In an otherwise moving piece, NBC Nightly News’ August 3, 2003 broadcast inappropriately politicized actor Christopher Reeve’s recent trip to Israel. Reeve, a quadriplegic, visited Israel to promote his cause — stem cell research. But NBC marred the report by inserting unrelated references to the Arab-Israeli conflict, always to Israel’s detriment.
NBC journalist, Jim Maceda, introduced the story with this cynical slant:
Christopher Reeve, praying at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. It’s a public relations bonanza for Israel, struggling to improve its image.
Maceda further subtly prejudices the viewers against Israel by telling them that “many celebrities have balked at the invitation, often to protest Israel’s military occupation. Reeve, of ‘Superman’ fame, says it was paralysis, not politics, that brought him here.”
Later in the program, Maceda again shifted the focus to the conflict:
The Israeli government, which helped sponsor Reeve’s $100,000 five-day trip, was careful to show him [Reeve] Israelis and Palestinians healing together in a rehab center, not confronting each other at West Bank checkpoints.
Since Arabs and Jews are both treated at Israeli health facilities as a matter of routine, there is no need for Israel to be “careful” to present them “healing together.”
It is likely that Maceda asked Reeve about his foundation and about the research being done in Israel that motivated Reeve to visit, but the ONLY direct question presented to Reeve included in the broadcast was a leading one designed to imply human rights violations by Israel:
You have been a strong advocate of human rights in the past and still are. Does the ongoing occupation of the territories disturb you?
Reeve appropriately responded that “I’m really not here to talk about the politics of the area.” The “Superman” star, but not NBC, understood that he is an actor promoting a medical cause, not a politician or scholar versed in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Furthermore, NBC missed an opportunity to educate the public about Reeve’s worthy cause. For example, the show informed viewers that Reeve chairs a foundation that funds international spinal cord research, but failed to actually name the foundation, which is the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.
Reeve was shown commenting, “It’s amazing how much I have seen and what I’ll be able to take home with me.” Perhaps Maceda followed up by asking Reeve about Israel’s research, but if he did, it ended up on the cutting room floor, because such a natural follow-up about the point of Reeve’s visit was not included in the on-air broadcast.
It is taxing for Reeve to speak, but he clearly wanted to discuss notable research taking place in Israel that may help victims of paralysis. NBC, however, preferred to omit information of potential interest to viewers in favor of interjecting unrelated political views.
Despite all these flaws, the segment was moving. NBC filmed Reeve meeting with other wheelchair bound victims, including a young man who held the actor’s hand and told the “Superman” star that Reeve was his hero. Christopher Reeve, proclaiming in Hebrew, “hakol efshari,” that “anything is possible,”was similarly touching.
[In the original alert, action items and contact information were included here.]
Transcript: NBC Nightly News, August 3, 2003
JOHN SEIGENTHALER: Now to Israel, where an American celebrity is promoting a cause and trying to avoid controversy. Here’s NBC’s Jim Maceda.
JIM MACEDA: Christopher Reeve, praying at Jerusalem’s wailing wall. It’s a public relations bonanza for Israel, struggling to improve its image.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE: I will go back and tell everyone I can that they should come to Israel.
MACEDA: While many celebrities have balked at the invitation, often to protest Israel’s military occupation, Reeve, of “Superman” fame, says it was paralysis, not politics, that brought him here.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE: It’s amazing how much I have seen and what I’ll be able to take home with me.
MACEDA: Reeve, who chairs a foundation that funds international spinal cord research, came to share his experiences with others like him.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE: And how long ago were you injured?
MACEDA: Many victims of terrorist attacks. Elad Wassa’s spine was severed last year by shrapnel from a suicide bomb. Reeve’s recovery, getting some feeling back in his hand and limbs, has been an inspiration.
ELAD WASSA: Welcome to Israel. You are my hero.
MACEDA: Reeve also wanted to publicize stem cell research, highly regulated in the United States, but encouraged here. The controversial research which involves the destruction of a human embryo has led to breakthrough therapies by Israeli scientists.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE: When they learn something that can help people or advance society, then they have the courage to apply it.
Woman: Your visit is so important to us.
MACEDA: Israel, in turn, praised Reeve as a goodwill ambassador. The Israeli government, which helped sponsor Reeve’s $100,000 five-day trip, was careful to show him Israelis and Palestinians healing together in a rehab center, not confronting each other at West Bank checkpoints. You have been a strong advocate of human rights in the past and still are. Does the ongoing occupation of the territories disturb you?
CHRISTOPHER REEVE: I’m really am not here to talk about the politics of the area.
MACEDA: Instead, Reeve says he came to offer his own personal lesson, even in Hebrew.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE: Hakol Efshari…everything is possible.
MACEDA: Whether it’s to walk once again or find peace after decades of conflict. Jim Maceda, NBC News, Tel Aviv.