A (somewhat) sympathetic look at Christiane Amanpour

For six hours this Sunday I watched my TIVOed copies of Christiane Amanpour’s God’s Warriors specials. Amanpour’s biases clearly showed through, especially when she tried to portray Muslim radicals as some kind of a small fringe group, or when she spoke to fundamentalist Christian leaders in a tone dripping with disdain. But, it appeared, she also did her best to present reasonable looking and sounding spokespersons for the Warriors and allowed them to present themselves in their own words.

Thus, I was a bit startled to see the links Bookworm provided in her post in the subject, to writers who blasted Amanpour as if her report were a broad-sided attack on Israel. Had these people watched the same reports I had? It appears Amanpour’s attackers were as biased (in the other direction, of course) as she was.

Bookworm suggested that I blog on the subject, pointing out correctly that I do not have a dog in the fight, being neither a Jew, nor a Muslim, nor a practicing (never mind fundamentalist) Christian. That’s a tall order, but let me at least share some reactions on the “God’s Jewish Warriors” piece and reaction to it.

Bookworm’s first link is to a highly entertaining and well-written attack by Robert J. Avrech. Avrech gets off to a rocky start, though, by claiming that he stopped counting after Amanpour said “God’s Jewish Warriors” 57 times. In truth, the phrase is used a grand total of 20 times in the entire piece. Poetic license and all that, but if he’s going to criticize someone else for not getting her facts right, he might focus a little more on getting his own facts right.

Next, he takes Amanpour to task for saying that “The second intifada was an attempt by the Palestinians to shake off the Israeli occupation.” Though he puts this comment in quotes, he is paraphrasing. Here is what she actually said:

“Intifada, in Arabic, it means ‘shaking off.’ And beginning in September 2000, Palestinians turned increasingly to suicide bombs in the Second Intifada to shake off Israeli occupation and strike at the Jewish state.” This is hardly the “poisonous Arab propaganda” Avrech claims. Note especially the phrase “strike at the Jewish state” which at least implies what Avrech is saying – that nothing short of the destruction of the Jewish state will satisfy the Palestinians.

Avrech goes on to decry the bias of the “experts” presented and Amanpour’s bias, but he completely overlooks the extent to which Amanpour presents the Warriors sympathetically and in their own words.

But before we get to that, a word about the “experts.” It’s true she uses Jimmy Carter a lot, but she presents him as the controversial figure he is, not as an objective source. She introduces him in the following words: “I spoke with former President Jimmy Carter who has written a controversial book that’s critical of Israel and its settlement policy.” She discusses the charges he is anti-Semitic openly with Carter, even placing on the air a talk show caller who calls him “a bigot, a racist and an anti-Semite.” No reporter could resist the opportunity to interview an ex-President and public figure such as Carter, but Amanpour presents him as the controversial figure that he is.

Similarly, she introduces John Mearsheimer as “a prominent political scientist at the University of Chicago, co-authored one of the most controversial essays of late, arguing pro-Israel advocates have too much influence on American policy.” And so he is. Surely, Amanpour can present people on all sides of the issue, including people we disagree with, so long as she identifies them fairly and accurately.

Critically, Avrech all but ignores the positive “Warriors” Amanpour presents:

She begins with the haunting story of Tzippi Shissel, whose father was murdered by a terrorist and who, nevertheless, continues to live near to where he died. As Shissel explains, “We have the Holy Land. It’s where God says this is where the Jews has to live.” Amanpour has been criticized for commenting, “But it is also Palestinian land. The West Bank — it’s west of the Jordan River — was designated by the United Nations to be the largest part of an Arab state.” But this statement is true. It may be a bit misleading – the Arabs rejected the plan and the United Nations is hardly the authority for anything, but at most this exposes Amanpour’s bias in favor of international organizations and international law.

Aside: This bias really comes through when Amanpour declares that the settlements are illegal. She cites to international law and specifically to the International Court of Justice. She is 100% right and 100% wrong. The ICJ did conclude the settlements are illegal and the ICJ is the final arbiter of international law. But there is no such thing as international law, and there cannot be until there is one international government. The United States, as a country, supports the ICJ, but when was the last time any American got to vote on accepting its law? But I digress.

Amanpour ends with Idit Levinger, a West Bank settler who speaks eloquently of her beliefs: “I walk around here with my children and tell them this is the hill that Abraham climbed. This is where Jacob had his dream. It’s not something that was once upon a time. It’s alive and now. . . . I feel I’m part of these hills. I can’t see myself living without them. . . . My bond with this place is far more than a house.” Amonpour could have ended with a negative portrayal of the settlers. Instead, she closes with their fight (even against their own government) to remain, and presents their views through a most sympathetic spokesperson.

In between Shissel and Levinger, Amanpour presents many positives that her critics choose to ignore. She returns again and again to Hanan Porat, an attractive, well-spoken man who presents the settlers’ position in measured terms. She includes this exchange:

HANAN PORAT: If you think we are messianic with our beliefs, now, what they think, those who believe in peace with the Palestinians, is pure mysticism.

AMANPOUR: To God’s Jewish warriors, turning land over to the Palestinians would just bring more blood and more tears.

This is not nearly the hatchet job Amanpour’s critics are making it out to be. She shows Shimon Peres making the legal point that the territories are disputed, not occupied. She shows Morris Amitay accusing Carter and Mersheimer of “Promoting an agenda in which Israel is the bad guy. Basically the United States and Israel have the same goals in the Middle East. Peace, prosperity, keeping terrorists out. I just think that the success of the pro-Israel community is the fact that they have good arguments on their side.” She shows David Ha’ivri noting that “The Arabs have 22 of their own countries” – a point that Avrech makes as if Amanpour somehow hid it.

True, she stretches to find Jewish terrorists, but carefully explains the Palestinian terrorist act that turn Baruch Goldstein into a terrorist and, in turn, led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

True, she doesn’t make a big deal of the West’s condemnation of their own terrorists or contrast that to the Arab world’s celebration of their terrorists as martyrs, but she explains that the plot to blow up the girls’ school is foiled by Israeli police, and the would-be-Israeli-terrorists tried and convicted. Their acts clearly are not celebrated. (By contrast, in the next segment, she shows Muslim mothers proudly describing their terrorist sons as martyrs. The point is made, if not as overtly as some would like.)

In short, Amanpour does the best she can within her restricted world view, and she does so by finding articulate and sympathetic “warriors” and presenting their stories sympathetically. She could have done far worse.

Perhaps the best and worst part of Amanpour’s report (depending on your point of view) is that she showed parallels in her presentation but nowhere overtly claims the “warriors” of the various faiths are at all parallel. Oddly, I’m reminded of the Fox News slogan, “We Report. You Decide.” Amanpour reported. She presented some experts who have little credibility in my eyes, but she identified them as the controversial figures that they are. She let her own biases show through at times, but I’m convinced that she tried to be fair as best she was able. She could have found crazed “warriors” who would have discredited all “warriors” but, to her credit, she did the opposite. Having presented the least biased report she was capable of, she leaves it to the viewer to decide whether there is any moral equivalence. There is not. And, in the end, with all its faults, Amanpour’s report demonstrates that; it does not refute it.

16 Responses

  1. Don,

    Sit down with someone who knows the Old Testement and have them point to all the passages that instruct current-day Jews to kill or maim or threaten anyone in between them and their promised land; it won’t take long because there are none. Ditto the New Testement–no where are Christians instructed to take the world by sword point for Christ. But when you sit down with the Koran, better allow some time–Mohammed was, in Machiavelli’s apt phrase, an “armed prophet” whose murderous intent is written throughout his own career as well as his book, despite the anodyne passages trotted out by CAIR and others to demonstrate it is the “religion of peace.”

    Thus, I believe your close analysis of Amonpour’s piece misses the large-scale bias going in–she appears to assume, like Christopher Hitchens, that religion per se is violent and the cause of much violence, and that Judaism and Christianity are as bellicose and as bent on world domination as Islam–not so Don. If she can find some few violence-prone examples among Jews and Christians, their numbers pale in comparison to the thousands–tens of thousands by this time–of sytematically radicalized young Muslims, taught from infancy that they will rule the earth through violence and by Allah’s will.

    I’ll re-evaluate Amonpour along your estimate of her when she does a piece detailing the 20th century’s various instantiations of communism and fascism, and delineates exactly how these murderous ideologies differ from Islam.

    I appreciate your even-handedness though, my criticism to the contrary notwithstanding.

    By the way, where were the Tamil Tigers in her show on religous warriors?

  2. I give THE WOMAN DRESSED IN BLACK a C- for her attempt at objectivity.More importantly what was the Johnny Cash /Michael Jackson outfit look all about(not that their is anything wrong with that ) ? Just eerious .
    What does BW mean she has NO DOG IN THE FIGHT(she is part of the planet . . oh I forgot just not this one)? A Freudian slip on her part(maybe) and does she cheer for the Atlanta Falcons and there QB MICHAEL VICK ? Me thinks the lady does protest too much about her having no dog in the fight and no room for moral equivalence in the big three WARRIORS OF GOD dispute.I report you decide .

  3. Uh, Swampy, BW said I had no dog in the fight. She definitely has one, being Jewish and all. That’s why she specifically asked me to write this piece instead of her.

  4. This review by Don Quixote misses the biggest isssue- how can you do three 2 hour programs on Jewish warriors, Muslim warriors and Christian warriors? Are the problems associated with the three of equal severity. Are Jews and Christians creatig havoc in 30 or 40 countries around the world? This is relativism of the worst kind, and you have missed the forest fro the trees by looking at each progrm on its own merits. Muslim warriors maybe deserves a 30 part series to accompany one program for each of the other two religions- one on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Thailand, the Phillipines, Algeria. Each one of these places has issues at least as compelling to discuss as the focus on the West Bank in Part one.
    As for a more substatnvie review of the errors and omissions in eh series, especially part one:
    http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=3&x_outlet=14&x_article=1354
    .

  5. In fact, Amanpour uses the phrase “G-d’s Jewish Warriors” 60 times according to the manuscript. I stopped counting three beats short out of sheer exhaustion.

  6. […] please read fellow blogger DQ’s post suggesting that those of us with sensitive antennae may have reacted more strongly to […]

  7. […] please read fellow blogger DQ’s post suggesting that those of us with sensitive antennae may have reacted more strongly to […]

  8. It’s a minor point, but look at the CNN transcript at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0708/21/cp.01.html
    and count the “God’s Jewish Warriors” for yourself. I stand by my count, Robert. What were you looking at?

  9. This is not nearly the hatchet job Amanpour’s critics are making it out to be.

    Good propaganda is never presented as a hatchet job, Don. You should know that by now.

    The study of the art of propaganda is not the same as the study of hatchet jobs. Or what you would most likely associate with hatchet jobs.

    The problem with the propaganda of the Left is not that it is unreasonable or reasonable. The problem is that propaganda is designed to convince you of something. Depending upon that something, great harm may be inflicted or great harm averted. You don’t analyze the purpose at work here, Don, because I tend to think you don’t factor in a person’s intentions and the intentions of people you don’t see nearly as well as you do concerning the factoring in of facts or small tidbits of information.

  10. The 20vs60 times thing may also shed some light on how you see information. Depending on the way it turns out.

  11. I read this review earlier today… it’s bothered me since. Not in an obsessive way but it definitely disheartened me.

    It is for me an example of how difficult dialogue among those with varying degrees of religious belief and those with little or none. What is important and completely obvious to me is either missed, ignored or deemed insignificant by DQ.

    Critics writing specifically about inaccuracies and biases are shrugged off as over-reactions by those with their own biases.

    Is it bias to be sensitive to continued criticisms and incorrect assumptions fed by decades of anti-Semitic propaganda? To DQ, “Intifada, in Arabic, it means ‘shaking off.’ And beginning in September 2000, Palestinians turned increasingly to suicide bombs in the Second Intifada to shake off Israeli occupation and strike at the Jewish state.” is “hardly the “poisonous Arab propaganda” Avrech claims.” On that point we differ.

    The entire statement he quotes is arguably false regardless of the translation of “intifada.” Is it bias because I have a dog in the fight and continually see such statements taken as reasonable statements of fact by those with only a passing interest.

    What “occupation” were the Arabs “shaking off?” Arafat’s PLO was formed in 1964, while Jordan “occupied” the palestinian lands of Judea and Samaria. Then as now “occupied” has a different meaning depending on who and when you talk to them… especially among the Arabs… but the constant propaganda, especially since Oslo, has created a narrative in the West that Gaza and the West Bank are universally recognized and palestinian land… It’s as misleading now as it was in 1964.

    The frame of reference for DQ and other intelligent folks “with no dog in the fight” is largely set by those with an interest. We Jews are extremely sensitive to the change in the palestinian narrative that has occurred which gives us a “reality” with no basis in history. The more Jews attempted to be reasonable during the time this narrative evolved, the more they were vilified and the stronger the Arab narrative took route. Arab violence only fed the seeds planted by their propaganda.

    From the formation of the PLO through the 6 day war, through the days of the first sky-jackings, through the Munich Olympics, and the Yom Kippur War… the Arab violence, coupled with sympathetic journalists have given the Arabs a defacto country, with no one capable of running it… and they’ve successfully blamed the Jews…. Yeah I’m biased… but it sure would be nice if all those unbiased folks had the interest of someone with a dog in the fight to be knowledgeable on the history and the facts.

    Let there be a dialogue… a debate… on the meaning of “occupation” and the actual legal status of the disputed territories… Even those of us with religious beliefs can look at facts and history while leaving our religious biases at the door. But to see powerful media perpetuate a deceptive narrative IS offensive… and yes it IS poisonous Arab propaganda. If the propaganda leads DQ and other intelligent people to adopt even a portion of a deceptive narrative as truth, which by DQ’s comments it appears he has, then the propaganda is poisonous and Amanpour’s efforts to perpetuate it need to be criticized.

    Her series was a far cry from the “We report, You decide” that DQ watched. Had she found the crazed warriors her show would have been farce. Instead she made a pretty effective piece of propaganda. To DQ she was fair, as fair as she could be, her perspective, to him was reasonable and balanced… But because my biases show me that the foundation for her perspective is built of deception… it is EXACTLY that DQ sees it as reasonable that I see it as poisonous. “She could have done far worse,” is no comfort.

    I see dangerous propaganda, while an intelligent man with no dog in the fight sees a reasonable report, even balanced. It is very very disheartening.

  12. […] at Bookworm Room, Don Quixote wrote a sympathetic review of Christiane Amanpour’s God’s Warrior’s series which really disheartened me. I […]

  13. […] things happen in the comments here Spurred by Amanpour’s CNN series on religion, DQ, who is a very astute analyst and a thinker who is truly open minded to new information and […]

  14. […] by Amanpour’s CNN series on religion, DQ, who is a very astute analyst and a thinker who is truly open minded to new information and […]

  15. […] discussion started, at Bookworm’s suggestion, with Don Quixote’s review of God’s Warriors, which really disheartened me. It was on my mind for a couple of hours and eventually went back and […]

  16. Great write-up. I added the RSS feed.

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