In Depth

CNN & Christiane Amanpour: 'God's Warriors'

When it came time to judge “God’s Warriors,” CNN’s three-part series on religious extremism, the jurors were impressed with the commitment of resources that it represented.

“The ambition of that series and the sweeping nature of it and the time and effort that went into it, yielding such incredible results, really made it award-worthy,” said Abi Wright, director of the awards program.

The series’ correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, and the rest of the reporting team didn’t have to fight to get the nine months to put it together or the six hours of airtime. The documentary, which covered several decades of religious, political and cultural history worldwide, was initiated by CNN’s top news executives, including Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S., Ms. Amanpour said.

“For six hours of programming to be commissioned by a cable network on a very, very serious subject was really extraordinary,” Ms. Amanpour said of the assignment. “We were able to travel; we were able to do all the interviews necessary,” including with most of those who were intimately involved in Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War and the original settlement movement.

The team also ventured to less-traveled areas of Iran, where they got access to Islamic passion plays that have rarely, if ever, been seen on mainstream U.S. television.

“After that, we had the correct resources for putting it together: the editing, the production and the airtime,” Ms. Amanpour said.

Broken down into separate examinations of extremism in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and studiously avoiding creating any kind of “moral equivalency” among them, the series drew a surprisingly solid audience over three consecutive nights in August 2007, beating its cable news competition in both overall viewers and key demographics.

Although some pro-Israel groups in America were critical of the program about Judaism, their protests had little impact. The ratings, she said in an interview last year, “reinforced my belief that there are legions of viewers out there who are desperate for this stuff.”

Ms. Amanpour didn’t pull any punches with the series’ tough language and sometimes contentious interviews, including what turned out to be the last interview with Rev. Jerry Falwell, co-founder of the U.S. Moral Majority movement, before his death. “One of the things I really don’t like are these chummy, chummy interviews that seem to be the norm now,” she said. “At the very least, our job is to push.”

Last summer, Ms. Amanpour added a coda of sorts to the series, with a documentary on nonviolent Buddhists and their attempts to bring about political change in Burma and Tibet.

“God’s Warriors,” which also was honored in 2008 with a Peabody Award, has been rebroadcast on CNN, but it is as yet unavailable on DVD, because of issues clearing some of the rights to the historical footage. That disappoints Ms. Amanpour, who said she is still approached around the world by viewers who appreciated the programs.

The correspondent, who later this year will begin anchoring her first daily program, on CNN International, said she is working to, at a minimum, get portions of “God’s Warriors” into schools, noting, “A lot of these documentaries are things we’re struggling with as a society.”