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Larry King Live
Peter Jennings Discusses 'The Search for Jesus'Aired June 15, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, veteran anchorman Peter Jennings of ABC News here for the hour. We'll take your calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's always a great pleasure here in New York to have as our guest -- and he's with us on a kind of regular basis -- good friend, Peter Jennings, the famed anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight." We'll discuss a lot of things in the news later, but first we're going to concentrate on a documentary that he's anchored and put together and produced called "The Search for Jesus." It will air on ABC, June 26 -- that's a week from Monday -- for two hours, 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. Eastern.
What led you to this?
PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: Irresistible.
KING: How did you come up with the idea? It's been around for 2,000 years.
JENNINGS: First -- precisely, and I had done an hour program called "Jerusalem Stories," which had run successfully a couple of times on the network. People liked it.
But the producer of "Jerusalem Stories," Gene Ray Condon (ph), and the cameraman, Ben McCoy (ph), had not had as much experience in the Middle East as I had. And when it was over, they said: This as was terrific, we had a wonderful time, let's do something else. I said, like what? They said "Jesus." It was just that simple. So I said OK.
That was the easy part.
KING: Was this an investigative look at -- what's the concept? The story...
JENNINGS: Well, the coming up with a concept, in fact, was very difficult, because, you know, Jesus literature, Jesus study just goes on and on and on, fills libraries and libraries all over the world. So what could we do with that would contribute?
And what we decided pretty much was what could a reporter find out about Jesus the man, staying within the confines of the first century. You know, it's such an evocative part of the world, and I've been in so many -- I've discovered all sorts of things I didn't know, of course. But I'd been in many of the places where Jesus had walked and preached and communed. And so it was just irresistible.
And so off we went to see what we could find out using literature, using the Gospels of course -- they were the logical place to start -- using some contemporary history, using archaeology, which had never occurred to me early on to do, and tried to pull it all together and see what we could know about Him.
KING: As a good journalist, which you are, how much was findable?
JENNINGS: Well, there's not an awful lot that's findable, and we recognize very quickly that historians look at the available facts, and in some cases figures, and come to entirely different conclusions. But I think what was findable was an appreciation of the person.
I want to make very clear at the beginning, as we make very clearly -- clear in the program, we knew right away what our limitations were. We couldn't, for example, answer whether or not Jesus was the son of God, because that's a matter of faith. Very difficult for journalists to go off and deal with that, though we try in other contexts to deal with faith.
And so we have the Gospels to start with. We have the archaeology, which is quite fascinating.
I'll give you a small example. There's a place called Bethsida (ph) up on shores of the see of Galilee, farther way from sea today than it was before because of the changing topography. We met some wonderful archaeologists.
This is one -- the village where Jesus spent some time in the reign of Herod Antipas after John the Baptist had been executed by Herod Antipas, and where Jesus perhaps felt a little safer, because it was outside Herod's territory. So there's quite a lot of archaeology being done there.
We met a wonderful archaeologist who showed us that in one place there was this house with two ovens. And she said, well, now who has two ovens?
The point she was making was that we've always thought in the main, thanks to Gospels, that Jesus' disciples, the fishermen, were not at all well-off. But a man with two ovens probably was better off than one had anticipated, and if Jesus had gone to Bethsida, as he did, and attracted young men and women, they may have been young men from the families of more middle-class people.
It was that kind of thing. and we begin to build all of that together.
KING: Were you researching Him as the Christ?
KING: As a man?
JENNINGS: We were researching Him as the man.
KING: Were you able to find out anything at all about the missing years?
JENNINGS: I must tell you that much of what you think and much of what I think and much of what we know is out there to be studied. I know there are people who think that Jesus spent time in India, for example. I didn't look for that particularly. I looked for that very short period at the end of his life during his -- we dealt with the birth stories, of course, because the birth stories fascinating. And they bring on to the table immediately the notion of whether or not the Gospel versions of the stories are accurate, whether Jesus was, for example, born in Bethlehem.
KING: So Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were your guides, in a sense?
JENNINGS: Well, they were the place to start. As every historian tells us, it's obviously the place to start. If, for example, you start with a Gospels and you start with the birth stories, you know, you have to look at least two Gospels to get the story that we're familiar with, and the others don't deal with it. So, that in itself was fascinating. Why would they have said he was born in Bethlehem? Why was he called Jesus of Nazareth?
KING: All that was -- I keep using the phrase "fabulously interesting," but it's true: just irresistibly interesting to go looking for.
KING: It sounds like tremendous radio. How is this filmable?
JENNINGS: Well, you know, I'm a little self-conscious about telling people you've got to look at it in order to understand it.
KING: Well, we're going to see some clips, but I haven't seen a clip.
JENNINGS: Well, I know that your producer has seen it and some other people have seen it. I think they've been very surprised by it.
JENNINGS: We actually made a contemporary film...
KING: You did.
JENNINGS: ... about the search for Jesus. So for example, when we get on a bus, strangers on a bus that we are, and go from Jerusalem or Bethlehem to Nazareth, because you have to go to Nazareth to search for Jesus' life, you have to go to Nazareth to search for Mary, you go on a bus. And it's reasonable to go on a bus today and photograph from the bus today, and then -- there is not historical still frame in whole broadcast. It's all pretty much all contemporary footage.
But you must remember that throughout much of history Jesus and the miracles and Jesus' life as we know it has been painted, and sung about, and in the most extraordinary way. So some of the paintings, for example, are spectacular. And name a contemporary singer who has not sung excitingly about Jesus -- gospel, jazz, pop, rock.
KING: Sure. Did you find out what he looked like?
JENNINGS: I asked every single person we met, no matter whether they were a serious scholar or someone I met on street, "What did he look like?" The answers were wonderful.
KING: As we go...
JENNINGS: What do you think he looked like?
JENNINGS: What does that mean?
KING: Short, dark.
JENNINGS: What color eyes?
JENNINGS: Why do you think so?
KING: That's the region.
JENNINGS: Did he have a beard?
KING: Maybe. Do a lot of people have beards? You've lived in that area.
JENNINGS: Well, today not so many people have beards, but do you think he had a beard or not?
KING: Don't know.
KING: Do you think.
KING: We'll wait.
As we go to break, here's the first chance to see a segment of "The Search for Jesus." This deals with the Last Supper. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SEARCH FOR JESUS")
JENNINGS: The Gospels say that the night before he died Jesus gathered his followers together and ate traditional Passover dinner.
What do you think that Last Supper was like?
MURPHY O'CONNOR: I think it was a rather stressful meal, men and women, and then Jesus made this extraordinary announcement: "This is my body, and this is my blood."
PAULA FREDRIKSEN, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Also he says, "I'm not going to drink wine again until I drink it in kingdom." He's still expecting it to come. Maybe that night. The night of Passover would be a good night for the Messiah to show up and the king of God to show up.
JENNNIGS: Today, the Last Supper is re-enacted in a church ritual called the Eucharist, and Jesus' words as they appear in the Gospels are often interpreted as his prediction that He would die and that His death would be a sacrifice so that the sins of each of us would be forgiven.
Scholars say this is probably not what it meant to Jesus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back.
I'm really getting excited about this. Because...
JENNINGS: You have to tell folks what I told you about the beard.
KING: You told me about beard, and the questions and answers that we're going to learn.
KING: You know, why he did this, why he did that, just that little piece on the Last Supper. But they didn't fit...
JENNINGS: I don't know -- I don't want to tell you when to run the clips, but there's a wonderful clip here about his mother, Mary, and a rock just outside Bethlehem. If you have that, we should run it at some point, because it's -- to go -- we were very lucky in many ways. First of all, we were very careful about who we found as historians and witnesses. We started off ironically in California at a place called the Jesus Seminar, which is very controversial, where a lot of very well-thought-of, very interesting scholars try to decide what Jesus said and what He didn't say, basically trying to figure out what the words and the thoughts are in the New Testament, which are true or not true. And we went to that debate. We met some very interesting people, you know, and then went to England to meet other interesting people, and then we went to the Middle East. But even 2000 years later, things revealed themselves to us. There's this wonderful moment we have just outside Bethlehem where somebody has found a rock where Mary -- they think Mary sat down. And so we explain how hard it is to get the facts.
KING: Boy. What do you mean by witnesses?
JENNINGS: People who -- sort of a generic word. I mean by this people who are historians or archaeologists or just people. I mean, I talked to a lot of people who lived in Bethlehem and a lot of people who lived in Nazareth. There's a wonderful moment when I asked some guy, "Well, why do you think he was born in Bethlehem?" He said, "What do you mean why?" He said, "where were you born?" I said, "I was born in Canada." He said, "Why?" Well, I don't know.
Of course, there all sorts of reasons in the Bible why Jesus -- if you believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
KING: Will the literalist be angry, those who say every word is as it is written, period.
JENNINGS: I'm not sure that people will be angry. I hope people won't be angry obviously. because I've tried to make the point at the beginning of the broadcast and at several other places that it is not our aim here to judge people's faith: not, for example, to decide whether Jesus is the son of God, because that's a matter of faith.
But I hope that people who do take the New Testament particularly, absolutely literally -- and many people do -- that they'll understand that what we're doing in this program is in some ways making Jesus more accessible. I mean, people who've looked at the broadcast think Jesus is more accessible.
So while I think people who do -- what I call literalists -- might be angry because it is a matter of faith for them that every word written in the Gospels is true, and it is not to many other people, I hope they'll similarly find him more approachable.
KING: Do you investigate at all the -- remember that book "The Passover Plot"? -- the aspect of was this sort of contrived? In other words, was this a conspiracy of sort among disciples and him?
JENNINGS: No. We do deal -- we do deal with the betrayal. We do deal with whether or not it was the elders of the temple, the Jewish elders of the temple who turned Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, to the Romans. We deal with that primarily because it's there.
And I think, by the way, a man from the Bronfman Center here in New York, one of the Jewish theological centers. He told me the Jews may be upset at the mere mention of Jewish complicity in Jesus' execution, but it's there and so we try to deal with it.
It's very interesting, because it was in many ways, you know, the first moment of anti-Semitism, for which Jews have lived all these 2,000 years.
KING: What, Peter, surprised you the most?
JENNINGS: Everything, everything surprised me.
KING: Really? There's no one...
JENNINGS: No, everything surprised me.
I mean, it was very difficult, in a way, because I was, you know, I was raised as a practicing Christian. I listened to the Gospels and I read the Gospels. I went to church. I listened to -- and then to go off as a journalist and have to deal with the Gospels as documents, in a sense, the documents with which we began, was sometimes quite difficult.
We -- and if you read the Gospels as documents -- I want to be very careful of the language here. There's a very interesting new book called "The Four Witnesses," I think, by an English minister named Robin Griffin Jones, in which he takes the Gospel separately as pieces of work. So we read them all very carefully, and you see where they disagree on some things. And you see where -- the Gospel of John, if I recall, for example, doesn't even deal with the Last Supper.
And then you say, right, that's it, they differ here, and then we get into the editing room and we're fighting about something, fighting vehemently.
Gene Ray Condon, the producer, the executive -- the associate producer, the editor, and I were all fighting like mad. We suddenly realized, hold it, we're fighting about something we're not even sure is true in the first place.
So in some respects, it speaks to the power.
We were very careful about whether or not we would even deal with the Resurrection in a large way, because the Resurrection...
KING: Did you?
JENNINGS: Only to extent that, you know, it's in a sense where our play ends. It ends with His crucifixion.
And then you have to ask the question -- and some people see the Resurrection as a true, absolute thing. People believe in this miracle. Other people believe it is a metaphorical resurrection and that you don't have to believe that it was absolutely physical. And these are all, by the way, believing Christians, all who have these varying points of view. Very, very, very exciting, and very challenging, and very nerve-wracking, I must tell you, at times.
KING: This airs, by the way, if you've just joined us, on June 26, a week from Monday, for two hours on ABC, and I'll bet it'll be repeated frequently.
As we go to break, the possibility of the escape through the garden -- watch.
JENNINGS: I love this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SEARCH FOR JESUS)
JENNINGS: Here in garden of Yosemite (ph), Father O'Connor thinks he sees evidence that Jesus could have escaped if he had wanted to.
O'CONNOR: Originally, this was a very ancient staircase, and this is easiest spot to climb the Mount of Olives. Even today, you have three roads going up to the top from this point.
JENNINGS: So if he was in the garden of Yosemite and authorities in some fashion were coming across the valley to get him, he could have escaped?
O'CONNOR: Oh yes. All he had to do was stay ahead them.
Ten minutes would have brought him to the top of the Mount of Olives. Another 20 minutes fast walking along the ridge would have brought him to Bethany. There he would have picked up food and water, and then off into the desert. They'd never have found him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SEARCH FOR JESUS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe that this site can be developed both as a touristic site and as a pilgrimage site, a major pilgrimage site.
JENNINGS: Israeli government archaeologists and the Greek Orthodox Church were announcing an important new discovery. They had uncovered a rock where they say Jesus' mother Mary, pregnant and tired, sat and rested on the road to Bethlehem.
Now no one here could tell us where they got the information about Mary sitting on rock, and there's nothing in the Bible about Mary sitting anywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your indication that this is the real indication that Virgin Mary rest?
JENNINGS: Right here, we realized just how difficult it would be for a journalist to get the story right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Good camera work.
JENNINGS: Ben McCoy -- Ben McCoy is just the greatest cameraman, and he loved the subject. I think that makes it -- when the cameraman loves something. KING: Why do you think there is suddenly -- "suddenly" may be the wrong word -- a burst of interest in this figure as either the son of God or a historic figure? The movie on CBS did super.
JENNINGS: I think "suddenly" is the wrong word, to be honest. I mean...
KING: Why is that?
JENNINGS: Well, for one thing, we live in the self-acknowledged, one of the most religious nations in the world, where, you know, one nation under God, where religion and spirituality and faith are taken very seriously.
So I think that actually when these religious programs come along -- there is a whole growth, for example, on the Internet.
KING: That's what I'm asking you. Why? If it's not suddenly, what is it?
JENNINGS: I just think -- no. I don't think it's suddenly at all. I just think, first of all, there's a lot of people in this country with very deep faith, not only in Christianity, but you know, in Judaism and in Buddhism and Tibetanism, and Islam is growing in the United Stats as well.
I think it's always been there, and that we -- we notice it in the press, because I don't think we do a very good job of covering it in the first place. And so when something suddenly appears and everybody's interested, we in press, say, oh, that's very interesting,. But I'm not the slightest bit surprised.
KING: Not covered well in the media.
JENNINGS: I don't think so. You know, that we're the only -- we're the only commercial network that has a full-time religion reporter, Peggy Waymeyer (ph), who lives in Dallas and covers religion all over the county for us. We're the only evening news broadcast that has somebody covering it full time.
KING: And newspapers do it Saturdays.
JENNINGS: Well, newspapers have got a lot better. I mean, "The New York Times," for example, "The Washington Post," the Chicago papers -- the "Christian Science Monitor's" having something of a comeback as a newspaper. "The L.A. Times." Increasingly, the big -- the big mainstream papers realize the power of religion.
If you look at "The New York Times," this week, for example, there's a major -- they put the story of the Baptist, Southern Baptist Convention, and some of its rather controversial decisions, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, on the front page.
KING: Billy Graham told me once -- and I'm going to paraphrase him -- that this is either the greatest story ever or a big fraud. It ain't one -- it's one or the other. JENNINGS: Well, that's very interesting. One of our great witnesses in this, which scholars will recognize, is a man named Tom Wright (ph), who's the canon theologian at Westminster Abbey in England. And he tells the most wonderful stories. It makes it come alive.
And he said, you know, if I didn't believe in the Resurrection, I'm in the wrong business. And so Billy Graham, I think, for people who believe in the story have it right.
And the interesting thing is in our program everybody's a believer, everybody's a believer.
You know, we go down to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, we go down to see Hanna National (ph), who's one of the great Israeli archaeologists, about this young group of Jews in the first century who are fed up with the establishment. He describes them being not unlike the kids who came out of Berkeley in the 1960s, which seems irreverent to us when we hear it the first time. But seen in first century terms seems absolutely applicable.
KING: Will Dr. Graham like this show, who believes totally?
JENNINGS: Yes, well, I mean, I think Dr. Graham will like this program. You know, he's one of the great evangelists of our time and has this extraordinary personal relationship with Jesus. But I think he will appreciate it for its openness, I hope, and how it helps to make Jesus approachable, accessible. That's a word of the '90s I appreciate.
KING: As we go to break -- we'll cover some other areas with Peter and then come back to this. Again, it airs Monday night, June 26, for two hours, 9:00 to 11:00 p.m.
And here's the where-was-he-born bit. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SEARCH FOR JESUS")
JENNINGS: On the question of where Jesus was born, only two Gospels even talk about it, and they tell it differently.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Luke, of course, we have the famous story of them living in Nazareth, but needing to go to Bethlehem for the census, and that's why Jesus is born in a stable in a manger, because there's no room in the inn. In Matthew -- and this is one of the most striking differences -- the family apparently lives in Bethlehem, and Jesus is born at home.
JENNINGS: To get the whole nativity scene that we're all familiar with, you have to put two stories together. Only Luke has the shepherds and the angels, and only Matthew has the kings and the star.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: I want to discuss some current areas in the news, but a couple of other areas on Jesus, and then we'll discuss some other areas, and then wind up with more about this.
JENNINGS: I'm very pleased you're excited. You're not kidding me?
KING: I'm not kidding you. I would never kid you.
JENNINGS: Ralph Avileno (ph), our editor, who became something of a Jesus specialist himself, has taken, along with Gene Ray Condon, these pictures that he's done. The most extraordinary things with that and with the music .
KING: You're going to have a book come out?
JENNINGS: You know, we thought about it.
KING: Come on, it's you Peter -- a book, companion book.
JENNINGS: We thought about it. Do you know how many -- I was trying to figure out the other day, if you had a room in which there were all the Jesus books that have been produced in the last 1,500, 1,600 years, it's just the room goes on forever, and ever and ever.
KING: One fact -- born a Jew, died a Jew, right?
JENNINGS: Born a Jew, died a Jew.
KING: A practicing Jew.
JENNINGS: We don't know that he's a practicing Jew in the sense that we recognize it in the 20th century. But in the first century, yes, he grew up at a time of great persecution of the Jews in Palestine. He, as a young man, he would have seen two Jewish rebellions against the Romans. He would have seen the rebellions, bring in the legions, and crack it down, and hang people on the cross. This was, after all, a Roman forum of execution, was to hang people on the cross so they would be seen as paying a price for having objected to Roman rule.
So yes, and he would have to be clearly be called a kingdom person, who believed that the kingdom of God would come then and now.
KING: Did you go to the place of the Crucifixion?
JENNINGS: Oh, yes. Absolutely. It's an astonishingly moving place, of course, because it's now an absolute centerpiece for Christians. And you can go and you can -- there's a hole in the Church of the Resurrection where you can put -- where you can put your hand in, and Christians put their hand in and touch the rock on which many people believe the Cross actually stood. And the power of all these places is quite astonishing, quite astonishing.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more of Peter Jennings. We'll also include your phone calls. This is LARRY KING LIVE, Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Peter Jennings. Again, "The Search for Jesus" airs on Monday, June 26.
Let's touch a couple of other bases, then take some phone calls.
The death of Assad.
JENNINGS: The end of era, to use the cliche, in the Middle East.
KING: Did you know him?
JENNINGS: I did -- I did. I played ping-pong with him on rare occasions. I was very lucky. I knew his private secretary quite well when I covered the Middle East. And I, therefore, had, you know. unusual access. He was a very tough man to get (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
KING: What do you expect of his son?
JENNINGS: I don't know what to expect of his son. I think, while the son looks to be progressive and young and interested in the Internet and interested in Syria having greater outreach, it's a dreadful sadness that Syria is so desperately isolated with cell phones that don't work outside the city, practically.
But I think he'll have a very hard time in the initial stages because the constituency that wants him to reach out doesn't have the power beyond -- in the business community. The people who do have the power...
JENNINGS: ... the bureaucrats and the army and the air force and what not. I think they're not certain yet. We don't know how they want Syria to go, so he has to appease he them.
KING: I'm going to hopscotch here because we've concentrated so much on the major story that's coming -- the Jesus...
JENNINGS: For which I am grateful. Thanks. I'm enjoying...
JENNINGS: ... talking about it.
KING: The police in Central Park. Is that is a national story?
JENNINGS: Yes, very much so, I think.
JENNINGS: For two reasons. It's an obvious economic story, and it's an obvious treatment of human beings story for New York. And because New York is a place where everybody in the country and many people in world wants to come.
And it is a story about -- its a story about police behavior. It's a story about public behavior. It's a story about, you know, raging and rampaging young men.
KING: Tough to cover?
JENNINGS: I think not desperately tough to cover. In -- it's interesting how much easier the news is to cover in this day and age with the advent of home video cameras, which in this particular piece -- case, people have been very forthcoming with. So you're able to just, occasionally work to give the news...
KING: Everybody's a newsman.
JENNINGS: To give people some sense -- yes, everybody's a newsman. It's very difficult. But you can at least get some sense of what happened.
KING: What do you make of this reality TV? Survivors, millionaires, news and entertainment in combo, here?
JENNINGS: It's very interesting, you know. I watched the BBC a couple of years ago, working on a program that's going to be on PBS here, about a family in England which was going to live for a period of time as they did in 1900. And I'm fairly convinced that that may be where these reality-TV producers first got their ideas.
Because it's a legitimate thing to do, to see what it was like to live in 1900. We worked on the "Century" book, of course, we discovered how different times were then, and then now. I think it will have its day. We are all voyeurs, in one way or another.
KING: Does it concern you?
JENNINGS: Yes, well, it concerns me to this ex -- no. Does it concern me? I don't know that it concerns me. I haven't seen it yet to judge it. I'm not sure whether I should be anxious about it, yet.
KING: You have said, in fact on our anniversary show you said, "Technology has given less time to go and report stories, less time to background stories and context," and you're concerned very much about this consolidation of media.
JENNINGS: Well, I said there is reason to be concerned, in general terms, about the consolidation of media because it means more media in fewer hands. It doesn't mean that my boss or your boss is suddenly leaning on either one of us to do things the way they would like to us do it. That hasn't happened in my case, and I know it hasn't happened in the case of yours.
The technology's another matter. We're -- our lives are -- J. Carter, I've forgotten his first name, I apologize -- the historian and lawyer who said -- reminds us that in the last century, we could grow up with technology of our grandparents. We could be -- we lived up in the same technology as our grandparents. And we knew what our own technology would be. Now we don't know what it's going to be every 25 minutes.
And so as life moves at warp speed, so does our craft. And it makes it harder to spend time on the ground, to understand the story. It makes it harder to stay long enough to really appreciate a culture. Whether the culture's in Oklahoma City, or whether the culture is in the Okobongo (ph) in Southern Africa.
And it's more expensive, for example, to do television today than it has been in the past. And they're more conscious of money. So in some respects, it works against depth, and I think that's troubling.
KING: Jim Lehrer and Tom Brokaw the other night both said that even though the public is not very, apparently not very interested in international stories, it's their duty to cover them.
JENNINGS: Yes, I just -- I just don't buy the -- I don't buy the notion, in the first instance.
KING: That they are not interested?
JENNINGS: Look, globalization is the great news story of the 21st century. It's a great American story. America is now the paramount nation in the world without any exception. It's been happening that way ever since World War II. And how we in America interrelate with rest of the world is, I think, the most testing story of at least the first part of the 21st century. That's an international story.
If you live in the -- in the -- on the upper end of the Michigan peninsula, your local town is selling something overseas or trying to buy something overseas. And you are going to want to know, if we do it well, who you're buying and selling from and what their relationship is with your life. That is all by my life's international news.
We may not be as interested in the traditional Israeli- Palestinian story as we were in the past. But we are very interested, I think, as a country to know what's going to happen with the 55 or 60 million Iranians in the next 10 years, and are we going to have relationship again?
KING: You told me you're not going reveal it, but ABC's going to cover the conventions a little differently.
JENNINGS: Well, we're going to try to do it differently. It's very hard to do the conventions these days.
KING: Because there's no suspense.
JENNINGS: Well, there's no suspense. The parties -- and we are having this dance. They're dancing with you. They're dancing with us. They want to use us as best they can to get out the party message, which I think, by the way, is a pretty legitimate thing to cover. We are our -- after all -- some -- in this instance, part of the Democratic process. I think it's part of our duty to enable Americans to engage with politics, which is a television practice in this day and age.
But it's also our responsibility, I think, or our challenge, to look at the parties. To look at the -- to take these opportunities as targets of opportunity to really get at the candidate. In character terms, initial terms.
KING: Why don't you continue extensive coverage like the cables are doing?
JENNINGS: Why not? I think because we feel we can simply do it in less time. I don't mean to suggest that you will struggle as you go on for the many hours a day that you will, but I think you may. I think we can do -- we can do a comprehensive job of doing the convention in an hour for the first three nights, and then probably two hours or more on the last.
KING: At the top of the hour on "NEWSSTAND", they're going to do a tribute to Judd Rose who worked here -- but for a long time with you. And you went to his...
JENNINGS: I went to his funeral. It was a very moving experience because a lot of his -- I was not a particular friend of Judd's. He worked on "World News" for a while. In some respects he was too big for "World News," whereas I sometimes say he had one too many puns for "World News Tonight." But went on to the magazine shows where he had a much richer environment in which to work. And then he came here, where you loved him.
KING: You -- lovable.
JENNINGS: And it -- but what I found most moving about his funeral was to hear his contemporaries just talk about him as a guy. It's easy to stand up say a guy's a great writer or he's a great practitioner, and he makes good television.
Judd had done this one program about his mother on Mother's Day, which strikes me as unique. But listening to his friends talk about him, I thought to myself -- as I'm sure guys of a certain age do -- will my friends talk about me like that when I'm gone?
KING: We'll take a break and go to your calls for Peter Jennings. And don't forget the search for Jesus airs on June 26. Don't go away.
KING: By the way, when the Jesus special ends, you can go into the Internet and meet people and talk to them.
JENNINGS: You know, the Internet has been a great place for people to talk religion, to learn religion, to share their faith, their spirituality. There's a new Internet site called beliefnet.com, and at ABCnews.com we've joined forces with them, so the when the broadcast is over people can talk to the historians, talk even to me, talk to the producers.
JENNINGS: ABCnews.com and beliefnet.com. And if you -- if you look at them, I mean, they are the most -- they are very exciting sites on the Net and they're very well-done. And you know, beliefnet.com, you can -- whether you're a Buddhist or Christian or a Shintoist or a Jew, you can find your own faith. And chat rooms particularly are found, you know, very therapeutic for people.
KING: Simi Valley, California, hello.
CALLER: Mr. King, Mr. Jennings...
CALLER: I would like to know, Mr. Jennings, in 30 years of broadcasting what you feel is the most memorable thing you've ever done?
JENNINGS: That's such a hard question, ma'am, because, you know, one of the things that Larry and I will both tell you is we've both had front-row seats for so much history.
I think clearly going with Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem...
KING: You were there.
JENNINGS: ... was a very exciting -- was a very exciting occasion. I remember flying home with him on his plane with him saying to me, "Peter, can you believe that I, Anwar Sadat, am a hero in Israel?" And that was one of those great moments that...
KING: How are you going to top that?
JENNINGS: ... are going to stick.
Well, but I have to tell you that in terms of single programs -- you know, the last time I think I saw you I had just done a program about India-Pakistan and the nuclear bomb, and at time I did it, it was just fabulously exciting. I've used that word again. And "Jesus" has been such an exciting program.
I think we're just plain very lucky. Almost everything we do has its memorable compartment in our lives.
KING: Knoxville -- Norfolk, Virginia, hello. Hello.
CALLER: Yes, this is Norfolk, Massachusetts.
KING: Massachusetts, I'm sorry.
CALLER: I just wanted to ask Mr. Jennings, I wanted to tell him my 13-year-old daughter enjoyed his book "The Century" very much, but she was wondering why you didn't include the impeachment of President Clinton, because she thought it was a very significant thing to have lived through and why that wasn't in the book.
JENNINGS: It actually was in the book but in very brief terms, because at the time the book was actually being published the impeachment process was just under way. And it was very hard for us at the time, Todd Brewster and myself, to make a judgment about the impeachment. And so we wisely, I think, as journalists left it to subsequent reporting and subsequent interpretation.
There is quite a lot in the course of the century that we didn't cover, both nationally and internationally, in terms of items. We wanted to give people a sense of the whole century.
KING: Knoxville, Tennessee, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Peter.
CALLER: You said that you were raised Christian, and I wanted to know, after you had done your complete research on this program, if it has increased or decreased your belief, and do you still consider yourself a Christian?
JENNINGS: Can I ask your name?
KING: Biblical name.
CALLER: Excuse me.
JENNINGS: You've asked the one question, ironically, that I prefer not to answer. It's fairly common knowledge that I was raised a Christian, have been practicing Christian most of my -- all of my life, I guess. But it's not a question I want to answer at the moment because I'm a little afraid that it will color people's judgment of what we have done, if people know whether my faith was enhanced or undermined in any way by being involved in this journalistic process.
KING: But it had to have an effect on you.
JENNINGS: Of course it had an effect on me.
JENNINGS: But in -- and if David and I were sitting together, having this conversation, I'd love to talk to him about it, but it's not something I want to talk about now lest people think it somehow affected the program.
KING: Supposing I knew nothing about this whole story -- I'm from Mars. What will I think of Jesus when I watch this show? JENNINGS: Well, I think you'll think what a lot of people ultimately think. First of all, I think you will find a fascinating man struggling for attention in the first century, not the only one to struggle, who had quite astonishing experiences, not the least of which when he -- we're using the Gospels as guide here now -- not least of which he went out and met John the Baptist, and saw John executed as his own ministry began.
There's a wonderful moment in the program when again Tom Wright, from Westminster Abbey -- I said, "Do you think he was the Messiah?" He said, "I think every Jewish mother in the Galilee hoped that their son was the Messiah."
So you would have met this very engaging person who, once you get into it, you realize was talking about and preaching for a community in the first century. So, very hard, for example, for many of us to understand the parables. When you understand the parables in the context of the Roman occupation or the resentment that the center of Jewish authority, the temple, had to any of these "kingdom of God" movements who were a threat to the temple, then you see one thing.
And then you see -- forgive me for rushing on here. But I think the most astonishing thing people would believe, if you came from Mars, was this was not the only kingdom of God person, this was not the only person preaching the kingdom of God, this was not the only person preaching that he had the answer 2,000 years ago. But something happened, after Jesus died on the cross, that has made this faith in him as powerful as it is 2,000 years later, and within 300 years was the official religion of the Roman Empire.
That's what I find stunning: what happened afterwards, aside from -- aside from Saul, Paul, who became Paul, who became this great proselytizer and preacher for Christianity.
KING: We'll be right back with more of Peter Jennings right after this.
KING: We're back with Peter Jennings. Cote Saint Luc, Quebec, hello.
CALLER: I have a question for Peter Jennings. You're an excellent journalist, but if you were to go out on a different road, which career would you have chosen for yourself?
KING: A different road.
JENNINGS: Oh, that's such a tough question. Before I was a journalist (SPEAKING IN FRENCH)...
KING: Showing off again. Showing off!
JENNINGS: Well, only because -- only because of where he comes from. You see, I grew up in western...
KING: Do you speak fluent French?
JENNINGS: No, I speak terrible French, but I grew up in western Quebec. But as a young man -- and I failed out of high school, as I think you know. And in those days, young guys like me could get a job in the bank. You know, Canada had a chartered banking system, and you could go in the bank without much education. And I worked, as I just told this gentleman in my bad French, for the Royal Bank of Canada.
And my father, as you know, was a broadcaster, and I think I always wanted to be one. But I had a great time in the bank.
JENNINGS: And the bank had a branch in Cuba, the Royal Bank did. And another guy -- his name was Tim Barkley (ph). He came from Vancouver. He and tried to get the bank to transfer us to Cuba, which was as romantic for some people then, putting aside all the political politics for the moment, it was a romantic place to go for a young guy, who was -- what was I? -- 20, I guess. And the bank said no, so I quit. I ended up working in radio much sooner than I'd anticipated in a town that's not nearly as nice as...
KING: If we had television in the first century, would this story had been covered, Jesus?
JENNINGS: You know, I find this utterly fascinating. Maybe not.
You know, when Jesus comes to Jerusalem for that last Passover, during the week that he is executed, there is some question as to whether or not he was even noticed. Now, the Gospels make reference to this is the time when he's so angry at the temple and they're charging too much money for people coming to make sacrifices. So he turns over the tables of the money changers. But other people wondered whether or not he would even have been noticed.
I asked Father Jerry Murphy O'Connor, this great biblical scholar from Jerusalem you saw, "How many followers do you think he had when he showed up in Jerusalem?" He said, "Maybe 12, 15." I was quite stunned, because I thought, no, not true.
You see, when Jews came to Jerusalem for Passover in the first century, they were all celebrating because they saw Jerusalem and they'd arrived where -- the ultimate place to celebrate Passover. But they may not have been cheering for Jesus when he showed up.
And -- and maybe, maybe he was just seen as a simple troublemaker. Maybe he was just seen as a simple troublemaker. And the Roman authority said, "Excuse me, this is how we deal with troublemakers."
Don't forget execution by crucifixion was reserved by the Romans for among other things political revolutionaries, people who committed treason...
KING: Not murder? JENNINGS: ... against the state. Murderers. One other category I've forgotten. So they would have seen him, I think, probably as political trouble, not spiritual trouble.
KING: Yes, how do you explain it became the church of Rome in 300 years?
JENNINGS: Well, I think this is, as I said to you earlier, this is in many ways the most stunning thing for me, is the -- I suppose one should think of it in rapid terms in terms of the first, second and third centuries, before it was adopted by Constantine and became the official. But there was a time, don't forget, when Nero was Caesar, and they burned -- you know, he burned Christians in his garden as torches. So I mean, it was not an easy road.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Peter Jennings, right after this.
KING: Will children like this show?
JENNINGS: Yes, I think they will. I hope they will. Certainly got -- hasn't got any of the literal violence in it that we kids have to see all the time.
KING: Is He taught in school?
JENNINGS: Is He taught in school?
JENNINGS: Well, he's taught as a historical figure in some schools. He's taught clearly in parochial schools owned by the Catholic Church.
One of the fascinating things going on in America today is the argument again about evolution or creation. And so this struggle between church and state in America is a fascinating contemporary story: people trying to get the 10 Commandments up on a wall, other people not wanting them up. Todd Brewster and I, and ABC, are now about to embark on a new project about America, about America.
JENNINGS: No, about America. And you know, which is just the other great, great story of my life is to have come to America. And one of the things it seems we've got to do is this constant struggle about -- between church and state, believer and nonbeliever, creationist-evolutionist. It's with us every day.
Do you know why -- again, I'm a bit of a proselytizer, in this respect. There's no news story, there's hardly any news story that you and I cover that doesn't have some spiritual or religious or faith dimension to it. I tell our young producers, if you go to a plane crash, and a woman -- and you meet a survivor, and you say to her, "Well, how did you get through it, madam?" And she said, "God got me through it."
Don't say, "Well, I understand that, madam, but what really got you through it?"
And so it's -- I think, you know, it's a little hard for us in the orthodox news media to accept faith and spirituality
KING: He spoke an unusual language, did he not?
JENNINGS: He spoke -- we think he spoke Aramaic. He may have spoken some Greek. It depends a little on what his social or economic status was. There's some debate...
KING: And Aramaic is spoken...
JENNINGS: Aramaic is still spoken in at least two villages. I think maybe only two villages in Syria. I went to them many years ago.
This was the language of northern -- what was then northern Palestine. All of it, of course, under Roman occupation. But the culture of the region was Greek.
It's interesting: In Turkey the other day, where they're just about to flood these extraordinary Roman mosaics that they have recently found, which is very sad, but all of these fabulous mosaics in these churches, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and that thing that you saw where they think Mary sat down, these are all fabulous, fabulous Byzantine mosaics and they're wonderful.
KING: Does it lead you to want to do other figures?
JENNINGS: Yes. I've become fascinated by St. Paul, because -- not everybody likes the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ." But there is that great scene at the end of the movie where Jesus turns out to be dream, and Jesus encounters Paul preaching in a marketplace. And Jesus says: "No that's not the way the story goes at all." In fact, you know, I didn't do this. I wasn't -- I wasn't crucified. And Paul says: "Excuse me. You stick to your story, I'm sticking to mine."
And it's a reminder of the power of Paul's preaching, first in his famous letters to various communities in the eastern Mediterranean and the impact they had.
So yes, I suppose I would like to do -- I would like to do Paul. I'm not sure they're going to let me. But...
KING: Why? The network is not crazy about...
JENNINGS: Well, I don't -- I think this is not something with which the network was particularly comfortable. But in the final analysis, I could never say they've been -- you know, they've always supported me. I've been very lucky.
KING: In other words, they're not waving the flags, boy... JENNINGS: Well, actually, they've been very good now. They've given us a very good time period, 9:00 to 11:00 on the 26th. So we didn't have to compete with the potential final game of the NBA. They have given us 9:00 to 11:00 in the evening. So the sun has gone down at least in much of the country.
JENNINGS: It's very much primetime. It's, you know, it's the traditionally high point of television viewing. Yes, I think...
KING: And again, you can tune in the Internet after it and talk to you.
JENNINGS: After. Well, they can talk to me, but much more important you can talk to each other about their faith and about the program at ABCnews.com and at beliefnet.com.
I intend to -- I intend to look very quickly and very carefully to see how people have responded. Because don't forget we're only -- we're only -- as big as it's been for me, we're only minor players and minor documentarians, minor journalists in this extraordinary story that's been going on and on and on and on.
As I said, we did it in the first place, because it was irresistible.
KING: Only got 30 seconds: Language aside, would he be a good interview? Jesus be a good interview?
JENNINGS: I think he -- I think he might be afraid of a journalist. After all, he had to be very careful in the first century. Remember the parables. You had to speak in very careful ways because of what the Romans might do to you. And some dumb journalist might blow his cover.
KING: So the two of us are out.
JENNINGS: Nice to see you again, Larry.
KING: Always great. Peter Jennings, "The Search for Jesus," Monday nigh, June 26th, 9:00 to 11:00 on ABC.
Stay tuned now for CNN "NEWSSTAND" and a special tribute -- we talked about it earlier -- to the late Judd Rose. Al Roker will be with us tomorrow night. We'll talk weather and other things.
Thanks for joining us. From New York, good night.
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