Peabody Award Winners: CNN, ‘CNN Presents: God’s Warriors’
When Christiane Amanpour was asked by her CNN bosses in late 2006 to tackle the tough topic of fundamentalism across three religions, she had a twinge of doubt: “I wasn’t 100% sure people would watch six hours,” she said.
But the network’s chief international correspondent has long been an outspoken critic of TV news’ increasing emphasis on sensational and entertainment-driven topics at the expense of hard news and, in particular, foreign coverage. And, she said, “in my gut” she felt that viewers would tune in when the programs aired in August 2007.
They did, allowing CNN for three nights in a row to beat the cable news competition, in both total viewers and the key demographics, with “God’s Warriors.” “It reinforced my belief that there are legions of viewers out there who are desperate for this stuff,” Ms. Amanpour said.
The documentary, which was shot over five months and took more than nine months to assemble, explored the political and cultural implications worldwide in the rise of fundamentalist strains in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, going back three to four decades.
The first program looked at Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 and the settlement movement in the captured territories; the second explored changing attitudes among young Muslims in America and the violence in Europe perpetrated by Muslim extremists; and the third examined how American evangelicals have been trying to change U.S. politics.
Interviews included former President Jimmy Carter and Rev. Jerry Falwell, in his last interview before his death.
That they were three separate programs was important, Ms. Amanpour said: “We were not creating a moral equivalency. We were showing how, in different and separate ways, they have affected our lives.”
The program about Judaism, in particular, generated criticism. Ms. Amanpour said that was limited to a “pro-Israel lobby group,” and that there have been plenty of positive reviews, including in Israel. “There was criticism from some American groups whose job it is to criticize the press when they perceive it is criticizing Israel,” she said. But she defended her work as “about journalistic fact.”
A phone campaign, in which critics were asked to call CNN’s top executives, failed to generate more than “a couple of dozen calls,” she added, and some of those were supportive of the program.
Viewers worldwide continue to engage Ms. Amanpour in discussion about the program, she said, even though it hasn’t been released on DVD because rights to some of the historical footage couldn’t be cleared. “It’s one of those things that captured the zeitgeist,” she speculated.
Ms. Amanpour has a follow-up to “God’s Warriors” airing this summer, looking at Buddhism and the struggle for freedom in Tibet and Burma. A documentary on genocide will air later in the year, timed to the 60th anniversary in December of the United Nations’ convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime.