SENATOR THROWS A CAPITOL HILL FIT OVER "SEARCH FOR JESUS"

Last month's ABC News special "The Search For Jesus" has drawn flak
from religious groups and now, even from the United States Senate.
The program, which examined claims about the historicity of Jesus
Christ aired on Monday, June 26 and was narrated by network news
anchor Peter Jennings.  While factual evidence for the existence of
Jesus may have been scant, the show ended up in the rating heavyweight
category, capturing third place for the week's most-watch, prime time
television program coming in behind only "Who Wants to be Be a
Millionaire" and the CBS hit "Survivor."

"The Search for Jesus" drew more viewers than any other Peter Jennings
special in seven years.

The program was quickly denounced by many religious conservatives,
though, who objected to interviews and material from The Jesus
Seminar, a group which critically examines Biblical claims.  Three
days after airing, the program also took heat on -- of all places --
Capitol Hill, when Sen.  Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) delivered a blistering
speech on the floor of the Senate.

"The promotions for the show promised a pilgrimage to the roots of
Christianity," declared Byrd, "but I think that what we were actually
given was more of a slide show."  He accused Jennings and the show's
producers of devoting "too little time ...  to providing a serious
look at important issues."

"Whatever one's view of Jesus may be," the powerful Senate sage added,
"it is hard to deny that few, if any, other lives have so affected our
world and humanity as that of Jesus Christ."

Byrd objected to both the content of the program, and the fact that
the network allegedly inserted so many commercial messages.  "What
actually aired was light on substance, but heavy on advertising,
giving the effort the appearance, at the very least, of a high-toned
money grab," declared the senator.  He also had inserted into the
pages of the Congressional Record a stinging critique of the ABC
special penned by Tom Shales of the Washington Post.

The full text of Byrd's remarks, including the Post review appeared in
the Record as follows:

                                   "The Search for Jesus"

Mr. BYRD.  Mr. President, I found disappointing Peter Jennings' "The
Search for Jesus," which aired on ABC Monday night.  The promotions
for the show promised a pilgrimage to the roots of Christianity, but I
think what we were actually given was more of a slide show.

All too often we are told by members of the media that they are
constrained by time.  Broadcasters divvy up air time into 30 seconds,
60 seconds, an hour, 2 hours, and they are constrained by these
blocks, which are further constrained by their ability to sell
advertisements to support their use of time.

In case after case, including that of "The Search for Jesus," too
little time is devoted to providing a serious look at important
issues.  Whatever one's view of Jesus may be, it is hard to deny that
few, if any, other lives have so affected our world and humanity as
that of Jesus Christ.  Here is someone who literally split the
centuries in two.

The questions and controversies surrounding His life on Earth
certainly deserve more than the 2 hours devoted to it by ABC.  Two
hours -- in fact, much less than that when one subtracts the commercial
time, which was substantial -- hardly scratches the surface.

The program presented many provocative ideas.  A very limited number
of theologians, historians, and ordinary folk had much to offer in the
way of researched information, speculation, theory, heartfelt notions,
and simple faith.  But they were given only seconds here and there to
provide us with what may well have been valuable insight and
inspirational ideas.  If there is a topic that deserves plenty of
time, this is it.  And, I dare say, as much as it may also cause what
to many, including myself, is a distasteful commercialization of
religion, this is a topic for which I assume the network easily sold
loads of advertising time -- as apparently it did for the broadcast
Monday night.  In this case, what actually aired was light on
substance, but heavy on

[[Page S6062]]

advertising, giving the effort the appearance, at the very least, of a
high-toned money grab.

I cannot be sure what motivated the show, "The Search for Jesus."
Evidently, Peter Jennings and staff spent months preparing for it,
conducting interviews, researching, and traveling to Biblical sites.
But viewers were certainly done a disservice by the encapsulated
version that the network provided.  As much as any journalist may try
to let others do the talking, to give the experts the floor, and to
present a rounded, unbiased view, when it comes right down to it, the
finished piece -- except on very rare occasions -- reflects the decisions,
good or bad, of producers and editors who must slice and trim to make
their program fit into the time frame relegated to it by the network.

The show's conclusion -- that Jesus was a man, that he existed -- comes as
no revelation to anyone who has lost someone dear and found solace
only in the Trinity.  As the program noted, there were others before
and during His time who professed to be the messiah.  They came and
went, sometimes by execution, and their followers were either executed
alongside their leaders or they found new "messiahs" in whom to
place their faith.  But, as the ABC show noted, Jesus was an
exception.  There was something extraordinary -- one might say
miraculous -- in the way that His death promoted the proliferation of
His teachings, and in the fact that, nearly 2,000 years after His
crucifixion, He continues to inspire followers around the world.

There is, indeed, no need to go to the Middle East to find Jesus.  He
can be found in any West Virginia hamlet or hollow.  He can be found
in the arid West, among towering urban buildings, and along peaceful
ocean shores.

In the words of Job, that ancient man of Uz, "Oh that my words were
now written!  Oh that they were printed in a book!  That they were
graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!  For I know
that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day
upon the earth."

I do not judge the intentions or the views of those who helped to put
together "The Search for Jesus" program, but I know exactly where to
place my faith.

  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that an article entitled 
"He's everywhere but here," be printed in the Record.

  There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

               [From the Washington Post, June 25, 2000]

                        He's Everywhere But Here

                            (By Tom Shales)

       An essentially thankless task that proves also to be a 
     pointless one, "The Search for Jesus" is likely to anger 
     many of those who see it -- and merely bore others. A two-hour 
     ABC News special, the documentary proceeds from a foolhardy 
     premise and, in the end, doesn't accomplish much more than a 
     dog chasing its tail.
       And it's not much more illuminating to watch.
       "Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus" -- yes, 
     Jennings gets top billing over even the Messiah -- supposedly 
     aims to discover what can be learned about "Jesus, the 
     man," in historical rather than religious terms. But can 
     those two aspects of Jesus's life really be separated? The 
     danger is that what you'll end up with is an exercise in 
     myth-debunking potentially offensive to devout members of the 
     Christian faith. And that is precisely what happens.
       The program, at 9 tonight on Channel 7, is peppered with 
     disingenuous disclaimers. "We are very aware of our 
     limitations," Jennings says at one point, though much about 
     the program suggests journalistic arrogance and hauteur. He 
     concedes that it is difficult for a reporter "to get the 
     story right" in this case, but isn't it rather presumptuous 
     even to try? A little later, when Jennings says the question 
     of Jesus's divinity is "a matter of taste," he sounds 
     ridiculously nonchalant about a topic of the deepest 
     spiritual profundity.
       Devout Christians may not be the only ones taking umbrage. 
     Whenever Jennings parades into the Middle East, warning flags 
     are raised by American Jewish groups that have objected 
     several times to what they see as a pro-Palestinian, anti-
     Israeli bias evident in some of the anchor's past work.
       Thus one can only groan and shudder when Jennings, later in 
     the broadcast, opens the old can of worms about whether "the 
     Jews" or the Romans are more responsible for the crucifixion 
     of Christ. Oh how we don't need to get into that again. As it 
     turns out, the issue is rather diplomatically skirted by one 
     of several guest theologians who says, tiptoeing carefully, 
     that "a very narrow circle of the ruling Jewish elite" 
     probably did collaborate with the ruling Roman elite in 
     nailing Jesus to the cross.
       As for the resurrection of Christ, upon which the entirety 
     of Christian faith rests, Jennings notes in his cavalier 
     style that there is "a wide range of opinions" about 
     whether it occurred. Come, now. You believe it or you 
     don't. That's the range of "opinions." Anyone looking 
     for scientific or historical "proof" is flamboyantly 
     Missing the Point.
       "All but the most skeptical historians believe Jesus was a 
     real person," Jennings is willing to concede. But one by one 
     he sets about discrediting what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John 
     say about the miracles and divinity of Jesus, making a big 
     fuss, for one thing, over the fact that the four New 
     Testament books contain inconsistencies in their recountings 
     of the story.
       Did a star in the east guide the Three Wise Men to the 
     manger where Jesus was born? "I don't think there were Three 
     Wise Men," a biblical scholar huffs, and that's supposed to 
     dispel that detail. Jesus may not even have been born in 
     Jerusalem but rather in Nazareth, Jennings says; does it make 
     a particle of difference to the spiritual essence of the 
     matter?
       Sometimes Jennings is content with "analysis" of the most 
     innocuous sort. Jesus "must have been a controversial 
     figure" in his own time, Jennings says. No kidding. But 
     mostly we get specious debunkery. Stories of Jesus performing 
     miracles were most likely "invented" by "the gospel 
     writers," Jennings tells us. Even as relatively mundane a 
     detail as Jesus getting a hero's welcome when he entered 
     Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is dismissed: The crowd "may have 
     been singing and shouting, but not necessarily for Jesus," 
     one of the "experts" opines.
       It's also suggested, despite the daring Jennings 
     pronouncement that Jesus was "controversial," that Jesus 
     may in fact have been "a rather minor character" in the 
     political turmoil of the era.
       To the credit of producer Jeanmarie Condon, "The Search 
     for Jesus" does contain many visually arresting images, and 
     the program was for the most part beautifully shot by Ben 
     McCoy. There are such piquant ironies as a sign warning 
     "Danger! Mines!" near a spot where it is believed John the 
     Baptist and Jesus himself once preached. The first image on 
     the screen is striking: a silhouette of the Bethlehem skyline 
     today, a cross atop one building and a satellite dish atop 
     another.
       Thus the program is handsomely produced yet stubbornly 
     wrongheaded and bogus, often seeming a gratuitous effort to 
     cast doubt on deeply and widely held beliefs. This isn't 
     really proper terrain for journalists to traverse. It was a 
     bad idea to do the show and it came out as flawed and muddled 
     as anyone might have dreaded.
       Some of the padding in the two-hour time slot is filled 
     with modern, hip and usually dreadful recordings of hymns and 
     religious songs. A lot of territory, physically as well as 
     thematically, is covered, but for little purpose. At several 
     of the shrines in the Holy Land, we see tourists with video 
     cameras making their own personal documentaries about a visit 
     to the Middle East. Some viewers would be quite justified in 
     wishing they could look at those tapes rather than at ABC's 
     misbegotten and misguided "Search."
       It is a search that leads nowhere. Slowly.

  Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I yield the floor.