Our humanity 'shines' when we connect: What Anna Maria Tremonti learned from hosting The Current
Carol Off interviewed Tremonti on her final show as host of The Current
After 13,385 interviews, The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti agreed to one more — this time on the other side of the table.
Tremonti hosted her last edition Thursday after 17 season on The Current, before she leaves to work on new podcasts for CBC.
As It Happens host Carol Off interviewed the veteran journalist on her career: before The Current; at the helm of The Current; and what comes next. Here is part of their conversation.
You've just done your last interview on The Current. I've not seen you shed a single tear in the course of this show. Your people are piles of wet Kleenex all around here. And you are cool as a cucumber.
I am in stoic denial.
So I can't make you cry?
Oh, you might make me cry. You might. You might.
OK. Seventeen years later — any regrets?
No. No, I actually I found it more fulfilling than I thought it would be. I knew it would be exciting. I knew it would be interesting. But I didn't know how fulfilling it would be.
Why was it fulfilling?
Because you can explore things in a different way, you can do longer interviews. All that stuff that used to fall on the cutting room floor, I get to keep and because I get to learn. I mean it was an education every single day.
Go back to the 1990s and this is hard to believe but it was still extremely difficult for a woman to be a foreign correspondent for the CBC or anywhere. And you pushed your way through. How difficult was it to be a woman and a foreign correspondent?
You know, it was interesting, especially the idea of women covering war. Bosnia was the war where every news boss realized we should send the women, and I got to Bosnia and they were all there.
- Watch a supercut of Tremonti's TV career as an international correspondent, from CBC Archives
Why did they realize that? What was it they changed?
Well because the women said: 'What the hell? We're going.'
Ann Medina had covered the war in Lebanon for the CBC. And I remember watching her thinking, 'I want to do that.' But very few women had done it for the CBC either.
It was almost collective, right? I mean you and I are of the generation where our first jobs, we were the only women, and in the newsroom. And if we didn't work out, there weren't going to be other women, they told us.
You really changed the tone. I remember a Christmas in the early 1990s, watching The National. And everyone else was going off, having their holidays. And there you were. You were in a burned-out basement somewhere. It was underground, and there was a hospital in Sarajevo, and the bombs were flying up above them. The mortars were attacking all kinds of civilization. And you were down below watching an operation, done by candlelight. And I will never forget the image of you down there, and the warmth and kindness you brought to that reporting. Do you remember that?
I remember that story really well because we realized we had a flashlight and these two nurses were standing like angels of the night, or something, with candles, and they were working on this guy's leg.
I was working with Max Uechtritz of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, we often worked together. And we said we have a flashlight, and Max got the flashlight and held it. And they finished the operation because they could barely see.
Those doctors had gone over front lines to get to that clinic.
It was just incredible what you would see. There was a woman, her little boy was there [and] he had shrapnel in his head.
It was that classic case of all of this mortar fire and then quiet. And the kids are stir-crazy so 'OK, OK, you can go out for 10 minutes.' Right then is when the mortar shell goes, as soon as they step outside. The cousin's killed and he's got shrapnel on his brain, and they're in a hospital with candlelight.
That's it. That's all, right? I'll never forget those people.
- Thanks for listening: Watch tributes to Anna Maria Tremonti as she leaves The Current
I think what people remember most about what you have done for these 17 years, is that you have made Canada your hometown. You have been from coast to coast, talking to people on the line, but also going to town halls everywhere. You have connected with this country. What has that meant for you?
A lot. You know when I became a foreign correspondent, it was Joe Schlesinger who said now that you're a foreign correspondent, you better think about what you're going to be when you're not.
And I thought about coming home because when you're a foreign correspondent you never want to come home. It's a great life. And the people you answer to are far away, and asleep. So it's perfect.
I sort of toyed with the idea of going to the States, and I, just like now, you know, I want to report to Canadians. And I thought I'm going to go home at some point. I need to be closer to my family. I want to be home. And if I go home I want to do those stories in my own backyard. Because when you do them somewhere else, that's OK. But when you do them in your own backyard — we, only we in Canada, will report on other Canadians.
If we want to know about ourselves, we have to tell ourselves about ourselves. So we're only as good as we want to be, right here at home.
All those places where you went, and you connected with those stories. What is it that you learned? What's the biggest thing you yourself gained from turning Canada into your hometown?
That the humanity of an individual, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum, exists and it shines if you take the trouble to say: 'Hi, what do you think?'
If you just take the time and talk to people, even the most polarizing of people, you know what — they're human beings. And they're not ogres and they actually want to talk to the other side.
We live in a pretty damn great country. With all its problems, we still have a way forward.
OK, final question. Who gets your coffee pot? She has an illegal coffee pot. I'm outing you on this one. This show, The Current, was fuelled by black coffee. And it came from an illegal pot in her office. Who gets it?
Ah, The Current gets it. I can't take it home after this. And can I just say, the next host — I'm not weighing in — but the next host better be a coffee drinker.
This has just been a privilege and an honour to speak with you this morning, Anna Maria, thank you so much for 17 years.
There's a little tear here.
I saw. I did it!
You did it.
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Karin Marley and Alison Masemann.