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Israeli Game Show Contestants Compete for P.R. Job; Family Donates Musical Instruments to Iraqi Children in Soldier's Memory

Aired February 8, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. We really appreciate your joining us tonight.
Among our stories tonight, questions and controversies surrounding 11 decorated soldiers.


ZAHN (voice-over): What's in a medal? Courage in battle, wounds in the line of duty. But when the Marine Corps wants to take it back, is it an insult added to injury?

And an inspired touch, a passionate preacher, a Grammy-winning singer, multimillionaire writer. Tonight, T.D. Jakes dispenses advice to friends in high places.


ZAHN: And we start tonight with the man in the pulpit.

Evangelist T.D. Jakes finds himself in a powerful position just three weeks into President Bush's second term. Of course, Ohio put President Bush over the top in November in part thanks to support from black voters. Jakes' message resonates with many socially conservative African-Americans. And he's met with President Bush, who's courting black leaders as he fights for his plan to reform Social Security. I'll talk with Bishop Jakes in just a moment.

But, first, if you don't know him, the man just named one of "TIME" magazine's most 25 influential evangelicals has quite a life story.


ZAHN (voice-over): He's a Grammy winner and a best-selling author, multimillionaire who lives in a sprawling lakefront mansion and drives a Bentley, famous for his sartorial splendor, custom tailored suits and alligator shoes. He counts NFL stars Deion Sanders and Emmitt Smith as close friends.

And he packs arenas, setting attendance records across the country. He took a star-making turn in an independent movie based on one of his books. But he says he's not going Hollywood, because he has got a higher calling.

BISHOP T.D. JAKES, PASTOR, THE POTTER'S HOUSE: He's my trumpet. He's about my feast. I'm talking about Jesus.

ZAHN: This is bishop T.D. Jakes. His nondenominational church is home to 28,000 members and counting. And his religious television program is beamed to 146 countries every week.

DR. ALTON POLLARD, EMORY UNIVERSITY: He knows how to reach you in those intimate places, those heartfelt places.

T.D. JAKES: A brand new beginning.

ZAHN: Born in Charleston, West Virginia, on June 9, 1957, Thomas Dexter Jakes was reared in a household that prized the gift of gab. His mother, Odith, a home economics teacher and father, Ernest, a janitor, also inspired him with their strict work ethic.

T.D. JAKES: I don't want to give you the impression that I was this holy child who grew up with glowing halos around their head and scriptures coming out of their ear. That was not the case. I was very, very normal and sometimes deviant and mischievous.

ZAHN: But tragic circumstances forced him to grow up fast.

T.D. JAKES: My father got sick when I was about 10-years-old. He went from 280 pounds. He was a robust man and broad-shoulders, muscular, and went down to about 130 pounds.

SERITA JAKES, WIFE OF T.D. JAKES: He had a very abrupt childhood and a very abbreviated childhood. And I think the death of his father sent him into a tailspin where he was looking for answers and a solution to the pain that he was feeling or experiencing. And I think that's what drew him closer to God at that age.

T.D. JAKES: I wish I could give you this magic pill, this drug, this wonder elixir that, if you take it, shazam, you get where you're to go without any kind of problem. I don't have one. If you have one, call me. I'll see you right after the service.

ZAHN: Bishop T.D. Jakes may not have a magic formula, but to his followers in Dallas and around the world, his words provide spiritual healing.

T.D. JAKES: And you made it on one leg? Well, then give me some crutches. Because if you hopped your way out, then, bless God, I'm going to hop my way out, too.

POLLARD: When he speaks, whether it's tens of thousands or whether it's a small roomful of people, everyone feels typically that he is speaking directly to them.

ZAHN: His oratorical skills are legendary.

T.D. JAKES: Either God is God or we need to shut up our Bibles and close our churches.

ZAHN: But in today's self-help society, his unique bland of religion and personal empowerment has been effective and lucrative. POLLARD: He has prospered, similar to the way Dr. Phil has prospered, in a way that Oprah Winfrey has prospered. And no one denies them the right or the opportunity to have wealth.

ZAHN: Over the years, the preacher and multimedia mogul has grown accustomed to the scrutiny.

T.D. JAKES: It's kind of an old horse that has been beaten to death for me. Most people understand that anybody who has sold seven million books can afford a house and a suit.

ZAHN: Bishop Jakes has always made it clear that his money comes from his for-profit ventures, his books, his Gospel record label, his speaking engagements. Officials at the church say, as far as their ministry is concerned, getting rich is not a goal.

LAWRENCE ROBINSON, SR. PASTOR, THE POTTER'S HOUSE: We are blessed. We say thank you. If you think we're driving the big cars or wearing the wonderful clothes, God is good, but that's not what we're about.

ZAHN: Providing clothes and makeovers for the homeless is just one project out of more than 100 overtaken by volunteers from Jakes' church. Some people would like to see Bishop Jakes use his enormous clout to speak out against social injustice and become more involved in civil rights.

POLLARD: One of the things that has long come out of the black community is that it is important in ministry to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. T.D. Jakes is good at half of that equation.

T.D. JAKES: I don't think that one minister can do everything. Every minister can do something. And I see those people who are deeply involved in civil rights, but I don't see them feeding the homeless and providing support for those that are disenfranchised, nor setting up drug rehabilitation centers. I don't criticize them because they're not doing what I'm doing.

ZAHN: As for politics, ministers, especially ones with congregations as large as this one, are used to being courted. The bishop has met with several presidents, but don't expect any endorsements here.

T.D. JAKES: We were very active in telling people to vote, but we were not at all involved in telling them who to vote for. My political views are not theology. It's not Bible and I'm not always right.

ZAHN: T.D. Jakes may not always be right, but he always tries to be righteous. Whether he's delivering his message one-on-one to readers or from the pulpit to thousands of people, he believes he's doing God's will.

T.D. JAKES: God has blessed me to find that thing that I was supposed to do. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And joining me now from Dallas, Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Good to see you again. Welcome.

T.D. JAKES: Thank you, Paula. It's a pleasure.

ZAHN: A pleasure to have you.

It is so much fun to watch the kind of connections you have with all of the audiences you reach. What is at the core of that connection?

T.D. JAKES: I think I have never lost my ability to just love people and to be open and be candid and not be contrived. It feels comfortable to me.

ZAHN: Well, contrived seems to be a pretty common thing these days. We're going to find out how you burst through all that.

Please stay right there. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, the bishop's thoughts on church and state at a time when many say the line between the two is blurry.



T.D. JAKES: Do you know what it is to have fear, fear he's seeing another woman? Oh, got quiet, didn't it?


T.D. JAKES: I must have hit something that time.



ZAHN: And we're back with Bishop T.D. Jakes.

I wanted to start off this segment with talk politics. Do you think the Bush administration agenda is good for African-Americans?

T.D. JAKES: I think that there are many, many things that the Bush administration has instituted that are helpful. And there are many other things that we'll just have to wait and see if they develop the pulse beat of our community and are as sensitive to our needs as we would like to have them be.

ZAHN: What haven't they gotten right so far?

T.D. JAKES: I don't know that it's so much that I have a thing in my mind that they haven't got right. I think it's very, very important that we continue an ongoing dialogue as African-Americans. Many things that they have instituted, in my opinion, are too early to really tell.

ZAHN: There is a really interesting trend to watch statistically. Between the years 2000 and 2004, as you will see from these graphics, the president almost doubled his support among black Protestant voters. What do you attribute that to?

T.D. JAKES: You know, not too long ago, there was an article that came out talking about African-Americans and their faith, the impact of their faith on them being upwardly mobile.

I think that there is a new sheriff in town as it relates to our community. And that new regime of African-Americans, upwardly mobile African-American, are not out of touch with the rest of the community. But I do think that the vote is up for grabs in a way that it has not been traditionally. And so, we have often suffered from the Democratic Party, who assumed that they had our vote, and the Republican Party, who assumed that they couldn't get our vote.

ZAHN: It's interesting that you just said that the Democrats assume they get the vote automatically of the African-American community. Do you think they took that vote for granted?

T.D. JAKES: I don't know what they're thinking about.

We're looking for a party that is concerned about the totality of human well-being and not leaning one wing to one side and one to the other, but really have the more balanced perspective for the well- being of all Americans.

ZAHN: Did you vote for President Bush?

T.D. JAKES: When I go in the booth and close the door, I keep my voting issues to myself.

ZAHN: I respect that, but you understand why I had to ask that.

T.D. JAKES: Sure. I certainly do.

ZAHN: Back to the issue of faith for a moment. Do you think the Republicans have a lock on that issue? There are some Democrats I know, Senator Gary Hart, who grew up in a very conservative religious home, that says, wait a minute, I share those same values that the president is talking about and, somehow, we've allowed the Republicans to gain this tremendous momentum on that issue.

T.D. JAKES: I certainly think that there is a wide range of Democrats who love the lord and have their own faith and practice that faith according to the freedom that this country provides us.

I think it's wrong for us to think that God can be franchised and owned by either party. I think that God transcends political alliances and allegiances. But I also think that it's very, very important that we become very open in including spirituality in the overall panoramic conversation of the human experience.

ZAHN: So what kind of grade would you give the Democratic Party for articulating where it stands on specific moral issues?

T.D. JAKES: I think that the message needs to be clearer not only on moral issues, but on social services. I think that there's much work to be done to clearly draw a line where we can see and understand exactly what the Democratic Party stands for.

ZAHN: Finally tonight, Bishop Jakes, Bill Cosby stoked an absolute firestorm when some people accused him of airing the dirty laundry of African-Americans when he basically said some parents are not playing an active enough role in their children's lives, and, basically, that they had to get over playing victim, that they had to assume responsibility for their futures. Did you agree with him?

T.D. JAKES: Bill Cosby brought up an issue that really became a firestorm in the media. But it was not a new issue to the African- American community.

We have for a long time known that we have some housekeeping and some work to do. And many of us are working diligently. I know, as a pastor of a church in the inner city, we're down in the real muck and the mire of dealing with those issues on a daily basis.

ZAHN: And one last personal question for you. So, you're a pastor. You've had best-selling books. You're a Grammy Award winner. You have been in a movie now. What do you really want to do when you grow up, sir?


T.D. JAKES: I'm excited about working on the family, working on some of the things that Bill Cosby has talked about, building up our spiritual fortitude. We have got a big meeting called MegaFest that is going to be August 3 through the 6th in Atlanta, Georgia, where we're calling families of all colors and kinds to come together and explore their spirituality, their academics, and just have fun together. And let's build our family ties in this country. It's very, very important.

ZAHN: We wish you luck with all of those projects you plan to tackle.

T.D. JAKES: Thank you.

ZAHN: Bishop T.D. Jakes, thanks so much for your time tonight.

T.D. JAKES: It's a joy.

ZAHN: And coming up next, a story passed down from children of another time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This story needs to be told. And there are so many lessons for us from that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: Truth being told to another generation of kids, an inspiring story.


ZAHN: Some teachers in Evansville, Indiana, dragged their students to an opera recently. Well, that's not all that unusual. But what is unusual is that the kid and the teachers and a lot of other people really wanted to go. It was a way to honor something that happened long before they were born and should never be forgotten.


ZAHN (voice-over): Busloads of students are coming to the Victory Theater in Evansville, Indiana, to witness what for this Midwest city is a performance from another time, another world.

"Brundibar" is a children's opera composed in the ghettos of Prague in 1938, a story of hope and justice. Two children defeat a boy with the help of some animal friends. During the Holocaust, the opera was performed 55 times by the children of the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, a way to escape from their grim reality.

ELA STEIN WEISSBERGER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR: Today, I'm speaking really in the voices of those children, that they can't speak for themselves.

ZAHN: One of those children, Ela Weissberger, who performed in the opera more than 60 years ago, is here today.

WEISSBERGER: Thank you and have a good time.

ZAHN: Lisa Muller has worked for two years to bring "Brundibar" and Ela Weissberger to Evansville.

LISA MULLER, TEACHER: I would say we don't have lot of diversity here, white middle-class, Christian, straight. And we sometimes expect everyone to be like that. So, our kids continue to maybe think that everyone in the world looks and lives and prays the same as they do.

We have to move faster on the grammar machine.

ZAHN: Muller teaches English at Castle High School, just outside Evansville. Nine years ago, she went to a teacher's conference that changed her as a person and a teacher.

MULLER: How many of you read Anne Frank? Her experience was...

It was in 1996 at a conference for English teachers. And one of the speakers was a Holocaust survivor. And I thought, well, that will be interesting. I had no idea. It changed my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel like a lot of the Germans kind of turned like a blind eye to what was happening in the camps?

ZAHN: Muller, who is Catholic, says what started as an interest soon turned into a passion.

MULLER: It is a cataclysmic event in human history. And I think all of us need to learn about it and face it and think about our roles in our own lives in what we do and what we don't do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was the hardest thing for you to see or accept?

MULLER: I think this was the hardest one. This is not -- this is Mauthausen. Can you see it?

ZAHN: She traveled to Eastern Europe, visiting the sites of former concentration camps.

MULLER: Once you come into this courtyard, that's the only way out.

ZAHN: But Muller had reservations about her ability to teach her students about the Holocaust.

MULLER: When I hear the words, I was just following orders, I go right back to this.

In my college courses, it wasn't covered. I have a history major and an English major. And one of my classes was the history of modern Germany. It wasn't there.

DAN NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM: The problem is that most of these teachers did not study the Holocaust in college.

ZAHN: Dan Napolitano from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says Muller's story isn't unusual. A museum survey found that more than half of educators who teach about the Holocaust didn't study it in either high school or college.

NAPOLITANO: Understanding of the Holocaust is very superficial. In the last 20 years, it's gone from something that people -- some people knew about, but a lot of people didn't, it was a vague thing, to where it's very commonplace for people to talk about it. But the depth of knowledge is pretty limited.

ZAHN: So now the museum offers teacher training workshops and fellowships.

MULLER: We learn about the worst in human behavior.

ZAHN: In 2001, Lisa Muller became a museum teacher fellow.

MULLER: Intolerance is on the rise all over the world.

ZAHN: But Muller didn't stop there. She became part of a community group brought together to educate other teachers in southwest Indiana about the Holocaust and encourage them to make it part of their curriculum.

CAROL ABRAMS, CYPRESS GROUP: We can form a network of these teachers. They can share their wonderful creative ideas with each other. We can help provide materials, our teacher workshops -- and this is our fourth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a book of five lessons ready to go.

ABRAMS: Have given them more materials to walk out the door with than they can possibly hold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me tell you why I went to that workshop.

ZAHN: This year, the workshop was held on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. One of the speakers included Ela Weissberger, the Holocaust survivor. Weissberger and Lisa Muller first met two years ago in Chicago at a performance of "Brundibar."

Muller had first heard of the opera in 1999, when she first visited the Terezin concentration camp. In this 1944 Nazi propaganda film, 11-year-old Ela plays the role of the cat. Nearly all of the other children who performed at Terezin were deported to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers.

WEISSBERGER: We got after Kristallnacht 24 hours to leave our home.

ZAHN: Seeing an opportunity, Lisa Muller and her group convinced the Evansville Philharmonic to put together a local production of "Brundibar." And they invited Weissberger.

WEISSBERGER: I met all those lady from Evansville. They asked me, you will come to Evansville? It's the state of Indiana. I said anywhere, any time, I'm ready to come.

In 1940...

ZAHN: Before the performance, Weissberger visited several schools, including Lisa Muller's, to tell students about her experience during the Holocaust.

WEISSBERGER: That was given to us. This is the Jewish star. We had to wear it all the time.

ZAHN: She also spoke about the opera.

WEISSBERGER: The only time that we didn't have to wear it, when we performed "Brundibar." But it meant for us not to be marked, to be free.

ZAHN: And, as often happens after Ela speaks with children, they hugged her goodbye.

MULLER: This story needs to be told. And there are so many lessons for us from that.

ZAHN: Muller painfully remembers what another Holocaust survivor once told her.

MULLER: She says you teachers are the bridge to a time that I will not see, and you have to do this. You have to do this.

And it is hard. It is hard. I heard a Holocaust speaker speak one time who was still so filled with anger and bitterness. And I sat there, and I felt as if I was being physically beaten. And I said, I can't do this anymore.

ZAHN: So Muller looks for new ways to educate her students about the Holocaust.

MULLER: You have to act. You have to do something here.

ZAHN: During the finale of "Brundibar," Ela Weissberger joined the children on stage to sing the victory song.

MULLER: Ela says, when we sang that victory song, we were winning the war. And we said, we will prevail.

And, of course, physically, those kids didn't, but the fact that this is going on in 2005 in Evansville, Indiana, in a way, they did prevail.


ZAHN: A triumph for Ela.

We're going to take a complete change of focus when we come back. Wounded warriors awarded Purple Hearts, but now the medals are being revoked.

You'll hear why next.


ZAHN: We're going to tell you a story now about our military bureaucracy at work. It's also the story of 11 marines who volunteered to serve their country and paid in blood, pain and broken bones. Their country was grateful and gave them medals. That's where the bureaucrats came in. They decided that these 11 marines, no matter how much they suffered or how severe their injuries, weren't hurt in the right way. And so adding insult to their injury, their Purple Hearts were taken away.


(voice-over): Early in the Iraq war, Lieutenant Dustin Ferrell's humvee crashed into an army truck at night. Corporal Travis Eichelberger was run over by a U.S. tank. Both were awarded the Purple Heart. The declaration goes back to General George Washington and the closing days of the American Revolution. Washington ordered that instances of unusual gallantry, extraordinary fidelity and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) service would be recognized with a figure of a heart and a purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding. After Washington's time, the declaration wasn't used again until 1932, when the Purple Heart was revived and redesigned. That's why Washington is on it and why it's purple.

It was just an army declaration at first. President Franklin Roosevelt made all branches of the service eligible. The award is for people wounded in action against an enemy. Purple Hearts don't go to accident victims. But in the early days of the second Iraq War sometimes they did. Lieutenant Dustin Ferrell has no memory of what happened to his humvee. Its driver was killed, several other marines were injured. He first was told it had been hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Months later, he learned it wasn't, it was simply a traffic accident in the dark. Corporal Travis Eichelberger's medal made him a local hero in his Kansas hometown. The Marines revoked his Purple Heart even though he's still recovering from the injuries he suffered when the U.S. tank ran over him.


(on camera): It took the military almost two years to get letters to the marines telling them their Purple Hearts were being revoked. The Marine Corps says it takes full responsibility for these mistakes. But the Corps adds that there are still kinks in the system and the error rate rests at about 1.5 percent. So there could be more revocations of Purple Hearts. Two of the affected marines join me now. Lieutenant Dustin Ferrell and Corporal Travis Eichelberger. Good of both of you to join us.

ZAHN: Lieutenant Ferrell, what was it like to find out your Purple Heart was being revoked?

LT. DUSTIN FERRELL, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I was absolutely shocked. I had no warning in December, 2004, when they took the medal that it was going to happen. It had been about a year and a half since the accident. And I had absolutely no idea it was coming.

ZAHN: And from day one, you were led to believe that your humvee was taken out by rocket propelled grenade. You later found out you were injured as a result of an accident at night. At that point, when you found out the real circumstances surrounding your injury, did you think you deserved the award?

FERRELL: I certainly had no reason to believe otherwise. When I found out the true cause of the accident, I researched the criteria. I also spoke to members of my battalion when they returned and everything that I was told indicated that I still rated the award. Again, that question was never brought up.

ZAHN: Do you think the Marines owe you an apology?

FERRELL: I don't like to get into what the Marines do or do not owe me. I don't think I should have to do that. What I do believe is to revoke the medals and say that's all that needs to be done to rectify the matter, I think that's incomplete and incorrect.

ZAHN: And Corporal Eichelberger, we should mention that you are still recovering from some of the injuries that you sustained in the accident that you went through. And I understand you not only showed your Purple Heart proudly but actually had a license plate that had a Purple Heart on it.


ZAHN: How did you confront the reality of receiving this letter saying that your medal was being revoked?

EICHELBERGER: I actually found out about it from Lieutenant Ferrell, actually, first off a buddy of mine from Washington D.C., when I was stationed at Henderson Home Marine Base, called me from the mailroom and said he got this piece of mail that was concerning my Purple Heart. He said he'd forward it to me. Before I got the piece of mail, Lieutenant Ferrell called me and asked me if I had received it. We were actually been in the hospital together in Bethesda.

ZAHN: Were you upset?

EICHELBERGER: I was very upset, actually. I didn't know how to take it actually. I didn't know what it meant, had I done something wrong? Because I hadn't seen the piece of paper yet. Once I finally received the piece of paper, just like Lieutenant Ferrell said, it's very incomplete. I had every reason to believe that I deserved it. Because I was just a 20-year-old corporal laying in the ICU room and the assistant commodore came and visited me and gave me a Purple Heart. That was exciting for me.

ZAHN: Do you still think you deserve it?

EICHELBERGER: I believe to a certain extent I deserve it as in for the fact that I was over there serving my country. But also if the Marine Corps says I do not deserve it, you know, then I don't deserve it. I don't want to have anything I don't deserve, if you know what I mean by that. I don't want something that I don't deserve and then show it off to people.

ZAHN: Lieutenant Ferrell, the Marines sent us a statement that I'd like to share with you and our audience right now. It says, "in no way does this purely administrative action constitute punishment. The events that led to erroneous awarding of the Purple Heart medals were not caused by the actions of the individual marines. The Marine Corps takes full responsibility for erroneously awarding these medals."

Is that good enough for you?

FERRELL: I think it's a day late and a dollar short. I had not heard that. I can say unintended consequences are that myself and ten other marines did feel as though we had done something wrong. That might not be the intent of the Marine Corps, I assume that it isn't but at the same time, without giving further explanation when we received those letters, how could we believe differently?

ZAHN: Colonel Eichelberger, I'd like to go on and read another portion of the statement to get your reaction where it says "the Marine Corps admits that our notification process was faulty. We have implemented new internal procedures to ensure that early personal notification occurs in cases involving awards." Does that satisfy you?

EICHELBERG: It satisfies me because I definitely hope this does not happen to any other marines any time soon in wars now and wars of the future, because I know how it made me feel and how -- what I told my hometown. It made my mother and father proud. And to have it taken away, I know how it made me feel. So I can only imagine how it can make someone else feel especially if this mistake happens again.

ZAHN: Lieutenant Ferrell, I see you nodding your head in agreement. A brief closing thought.

FERRELL: Absolutely. I would just say, for us, we do feel like -- as though we have been punished, whether that was the intent or not. We've had to go and explain this. I don't believe we're the ones who should be doing the explaining.

ZAHN: Lieutenant Dustin Ferrell, Corporal Travis Eichelberger, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us tonight. I know it's painful to even talk about this for the two of you. And good luck with your recoveries.

Coming up. What happens when Middle East diplomacy meets reality TV.

And the final exam takes place right here. That's next.


ZAHN: Well, it has been quite a day in the Middle East. Time will tell if this date will go down in history.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the left and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today announced a cease-fire. No more military attacks against Israelis, no more Israelis in Palestinian areas, maybe. The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which was not at today's summit in Egypt, has already announced that it is not bound by the cease-fire.

Well, the Israelis longing for peace and a better relationship with the rest of the world can be seen now in a new reality TV show. They aren't looking for boyfriend, girlfriend or an apprentice. This show is about training someone to represent the nation of Israel. But there's one last important step.


ZAHN (voice-over): This has become part of the final test. And three young Israelis have been getting ready for the past 12 weeks.

MEHERETA BARUCH, CONTESTANT, "THE AMBASSADOR": This is my opportunity to do something positive.

ZVICKA DEUSTCH, CONTESTANT, "THE AMBASSADOR": You can decide what will be the public opinion. You determine what the public opinion will be. It's power. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the moment we've been waiting for, this is the moment we've been preparing for.

ZAHN: When we heard about Israel's new reality show, we invited the contestants to be our guests. The Israel producers then thought why not make this part of the competition, one of the last hurdles as the contestants try to win the job of their dreams.

The mission, one even experienced diplomats have struggled with for years, improve their country's image.

EVTAN SCHWARTZ, CONTESTANT, "THE AMBASSADOR": If we cause pain, we regret that and go on. Look what we really want to do, which is achieve peace in our region and when we inflict pain, we have to recognize that and say we're sorry.

ZAHN: They're competing for a P.R. job with a major Jewish organization.

BARUCH: These are major public fields that we want peace and we want to live peacefully with our neighbors. And sometimes the world doesn't understand that.

ZAHN: They do it through entertainment. Out of thousands who applied, only 14 made it to the starting line. The show's creators were looking for young, ambitious, articulate and attractive contestants who would be sent around the world.

DEUSTCH: We want you to have the ability to speak in front of the public, which means to connect to an audience, to have them laugh from your jokes.

ZAHN: And the road to winning the hearts and minds of the world's public opinion went through London, Paris, and Budapest.

There were bumps along the way, sometimes a hostile audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like me busting into your home and taking control, killing a few of your family members and telling you that you can now live in a closet and say, "Now, that's a generous offer."

ZAHN: Contestants had to find creative ways to sell their message. And a weak performance led to the boardroom. Someone was fired at the end of each episode. Sound familiar?

While "The Apprentice" tests contestants' ability to sell lemonade on the street.


ZAHN: Or handle office politics, "The Ambassador" finalists have learned that selling real politics is a lot harder.

SCHWARTZ: The problem is that when you sell lemonade, nobody hates lemonade. Nobody is going to say that your lemonade occupies territories or that your lemonade kills babies.

ZAHN: Three months later, only three had made it here, to try out for the role of unofficial ambassadors, New York style.

SCHWARTZ: It's a TV reality show. One of us is going to be the future ambassador of Israel.

ZAHN: Among their final tests, freestyle hip-hop with high school students. Impressing the mayor of New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

ZAHN: Taking their cause to a basketball court.

SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR: More (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for me from Israel? What are you talking about?

ZAHN: And appearing on behalf of their country in this interview on PAULA ZAHN NOW.

Dispel what you think is the most common myth about Israel.

SCHWARTZ: We cherish our freedom; we cherish human rights.

ZAHN: The winner has not been chosen yet. The audience back in Israel will meet the ambassador in the show's final episode.

And while fixing Israel's image problem might require a little more than a TV show, the audience has already weighed in: "The Ambassador" is a smashing success.

DEUSTCHE: I think people are tired of seeing crazy, erratic kind of running around, people doing things without a real purpose. This show, one distinction it has, is there is a purpose. There is an ultimate goal. There is a story. I think that's what people are looking for. It's in the mind.

ZAHN: Stay tuned for a second season of "The Ambassador."


ZAHN: In addition to that second season, they're also negotiating to sell the production rights to other countries that might want to spruce up their image.

Still to come tonight, duty and dedication, a salute to one of the many who sacrificed for their country.


ZAHN: And welcome back.

Time to check in with Larry King now as he continues his King- sized week. Elton John last time and what's the deal with another Paula tonight, Lar?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Yes, but I wish it were you.

ZAHN: Thank you.

KING: I love Paula. I love Paula Abdul, but if you were here, Paula, Paula, Paula, Paula.

ZAHN: Larry, Larry, Larry. Stop, stop.

KING: They're talking already. Anyway, we carry on, don't we?

Yes, we've got "American Idol" kicking off tonight. Paula Abdul, who's one of the judges, and of course, the host, Ryan Seacrest, that phenomenal show now in its fourth season, continues -- continued. It's just an amazing story.

And then the second half of the show, we'll devote a look at that extraordinary case down in South Carolina of a young man, now 15, is on trial as an adult for when he was 12-year-old, killing his grandparents. And they're saying that cause was the anti-depressant, Zoloft.

So that's two topics tonight, quite diverse, but we try to remain diverse. Do we not, Paula? That is our role in life.

ZAHN: Absolutely.

KING: Keep them guessing.

ZAHN: Keep that tent as broad as you make it.

Not that you need any help with questions tonight, Larry, but I'm just curious if Paula and Ryan saw "Saturday Night Live's" send-up of "American Idol" on Saturday night. I don't know if you saw that. It was brutal.

KING: I didn't. Brutal?

ZAHN: Yes. You might want to ask them about it. They didn't make fun of them. They just made fun of the contestants that are on "American Idol."

KING: They just -- they just told me they're going to show it.

ZAHN: Oh, they are?

KING: Paula, I got an idea.

ZAHN: Yes, what?

KING: Why don't you and I work up an act, a singing act? We don't need this gig.

ZAHN: They'll give us, like, 42 seconds every night to do that every night, Lar.

KING: No, we go on "Idol."

ZAHN: I think we ought to keep our day job and night job here.

KING: No. We go on "Idol." We go on "Idol." We win. We blow all this. We're on the road.

ZAHN: I think we have enough problems just trying to please our audiences every night without taking that on. But Larry...

KING: Good luck.

ZAHN: ... have a good show. Tell Paula I say hello.

KING: I will. Paula, he says hello -- she says. Go.

ZAHN: Eight minutes to go to Larry King.

We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, a remembrance, one American who sacrificed for freedom.


ZAHN: Today, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Iraqi police recruits, killing at least 22 people, wounding 30 others. A pair of bombings yesterday killed 27 Iraqis. The U.S. death toll in Iraq now stands at 1,448.

So tonight, we pay tribute to one particular sacrifice. Staff Sergeant Julian Melo died on December 21, 2004, in the bombing of the U.S. mess hall tent in Mosul, Iraq.


NORMA MELO, JULIAN'S WIFE: He was once-in-a-lifetime love. And I don't think I've ever had a boring moment in those 12 years. He was the type of personality that, when he walked into a room, everybody knew he was there.

STAFF SGT. JULIAN MELO, KILLED IN MOSUL BOMBING: At first, it was a little bit hard to get an ornament in Iraq. So I decided to go to the defac (ph) and grab some cereal with a lot of colors, and I make this rope with Froot Loops, and that's how I decorated my Christmas tree.

N. MELO: It amazes me that the last conversation that we had on Monday, after he said everything he had to say was that, "Remember to pray for these kids, Norma. You know, with Christmas coming, there is no joy in their eyes."

J. MELO: Christmas is important because it's all about family. And being far away from my family, and for me to have my Christmas tree and decoration bring me closer to them.

N. MELO: My husband didn't have to deploy. He had just recovered from prostate cancer. And didn't -- had been given the opportunity to stay behind. But he felt very, very passionately that he wanted to be where his soldiers were. And if they were going, then he was going to go, too.

When I was notified and I was told that he was one of the casualties, it was very difficult. It was very difficult for me to accept, because why that day he wouldn't have been in the mess hall, he'd have been on the phone with me, or he would have been eating at his desk. But because of a friend, he was in that mess hall.

And we ask ourselves why he had to turn into the blast, when the other two individuals that he was there with turned away, but that was the kind of person. If he was going to go, he was going to go, so his friends wouldn't have to.

It was my son's suggestion. He said, you know, "Dad loved music. Why don't we buy instruments and send them to the kids over there?" And I'm amazed because this is so like his dad. I knew it was the right thing to do. And somewhere Julian is smiling down on us and saying, "You've got the right idea."

It's hard for me, because he always was just so filled with joy. A great man has been taken from us. But you know, now there is a better man in heaven working for all of us, I guess.


ZAHN: What a hero. As of late January, some $4,000 had been donated in Julian Melo's honor to buy musical instruments for Iraqi children.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight. We'll be back again tomorrow night. The controversial Ward Churchill, the professor who compared 9/11 victims to a notorious Nazi war criminal, is speaking out again. We'll have that and my interview with him.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with the other Paula, Paula Abdul, and Ryan Seacrest. Thanks again for joining us tonight. Have a good night.


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