Buddy Scott of buddyscott.com © 2000 ALLON PUBLISHING
In the ABC News Special, The Search for Jesus, Peter Jennings and the panel of scholars he chose to interview disputed the foundational facts of the Christian faith. (See page 2 to read some of the truths they attempted to discount.)
How did Jennings do that? Why did he do that? And what can we learn from that? Was Jennings objective or did he disqualify himself via his lack of objectivity? These are the questions that will be answered in this series of eight newspaper articles. My purpose will be to help my readers recover from any seeds of doubt that may have been planted.
The broadcast was not a news magazine or an opinion piece. It was clearly stated to be a special report by ABC News in which Peter Jennings, the reporter assigned to cover the story, was claiming professional objectivity.
The logo and the theme music of ABC News were presented, and the program was introduced with these words: "This is an ABC News Special." Both the Internet chat line and the discussion board were stated to be under the auspices of ABC News. Therefore, to be valid, their presentation had to be objective. It wasn't.
During the broadcast of The Search for Jesus, ABC ran a promo about its news department and Peter Jennings. In the house ad, Jennings said, "If people can come away from a half hour of World News Tonight feeling I know more and I understand more, that's a very gratifying feeling." My questions are: Why did ABC News have Jennings saying that during a show where he was offending so many Christians? And: Why did the American Broadcasting Company appreciate what a first-class reporter Jennings is while it depreciated the life and work of Jesus? What's that about? That was strange! According to ABC News, Jennings is most excellent; but Jesus is plagued with fabrications, embellishments, exaggerations, fictions, and lies.
The program began with Peter Jennings reading the story of the birth of Jesus in a very touching and moving manner, accented with beautiful music and attractive graphics. Then it went directly to an archeological excavation that had uncovered a rock where Mary supposedly rested when she was pregnant with Jesus. Officials there were preparing to designate it as a special place of spiritual significance and turn it into a tourist attraction. The site was presented as obviously a stretch of the imagination. Then the program insinuated the same flawed authenticity could be true for other sacred places commemorating the life of Jesus, including the Church of the Nativity. And then the interviews began. And within a few minutes of having read the Christmas story so meaningfully, Jennings had planted seeds of doubt about its most treasured elements.
Readers please understand that planting seeds of doubt is all that is necessary to greatly injure the reputation of the Christian faith in the hearts of millions of people. If Jesus wasn't born of a virgin, for example, it follows that more than likely other treasured truths in the Bible are wrong. Allowing dissection removes the rudder from our lifeboat and sets us adrift in the sea of pell-mell opinions. We can't risk our souls and those of our family members and friends to opinions.
In The Search for Jesus, Jennings and ABC News presented themselves as the sole sorters of truth and authenticity. Jennings said, "We suspected that reliable resources were hard to come by, and sometimes they were." And in another place, "We discovered how difficult it would be for a journalist to get the story right." His statements presume that they are qualified to authenticate resources, uncover the real story, and get it right.
Did Jennings and ABC News find reliable resources that can provide the real story and get it right? A contributor to the discussion board comments on this subject: "I actually laughed out loud when I realized how many times the people being interviewed said, 'I think' or 'Perhaps it was such and such.'" Other phrases used by the "reliable" resources were: "I have a hunch," "my hunch is," "probably," "maybe," "I think," "I don't think," "apparently," "in all likelihood," "plausibility," and "scholars believe that." Did Jennings select scholars who are reliable resources? The words from their own lips contradict Jennings's presumption that they are reliable resources. How could Jennings "get the story right" with uncertain scholars?
N. T. Wright, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, clearly admits on the broadcast that conclusions drawn by historians may or may not be valid:
People are looking for mathematical or scientific proof. In history, that doesn't exist. What we are looking for is likelihood, possibility, plausibility, stuff like that. And in history, that is as far as you get, that's as good as it gets--I know as a historian that history is full of things which were improbable at the time, and yet, my goodness, they happened.
In spite of the lack of precision among the scholars, I counted more than 20 times that Jennings and his scholars directly disputed the New Testament Gospels during The Search for Jesus.
Jennings labeled scholars he didn't include as conventional scholars. He labeled the millions of Christians he knew would disagree with him as literalists. (His literalists label is inaccurate since many nonliteralist Christians believe what Jennings doubted.) Conventional scholars, literalists, and nonliteralists who believe the basic truths of Scripture are the scholars and people Jennings knew were opposite his view. Therefore, the way for Jennings and ABC News to have been professionally objective would have been to include interviews of them about the specific historical and theological facts being considered (and questioned). But they were completely excluded.
Yet Jennings and ABC News skillfully presented the impression that he included them. How did they do that?
They filmed Jennings with a beautiful Pentecostal choir during a casual time. They showed the choir members as they performed in Israel and as they presented a dramatic passion play at their church in the United States. They filmed Jennings interviewing a Baptist archeologist and other conventional scholars and literalists. Except Jennings didn't ask any of those resources anything of substance. They were only used to add inspiration and general information. He did not allow them to have any input on the specific questions that he asked the unconventional scholars. How else could he have reported and let stand, without sufficient refutation, opinions like the following?
In anticipation of the ABC News Special, Mary Nabor (© June 2000) wrote the following for Crosswalk.com Entertainment:
This Monday (June 26th at 9 PM, ET) will indeed be a sad day for responsible journalism and the reputation of respected news anchorman, Peter Jennings, when ABC airs "Peter Jennings Reports: The Search for Jesus." The flagrant dishonesty begins with the two-hour documentary's title. This show is no open, investigative search for truth.
In days gone by, when objectivity was the most sacred of all attributes of reporters, Peter Jennings was my favorite national TV reporter. I was impressed with his pleasant appearance, his smooth presentation, and the way his persona communicated trust.
Consequently, I encourage readers not to think that this series of articles is coming from someone who has never admired and respected the national TV news media. I am someone who has become reluctantly disillusioned with national news personalities and companies over a period of several years.
And to be open with you, after I wrote a couple of articles a few weeks ago about the bias of most TV network newscasters against Christians who are faithful to all of God's Word, I had wished that something would be broadcast that would confirm the articles to anyone who thought I was overstating the problem. And unfortunately, it came to pass with the broadcast of The Search for Jesus with Peter Jennings.
To be objective in his ABC News Special, Jennings would have had to interview conventional contemporary scholars in addition to the unconventional contemporary scholars he interviewed, and he would have had to allow them the opportunity to speak to the subjects on which only the unconventional scholars were allowed to speak.
And to be objective, Jennings would have to do similar news specials about Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other religions; dumb-down the lives of the patriarchs and the lives of Muhammad, Buddha, and other religious leaders; and attempt to discredit the credibility of the Torah, the Koran, the Dharmas of Buddhism and related religions, and other religious writings. Will Peter Jennings do that?
Next || Main Menu