have enjoyed this tremendously.
Hala Gorani: (54:55)
Well, I have as well.
How can listeners find you?
Hala Gorani: (54:57)
Okay, so they can find me on twitter. Now I’m going to go just rattle off the list of social media accounts. On twitter I’m at @HalaGorani and on Instagram I’m at @HGorani and I also just got a new puppy who has his own instagram page. You know what? You say what’s your guilty pleasure? Okay. Once a day I post a picture of the puppy with a caption and he’s at @Louis_lately. Find him. He needs to break 100 followers, everybody. He has not gone viral. Louis.
Okay, we’ll help you get there. Okay listeners, we’re going to help Hala get there.
Hala Gorani: (55:37)
Listen, thank you again.
Hala Gorani: (55:38)
It’s been so much fun.
Hala Gorani: (55:39)
My pleasure. Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. To find show notes, give feedback, and sign up for our monthly newsletter, go to our website WhenWomenWinPodcast.com. Also remember to head over to Itunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcast from and subscribe to When Women Win. Finally, make sure you’re following us on instagram @WhenWomenWinPodcast. Thanks and have a great day.