CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour wishes she could be in Rhode Island on Thursday morning to attend the funeral of her mentor, Rhode Island television news legend Jim Taricani.
“I will be there in spirit for sure,” she said by phone as she hopped into a cab in London after doing her live CNN show Tuesday. “It is a great personal loss and a great professional loss.”
Amanpour recalled the lessons she learned from Taricani in the early 1980s when she was an intern with WJAR-TV’s investigative team during her final year at the University of Rhode Island.
“I learned the act of reporting,” she said. “In journalism, there is no substitute for legwork and being in the field. Not being an armchair analyst. You walk the walk as well as talk the talk. That was one of the most valuable lessons, especially now when a whole class of people think they are journalists by opining and sitting on social media.”
Taricani died of kidney failure on Friday at his home in North Kingstown. He was 69. He had covered Rhode Island for four decades, including 32 years at WJAR, earning a reputation for uncovering corruption and shining a light on the New England mafia and figures such as Raymond L.S. Patriarca.
Amanpour remembered Taricani sending her out to do some reporting on “these hoods he was trying to investigate.” While she doesn’t think she ended up with any news, she found the experience “incredibly exciting.”
Besides picking up reporting techniques, Amanpour said she learned from Taricani’s “quiet, understated but very firm adherence to moral principles and professional ethics.”
“He was a man of such integrity,” she said. “You absorb this by osmosis.”
In 2004, Taricani was convicted of civil contempt for refusing to reveal the source of a secret FBI videotape that showed a Providence city official taking a $1,000 cash bribe. A federal judge sentenced him to six months on home confinement.
“He stood up for his journalistic principles,” Amanpour said. “To refuse to name a source -- that is one of the main principles of our profession, and for him to have been punished for it, particularly when he was ill, is unconscionable.”
Taricani went on to become a national advocate for a federal shield law that would protect journalists from having to reveal sources.
The internship with Taricani proved to be nothing short of “transformative,” Amanpour said. “I was so lucky to have that kind of guide early in my life.”
After graduating from URI in 1983, Amanpour took an entry-level job at CNN headquarters in Atlanta and rose through the ranks to become the network’s leading international correspondent. She conducted an Emmy-winning interview with Libya’s Moammar Khadafy and was the last journalist to interview Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak before he was deposed. She is now based at CNN’s London bureau, where she anchors the network’s global affairs program, “Amanpour.”
As the cab whisked her through London, Amanpour said she wishes she could be part of the honor guard of dozens of journalists who will participate in the funeral, set for 10 a.m. Thursday at Christ the King Church, 180 Old North Road, Kingston, R.I.
But Amanpour provided this fitting epitaph: “Jim Taricani is a legend in Providence, in Rhode Island, and in the world of investigative journalism. He took on some of the worst people in society, he held them accountable, and he cleaned up a lot of public life by his reporting.”