At any given luncheon, there are three factors I consider:
1. What’s to eat?
2. Who do you sit with?
3. Is the speaker interesting?
The answer to these questions are:
1. Wraps, chips, cookies.
2. Pat Pattillo from National Council of Churches. Good conversationalist.
3. Yes, substantive. Jeanmarie Condon, senior producer for ABC News Nightline.
Before I head to another luncheon, let me post a few takeaways from last week’s RCC* luncheon.
1. Take Religion Seriously
When making a documentary about Waco TX, Condon learned the big mistake in law enforcement was that they didn’t take the religious beliefs of the Branch Davidians seriously. This ignorance is lethal. “Mainstream media ignored the religious content.”
“When Chilean miners got down on their knees to thank God for their rescue, did the media tell this story?” Condon asked.
Yet the tides are turning. At this moment, people are paying attention to religion. Religion is relevant. After all, “God and money motivate people,” Condon said.
Condon produced a documentary, Jerusalem Stories, with Peter Jennings. It was unpopular with conservative Christians. Condon also made a documentary about St. Paul. (Presumably that one was more popular.)
She was asked for The Century Project, What was the most meaningful event of the 20th century? “The Iran Hostage Crisis,” Condon concluded. That event ushered in the Islamic Revolution but started as a secular movement. Due to a vacuum of power, Khomeni moved in. And so, too, the West Bank and free media for Palestinians. “What started as a conflict over land was taken over by religious leaders.”
2. Cover Religious Content with Respect
The wrong way to approach religion in the media is “from a quaint anthropolgical perspective. ‘Look what they believe and what they do,’” Condon said. Rather, “Have respect for all perspectives. Do not look at religion from the outside in. Look at it from the inside out.” Peter Jennings established the religion beat (Terry Moran, educated at Notre Dame, among others at ABC News, like Condon, are continuing to cover religion.)
When Condon traveled with Peter Jennings to the Church of Holy Sepluchre. “We were watching religious pilgrims touching the stone (where people claim Jesus’s body was anointed before his burial). He (Jennings) was crying.”
3. Make A Good Story
Condon said three things are essential:
“A character is a person or group of people interesting enough to write a short story about.”
The narrative is the story — with a beginning, middle and end — wherein the characters are compelled to take a journey.
By access, Condon means Nightline has to have uncensored time with the character, even if the subject of the profile is Hilary Clinton.
Condon produced a documentary on the search for the Real Jesus (using chants and Bob Dylan music). She also created a special setting out to uncover any facts upon which the novel, The DaVinci Code, was based.
“No truth to it…Mary Magdalene was probably a wealthy businesswomen,” Condon said.
A recent example of a good story? Nightline learned that Christian pastors from the Congo were performing excorisms. “We went and investigated.” The story uncovered abuses by the parents, the pastors, and the overarching need for medical care for kids there. It’s this kind of investigative story Nightline does so well. And perhaps the reason Nightline is the Number One late night show with four and a half million viewers.
Another recent religion story from ABC was their town hall meeting about Islam where the variety of Islamic pundits and practioners showed that Islam is as diverse as Christianity.
Good luncheon = Good food. Good table. Good speaker.
*RCC = Religion Communicators Council.
The locations of the monthly meetings of the New York Chapter of the RCC rotate. The October meeting was held in a windowless meeting room of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.