CyberAlert -- 06/29/2000 -- "Spontaneous Joy&quot

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"Spontaneous Joy" in Cuba; No Deprogramming; New Texas Inmate to Champion; Jesus Slant

1) "Spontaneous joy" broke out in Cuba over Elian's return. NBC played video showing how Elian's home features a picture of Fidel Castro with a photo of Elian tucked in the corner. ABC and CBS passed along regret from U.S. officials about his departure while ABC and NBC stressed efforts to drop the trade embargo.

2) Don't worry about Elian. NBC's Jim Avila: "The school system in Cuba teaches that communism is the way to succeed in life and it is the best system. Is that deprogramming or is that national heritage?" Geraldo Rivera: "That's a good point."

3) The networks refused to adopt the term "partial-birth abortion" in recounting the Supreme Court decision overturning a law banning them, but ABC, CBS and NBC did describe the procedure.

4) Gary Graham is gone so now the networks must find another Texas death row inmate to champion. Tom Brokaw: "Now, new questions tonight from a crusading class of journalism students about a convicted killer sentenced to die."

5) AP on ABC's The Search for Jesus: "In Jennings' lopsided lineup, the key talking heads consist of five American liberals, a middle-roader in Israel and a lone traditionalist from England." Another reviewer: "Condescending, ponderous and inert."

6) Letterman's "Top Ten Signs the Supreme Court Needs a Vacation."

7) Bible can't get a break: A man on CBS's Survivor, who claimed to be "religious," said he'd use it for "toilet paper."


Elian's departure from the U.S. topped all the network evening shows Wednesday night and at about 7:40pm ET MSNBC even cut into Time & Again to show his plane's arrival in Cuba. CNN stayed with Elian all afternoon, dropping Inside Politics while squeezing in Moneyline, but at 9pm ET despite Elian and several big Supreme Court decisions, CNN stayed with the scheduled guests for Larry King Live: Darva Conger and Hugh Hefner.

The ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows all stressed how the people of Cuba were excited by Elian's return, expressing "spontaneous joy" insisted ABC's Deborah Amos while NBC's Jim Avila used the same term in observing how "on Elian's block a spontaneous party breaks out." Avila uniquely played video showing how Elian's home in Cardenas features "pictures of revolutionary heroes: Che Guevara, Fidel Castro." As the camera panned the walls viewers could see a color photo of Elian tucked in the corner of a larger picture of Castro. ABC and CBS passed along regret from U.S. officials about Elian's departure while ABC and NBC emphasized how the Elian saga boosted efforts to drop the trade embargo.

Some notes about June 28 evening show coverage of Elian:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Linda Douglass concluded her lead story from Dulles International Airport by passing along a claim from someone at the Justice Department with chutzpah:
"A Justice Department official described the moment as bittersweet. They were pleased at vindicating an important point of law to them, they were pleased at reuniting father and son but they were sorry that Juan Miguel Gonzalez did not decide to stay in the United States."

From Cuba, Deborah Amos relayed over Cuban TV video: "In the boy's home of Cardenas today the excitement was almost beyond telling, spontaneous joy as word spread about a ruling in a court far away. The official announcement came this afternoon, along with an order for Cubans to remain calm. But calm was impossible in Cardenas."

She soon added: "After months of official organized demonstrations, on this day emotions appear to be genuine. Many Cuban families know first hand the tragedy of separation from relatives who have risked everything to leave. Many are happy that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has chosen to return and raise his son among them."

ABC then turned to Morton Dean for a look at "the Elian effect." Dean asserted: "During the long custody battle many Americans, perhaps for the first time, focused on U.S. policy and now question its wisdom."|
John Kavulich, US-Cuba Trade & Economic Council: "Out of that tragedy has come a maturity in the relationship between the US and Cuba, a more focused, a more educated interest by people in he United States toward Cuba."
Dean picked up: "Most significant, the once formidable Florida-based anti-Castro lobby lost credibility."
His expert? Wayne Smith, identified on-screen as a former chief of the US Interest Section in Cuba, but he's also a long-time Castro apologist. Smith took his shot at his enemies: "The hardline Cuban exiles, who had had such strong influence over policy and prevented any kind of rapprochement or any kind of improvement in relations, overplayed their hand."

-- CBS Evening News. From Havana, Byron Pitts declared: "Today the child who came to America on a raft headed home in a motorcade."

Pitts reviewed the last seven months and when it got to April 22 he observed: "It was a three-minute raid that changed a 40-year relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. For the first time, the two governments agreed: Freedom's child was a Cuban child free to live with his father."
Pitts also asserted over Cuban video: "The bitterness in Miami's Little Havana was equaled by the euphoria in parts of Cuba's Old Havana. At a grade school children cheered and teachers cried when the announcement was made on television -- Cuba's most famous child was headed home."

Pitts concluded on a wistful note: "Joy in Havana, anger in Miami and bit a perspective from Washington tonight. A State Department official told CBS News quote, 'the rule of law has been upheld, but there is no joy in Mudville. Wouldn't it have been nice if Elian could have grown up in the U.S.' But tonight it appears that will never be."

(On Wednesday's The Early Show, CBS co-host Jane Clayson asked Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief James Warren: "You say it's put the spotlight on the U.S. embargo against Cuba, made Americans ask 'How long can we hold a grudge,' right?" Warren agreed it's all a "grudge" held by the U.S.: "Exactly.")

-- NBC Nightly News. In her lead story Andrea Mitchell stressed how "Elian's story is even influencing policy. Some Republicans today joined Democrats in supporting a partial break in the embargo. Food and medicine sales, but with strings attached."

Without any hesitation about how one can properly assess public opinion in a communist nation, anchor Tom Brokaw declared that "the Cuban people are overjoyed."

From Havana, Jim Avila relayed how "on Elian's block a spontaneous party breaks out, one of many on the island today celebrating the end of a daily national obsession in Cuba. Inside Elian's home, where the Castro government says the boy will return soon, pictures of revolutionary heroes: Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, now joined by Cuba's newest icon, the six-year-old boy whose return to his island home is viewed here as a victory for Cuban national pride. Proof, say the Cubans, parents here can raise happy, healthy children."
Woman: "I knew we were going to win. My heart told me so. Let me have a drink for Elian's health."

As Avila mentioned Castro the camera showed a framed black and white photo of Fidel on the wall with a color photo of Elian inset in the bottom left corner.

+++ Watch the video of pictures of "revolutionary heroes" inside Elian's old home, with his picture in a corner of Castro's. Thursday morning MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip from Avila's piece. Go to:


It all depends on what your definition of "deprogramming" is. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this fascinating Wednesday night exchange, on CNBC's Geraldo Rivera co-anchored Upfront Tonight, between co-anchor Diane Dimond and NBC News reporter Jim Avila in Cuba.

On the June 27 show aired at 7:30pm ET, Dimond noted: "They've been really living a pretty luxurious lifestyle in the Washington area for several months now. Do we know, is Castro planning any sort of deprogramming or reeducation for that family?"
Avila seemed perplexed: "Well, you know, it all depends on how you define what, all that, of course. What is deprogramming? What is reeducation? The young man will go back into the, into the school system in Cuba. The school system in Cuba teaches that communism is the way to succeed in life and it is the best system. Is that deprogramming or is that national heritage? That's certainly what he'll be learning. He'll also be living in a different kind of society. A society that many people here in Cuba like. The CIA in fact says that if the borders were open that most, 90 percent of the population here in Cuba would stay in Cuba because they like it."
Dimond: "Yeah, absolutely. Jim Avila."
Avila: "So it's hard to define all that, as to what is deprogramming and what is not."
Dimond: "Absolutely and they wouldn't call it deprogramming, you're right. Jim Avila. From Havana, thanks for being with us."
Rivera: "That's a good point."
Dimond: "Yeah."

Great network minds at work.

By this reasoning the Hitler Youth were fine and dandy because its values reflected "national heritage" and just taught that Nazism "is the way to succeed in life and it is the best system."


The networks refused to adopt the term "partial-birth abortion" in recounting the Supreme Court decision overturning a Nebraska law banning them, and insisted upon attributing it to opponents but, to varying degrees, ABC, CBS and NBC also provided descriptions of what they are.

ABC and NBC also provided a second Supreme Court story on the Boy Scout decision, while CBS folded both into one piece.

"The Supreme Court hands a major setback to those who oppose abortion rights," announced ABC anchor Kevin Newman in adopting the liberal's spin in plugging an upcoming World News Tonight story. Michelle Norris began her subsequent piece by describing the procedure: "At issue, a Nebraska law that bans a rare, late term abortion, in which doctors quote 'partially deliver a living unborn child before killing the unborn child.'"

CBS Evening News anchor John Roberts declared: "The justices rejected a law against abortions that anti-abortion groups call partial-birth abortions." Jim Stewart described how the ruling impacted "a procedure in which a doctor withdraws the lower body of a fetus before puncturing the skull, thus allowing the rest of the fetus to be pulled away."

Over on the June 27 NBC Nightly News, after the Elian stories which he had tied to the Supreme Court refusing to address the case, Tom Brokaw announced: "Now to the other major Supreme Court decisions today, beginning with late term abortions, what the opponents call partial-birth abortions...."

Pete Williams reported how "the court today says Nebraska went too far when it tried to ban what opponents call partial-birth abortions. A Nebraska doctor challenged the law saying it's so broad it would make it a crime to perform even the most common kind of abortion." Williams added: "Congress has twice tried to ban it too and is now trying again, emphasizing how during the procedure a fetus is partially delivered, its skull then collapsed. Justice Clarence Thomas, reading out loud from his dissent, says the procedure approaches quote, 'infanticide.'"


Here we go! George W. Bush may never be able to escape media hype about supposedly innocent Texans on death row. On Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, just six days after Gary Graham was executed after much media focus on supposed doubts about his guilt, NBC latched onto to another prisoner. Anchor Tom Brokaw proclaimed: "NBC News 'In Depth' tonight, a man on death row in Texas and college students who think they can prove him not guilty." After reporting how 87 condemned prisoners have been freed since 1976, Brokaw trumpeted: "Now, new questions tonight from a crusading class of journalism students about a convicted killer sentenced to die."

Jim Cummins recounted the tale of Henry Watkins Skinner, sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her two adult sons. The jury heard how DNA proved his pants contained blood from all three victims. Cummins then explained how Northwestern University professor Mark Protess, who found innocent men on death row in Illinois, had now turned to Texas:
"In Texas, Protess hears the Governor claim no innocent person will be executed here."
Protess: "George W. Bush has said that he doesn't have a problem, that the problem is an Illinois problem, and I sent my students to find out if that was right."

Cummins relayed how they found there is other evidence with blood but that it was not tested for DNA, which hardly would seem to vindicate the guy, and that a woman who claimed Skinner had confessed to her now says she was browbeaten by police into saying that.


ABC's "Jesus Seminar" skew. In yesterday's CyberAlert I ruminated about how best to analyze Monday night's two-hour Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus. Thanks to some tips from readers, I learned I don't have to analyze the show since others who know far more than I about the varying viewpoints of Biblical scholars have already done it for me and two, whose analysis I'll excerpt below, concluded that Jennings skewed his piece disproportionately in favor of those who discredit many of the basic tenets of Christianity.

The June 28 CyberAlert wondered if it is best to argue that network news should not undermine religious faith by holding it to modern scientific standards and thus declaring as false Gospel stories about Jesus's life that are at the foundation of Christian faith, or should the program be analyzed like any other news show as to how accurately it reflected the range of views of credible historians without regard to whether it insulted the faithful.

Well, on Monday's Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson and Peter Jennings revealed they didn't much care if the program upset believers. As noted by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson, on the June 26 show Gibson stated: "Peter Jennings goes back to the Holy Land for an unprecedented and, I think it is safe to say, what will become a controversial look at Jesus, the man. This program has been three years in the making and it confronts issues that cut to the very core beliefs of Christianity."

Gibson asked Jennings: "You had to know going in that to investigate the latest knowledge and theories, to treat Jesus as an historical figure and try to pin down what we can know would be to anger many of the faithful and many fundamentalists."
Jennings defended his approach: "I think that's perfectly true, but it doesn't make the search for Jesus the historical character, which he was, an illegitimate exercise. I fully acknowledge, and have from the beginning, that if anybody is a literalist and believes that everything that's written in the New Testament is as is, and that in many cases it's prophecy from the Old Testament, then indeed they will think even searching for Jesus as a character, so to speak, is an illegitimate exercise. Nonetheless, I do think it's legitimate scholarship and journalism."

Well, Associated Press religion writer Richard Ostling didn't think much of the "scholarship and journalism" of ABC's show. In a review of the program distributed late last week, which a CyberAlert reader whose name I did not get permission to use so can't give credit here now, alerted me to, Ostling tore into Jennings' approach:

....Jennings, an occasional Episcopal churchgoer, displays his continuing interest Monday night by personally reporting on The Search for Jesus. He developed the ambitious two-hour documentary off and on over two years.

The Search in question is for what scholars call the "historical Jesus." Putting matters baldly: Do we have reliable material about Jesus in the four New Testament Gospels, or do they mix fact and fiction? If the latter circumstance, how do we tell one from the other?

Typically, network news is late on this vital religion story. Liberal scholars have been questioning biblical history for two centuries and major print media have given considerable coverage over the past decade or two.

Television's hesitation is understandable, however, since the topic has complexities within complexities that are ill-suited for video treatment. Sure enough, ABC's camera and sound work is clever and the script skips along, but the substance is quite problematic.

One pitfall is that Search indiscriminately mingles folkways (did Mary really sit on this rock?) with essentials (did Jesus have a Last Supper and what did it mean?).

More importantly, ABC's implicit plot line pits the touching faith in the Gospels among common folk in Bethlehem, Nazareth or Alexandria, against the experts, who supposedly know better. That's a hugely distorted picture.

But, as the old saying goes, a reporter is only as good as his sources. In Jennings' lopsided lineup, the key talking heads consist of five American liberals, a middle-roader in Israel and a lone traditionalist from England.

Jennings seems to have discovered none of the estimable moderate and conservative scholars in America. And even on the liberal side, the show doesn't visit the blueblood campuses where biblical history is being undermined, nor does it hear from some prime figures in the debate.

Though viewers aren't told this, four of the five Americans on-screen come from the "Jesus Seminar." As fundamentalists scowled and scholars smirked, this group organized to take votes on whether each passage in the Gospels is true or false. Given the group's methods, skeptical presuppositions and special ideologies, falsity was bound to win most of the ballots.

In just the same way, ABC's conclusions are predictable, given its sources:

-- "It is pretty much agreed" that the Gospel writers "were not eyewitnesses" and that the texts "were probably written 40 to 100 years after Jesus' death." (Actually, the question is not whether the writers were eyewitnesses but whether they drew upon eyewitness material. Only radicals push the writings more than 70 years after Jesus.)

-- "The only things we can say with some certainty" about Jesus' birth are that he was Jewish, and there was political tension at the time.

-- "Most scholars we talked to" think that Jesus' nature miracles "were invented by the Gospel writers as advertisements for Christianity."

-- "Jesus was executed, not for blasphemy as the Gospels indicate, but as a political revolutionary."

-- Jennings reports that "some eminent scholars" believe Jesus rose from the grave. And though the show doesn't make the best use of its conservative, Canon Theologian N.T. Wright of Westminster Abbey, he gets in one zinger: If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, Wright asks, how do we explain the explosive growth of early Christianity?....

The Jennings program is being praised by an Orthodox Jewish educator, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL). "I was extremely impressed and moved," he says. "It made a great religious leader very available."

By contrast, traditional Christians will probably loathe the show, which will only reinforce their already profound distrust of establishment media empires....

END Excerpt

Beliefnet, which carries the rather uninspiring slogan, "We all believe in something," partnered with ABC News to promote the show, features a section with analysis and chats about it:

The MRC's Tim Graham alerted me to a critical review on the site by Charlotte Allen, who is identified as producing the Catholic page for Beliefnet and as the author of The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus. The title of her review: "Old Wine in Old Wineskins. Is Peter Jennings' Search for Jesus biased? How about condescending, ponderous and inert?"

An excerpt:

Both the wine and the skins on the ABC anchorman's quest for the "historical" Jesus come courtesy of the Jesus Seminar, the press-schmoozing cadre of biblical scholars best known for its sweeping pronuciamentos, typically timed for Christmas or Easter, that Jesus didn't say or do most of the things the Bible says about him.

Although the phrase "Jesus Seminar" never appears in the special, which is photographed largely in the Holy Land, four out of the seven biblical scholars whom Jennings interviews (along with assorted archaeologists and clergymen) are longtime Jesus Seminar stalwarts. They include Seminar founder Robert W. Funk (identified only as affiliated with the Westar Institute, which runs the Seminar,) former Seminar co-chairman and best-selling author John Dominic Crossan, Oregon State University professor and Beliefnet columnist Marcus Borg, and Marvin W. Meyer of Chapman University.

The 34 to 40 scholars who vote at the Seminar's semi-annual meetings represent only a tiny fraction of the thousands of New Testament academics in the United States, but they managed to wrangle outsize representation with Jennings.

Whenever one of the four, glimpsed amid the picturesque hills and olive groves of Galilee and the West Bank, opens his mouth to pontificate on the historical Jesus, you pretty much know what's going to come out. The Seminar has made headlines over the years and upset traditional Christians by announcing that 80 percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels -- including the Lord's Prayer -- weren't really his, but were made up by early Christians with agendas. A few years ago the Seminar voted that Jesus' mother wasn't a virgin and that he didn't rise from the dead.

The Jesus Seminar point-of-view dominates "The Search for Jesus," despite Jennings' laudable efforts to balance it with input from more conservative New Testament scholars, such as the evangelical Anglican N.T. Wright, and data from archaeological digs in Sepphoris and Bethsaida, towns Jesus probably knew well.

Crossan, in particular, is as ubiquitous as Britney Spears' navel, retailing yet again his oft-aired theory that Jesus' dead body was eaten by wild dogs after his crucifixion. In the view of the Jesus Seminar, Jesus -- far from being the divinely-sent figure revered by traditionalist Christians -- was a peasant social revolutionary with a sense of godly calling. He waged class warfare against the Roman Empire using spiritual weapons -- and of course paid the political price.

This would all be fine if Jennings, as newsman, were merely trying to report on a range of conflicting scholarly views about Jesus. But he wants to do more: to tease out at least a minimal consensus among the scholars and draw some conclusions. Inevitably the views of the Jesus Seminar crowd out those of their competitors.....

END Excerpt

To read the rest of Allen's review, go to:

For an interview with Jennings about his show, go to:


From the June 27 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Signs the Supreme Court Needs a Vacation." Copyright 2000 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. Most of their rulings taken word-for-word from that day's "Judge Judy."
9. Court's last opinion was written on back of Club Med brochure.
8. Justices frequently announce, "My verdict is tails...I mean, guilty."
7. Overwhelmingly repealed the "one person per robe" rule.
6. Rehnquist has been "pounding the gavel" four, maybe five times a day.
5. Most days court consists of three justices and six magic 8 balls.
4. Just held tribal council and voted out Justice Anthony Kennedy.
3. Last couple of cases each day are decided by the cleaning crew.
2. Only thing they're arguing lately is margaritas vs. daiquiris.
1. Oath witnesses must take: "Do you swear blah blah blah?"


The Bible can't get a break on network TV this week. On Monday night Peter Jennings undermined its accuracy and then on Wednesday's Survivor on the CBS an island inhabitant took a shot.

In the June 28 episode of the CBS show about 16 people living on an island with one voted off by the others each week, an older man named Rudy, the former Navy SEAL who gained some publicity on the opening show when he couldn't start a fire, is annoyed by a younger guy named Dirk who reads the Bible:
"It's funny to me that a guy would read the Bible out here. The only reason I'd bring a Bible is if, I mean I'm religious too, if I needed toilet paper."

What would he do with the Bible if he weren't "religious"?

Guess which castaway was voted off last night by his island-mates: Dirk. -- Brent Baker

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