CNN correspondent Bill Weir is back at Saturday at 9 p.m. for another trip through “The Wonder List,” the network’s original series that largely sends him to pristine habitats around the globe to learn how they will survive in the face of development, social conflict or industrialization. Though the lush look of the show can resemble what Weir calls “travel porn,” he says it’s about “all of our little decisions, all 7 billion of us on this blue marble, and how they add up to sometimes to monstrous results.”
Weir’s first stop is Patagonia where he conducted the first interview with Kris Tompkins since the death of her husband Doug, the outdoor clothing entrepreneur. Tompkins died in a 2015 kayaking accident in Chile, where the conservationist couple have used their fortune to buy up huge tracts of land solely to preserve it. Next week’s episode took Weir to Alaska, where he examined the ongoing conflict over a massive proposed gold and copper mine, which could threaten the state’s salmon population.
Weir’s travels have made him highly attuned to the natural disasters that have struck the U.S. during the current hurricane season. He offered to pitch in on CNN’s coverage of Hurricane Irma in Florida and Puerto Rico where he viewed the destructive results of Maria. After his return, he shared his views about the new season of “The Wonder List” and the future of this mortal coil.
There is a lot of news reporting on “The Wonder List,” but it doesn’t look like a news show. It unfolds like a movie.
That’s what I’m going for. I’ve joked that by the rules of breaking news, if Wolf Blitzer was explaining the “Star Wars” saga, he would open with “this just in — Darth Vader is Luke’s father” instead of “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” The original series format allows me to start at the beginning, introduce you to the characters and then drop the bomb on you in the fourth act where it belongs.
The Trump administration plays a role on the series this year. The president shows up for the first time during your episode about Alaska.
One of the first acts of Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator, was to meet with the head of the Pebble Mine group and to drop all lawsuits and essentially give them the green light to proceed with a permit. The fishermen up in Bristol Bay thought they had won that battle. It was a 10-year slog. But they couldn’t find a scientist to say you could mine that gold and copper and not hurt the fishery. But this administration believes differently. So that’s just the beginning. There are uranium mines in the Grand Canyon that I want to go back and follow up on. There are the Great Lakes restoration projects that conservationists have been banking on that are being gutted financially. This turnover politically has given environmental reporting a whole new challenge.
This turnover politically has given environmental reporting a whole new challenge.
CNN's Bill Weir
You’ve traveled around the world a lot in the last few years. How is the perception of CNN right now after the beating it’s taken from this White House?
Around the world we are the gold standard. If you tell a diplomat in some capitol that we’re here from CNN, they sit up and pay attention. Honestly, the only issue I’ve run into is when I go back to visit my old high school buddies in Tulsa, Oklahoma or Wautoma, Wisconsin: “Yeah, I told my niece that my old buddy Bill Weir was coming to town and she turned her nose up ...”
Because they think you're working for the “fake news”?
Exactly. It’s largely an American phenomenon and it is depressing. When I was wandering around flooded living rooms in New Orleans for Katrina at that time, no one was calling ABC News [Weir’s employer at the time] to say I was making the whole thing up as part of a political agenda. Whereas when I come out to Puerto Rico, and after sounding the alarm for all these American citizens, invariably there’s a few dozen who want to argue with me over what they think I saw. Regardless of any of that, the morale at CNN has never been higher and people have never been more committed to the cause they believe in, which is journalism.