Starring on CNN

How I became one of 'God's Jewish warriors.'

By JAY TCATH
October 1, 2007 21:52
4 minute read.
christiane amanpour 88 298

christiane amanpour 88 2. (photo credit: AP)

Did you see me? I was on CNN. In prime time. Let me set the stage: The station's producer and film crew directed my co-stars and me to slowly retrace our steps, acting as if we were just naturally going about our business. Filmed in the halls of the US Congress and part of a much-ballyhooed CNN special about "God's Warrior's," the choreographed footage would be beamed to millions - maybe billions - worldwide. Coiffed as sharply as any K Street lobbyist, I cut quite an image. Or so I was told. By some. Very few of the billions actually provided any feedback. It is possible, I guess, that they missed me. They need only to have blinked. Fifteen minutes of fame? CNN owes me. My allotted portion amounted to 1.5 seconds. And I shared it with three others while the CNN narrator distorted the context of what we were actually doing. Oh the indignity of being relegated to a "B" role. Truth be told, we didn't even merit that 1.5 seconds. CNN's three part series God's Warriors was not journalism's or even that ubiquitous cable network's finest six hours. Cobbling together two hours of disjointed footage and commentary, CNN ostensibly exposed many of us - in Israel and the US - as radical Jewish warriors: No different or any less dangerous than those among the world's 1 billion Muslims who are radical in their way too. Our fiendish plot is also revealed to be aided by cartoonishly drawn Evangelical pawns. With zealous fervor, they mindlessly do the Israel lobby's bidding. Meanwhile, sympathetically depicted Palestinian victims and credible American figures - an ex-president and an academic - assert we are suppressing Palestinians, undermining US interests, foiling Middle East peace and justifying wanton violence to get our way. Darn, our nefarious scheming has again been foiled by crack investigative journalism. But how did we happen to appear, albeit briefly, in this expose? IT WAS a scam, a hoax, a manipulation I tell you. But this time one carried out not by "Jewish Warriors" in the stealth "Israel Lobby," but by a soft-spoken, solicitous, sugary sincere young CNN field producer. She learned of our JCRC through her mother, a non-Jewish resident of a Chicago suburb who admired our leading role in advocating an end to the Darfur genocide. It was precisely this type of activity, the noble pursuit of justice by grassroots people motivated by religious impulses and acting through religious institutions that the young producer claimed the network and its star correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, wanted to explore. After all, she told us, it is such a decent, important activity and so much more real, common and under-reported than the conventional stereotypes promoted by the mass media. She insisted that CNN's aim was not to focus - as others do ad nauseam - on the radical fringes among the Jews, Christians and Muslims. The assurances notwithstanding, we never suspended our skepticism altogether. We've been burned before by all types of media - radio, TV, newspapers (even Jewish papers and especially Israeli ones), and increasingly by bloggers. Hence, we cooperated recognizing the chances that CNN would distort or utterly ignore our words and deeds. So colleagues in our PR department, as well as in Jerusalem and in DC, spent hours brainstorming compelling footage and story line possibilities as well as logistical arrangements for CNN to seamlessly weave a production crew into our normal activities. Months later (February 2007), CNN, agreeing with our suggestions, dispatched crews to film our volunteers repainting bomb shelters in Israel's north and another to capture our meeting with representatives on Capitol Hill. Our multi-issue agenda that day in Washington ranged from Israel to Darfur, from the environment to Iran and from hate crime legislation to social services. The CNN crew expressed appreciation for our providing them "just what we were looking for." So why then did virtually all of the footage end up on the cutting room floor? I have my suspicions: 1. The producer was sincere and she and perhaps others at CNN wanted to create a program along the lines she originally described, but lost an internal battle over editorial content; 2. She and perhaps others at CNN sought to lull us into doing or saying something on tape that would have fit their "Jewish Warrior" story line, or; 3. We were simply lied to. Whatever the reason(s), there is, beyond the bruised ego, some consolation. The three-part series only averaged about two million viewers. That's nothing to scoff at, but, for comparison's sake, it was about half the audience of the new Anchorwoman reality show featuring a swimsuit model working as a TV news anchor. CNN's political pundits have been deriding that show's unconscionable debasing of the noble journalism profession. Given the glass house from which they pontificate, they shouldn't be throwing stones. Indeed, Anchorwoman is just the type of staged reality show - in contrast to CNN's supposedly reality-based God's Warriors special - that might offer my next best-shot for primetime fame. If I could only think of another role to play. The writer is the executive director of the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).


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