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Volume 17, Issue 4: Counterpoint

Peter Jennings

Interviewed by Aaron Rench

Before the death of Mr. Peter Jennings, C/A's Aaron Rench met with him and began an interview that they were to continue by correspondence. This is that unfinished interview.

C/A: You have commented about the specials you've done and how they show your pervasive interest in religion. Do you think that modern journalism generally captures that aspect of life?
PJ: No. I think I've said this before so there's nothing original. I think that anybody who is as interested in religion as I am, who tries to cover it as I have at ABC for a long time (I have background in the Muslim world, have seen Christianity at work) will come to realize how religion, faith, spirituality, intersect with our lives in just so many ways. I remember watching television the first day I came back from overseas and some guy scored a goal, and before I knew it, he was on his knees thanking someone. And I realized right away that here's a story that we need to be covering more. I can't understand why, to be honest, religion is a very uncomfortable subject for people in the newsroom. Again, I realize I will offend somebody. I will offend some people, but it is my, in part, deeply philosophical, deeply spiritual conviction. Those of us in journalism like facts, or what we describe as facts. They're very easy. So, no, I don't think we do a very good job of it. I'm very happy that my company has supported me in doing as much as we have. It's pretty unusual for a reporter to get three hours of primetime to do Jesus and Paul, and we had a fabulous reaction to it with very good ratings. It's very encouraging, proving again to me that religion is deeply interesting to people.
C/A: You also have said that the story of the Gospels is a wonderful, terrific, fascinating story. Why do you think that?
PJ: That's a good question. Well, I suppose that I've come to one conclusion after having lived in a region, in some respects, having seen Christianity at its roots and having seen the power of Christianity and other religions at work for many years. Again, I realize I'm going to insult some people who do not believe that one should interpret the New Testament, but it's stunning to me that during the first century, there were many religious sects, many people who believed that they were the second coming, and only one survived. Very often history tells us, that in the first century when the leader of the sect disappeared, was executed, or killed, or something, the sect also entirely disappeared. And when Jesus was executed—according to the Bible—in Jerusalem and disappeared, one would have thought the movement would have disappeared. But then it reemerges and 200 years later it's the official religion of the Roman Empire. I find that an absolutely staggering story. And when I ask scholars and historians their view of the resurrection, many people answer the question simply believing in the reality of the resurrection, other people believe in it metaphorically, other people believe it's an actual process. But I remember one historian saying to me, "something must have happened." And for me that simply added to the notion of this as, to use the cliché, one of the greatest stories ever told. Does that answer your question?
C/A: Yes, sir.
PJ: What I refer to as the intersection of religion in daily life—I mean, I was doing stories on prison wings for Christians, Islam and the military, and we just did one story after the other for several years there about things people never expected, religion in that particular context. That's what I mean by "It's a great story." You don't have to be a seeker or a follower, or anything else. I think any good reporter can cover religion and find it exciting, though I've had a hard time finding reporters to do it.
C/A: Do you think that the tone of modern journalism paints the world as a deadly serious place, or as a more playful place?
PJ: The world is both. I think that a lot of people in the country have missed this sort of nation of people out there to whom religion is so important. I think the Passion of the Christ—which I assume you've seen?
C/A: I haven't. But I want to.
PJ: Well, you should. It's an extraordinary experience. But the nature of the popularity of the Passion of the Christ has just revealed one more time this deep interest that people have in the subject, particularly the Passion.
C/A: Thank you very much.

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