Articles From the October 1994 Unification News


Thank You Nightline

by Peter Ross-NYC

On October 5, the remains of almost fifty people were found in the smoldering ruins of several farmhouses in Cheiry and Granges-sur- Salvan in northern Switzerland. Two other people died in a home at Morin Heights, Quebec. All of the dead are reported to have been associated with an organization, the Order of the Solar Temple. Because of the tenuous religious nature of this group, the public did not have to wait before the quacks and "cult experts" jumped on the band-wagon. Incidents such as these are the grist for those who have chosen a career path as "ghost-busters."

It was surprising though that ABC News, and in particular Nightline, provided such charlatans with the runway to pout and strut their stuff. For Ted Koppel to entertain Cynthia Kisser, executive director of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) and Steve Hassan, of Hassan Hassan, and more Hassan, as part of a panel to review the events in Switzerland was entirely misplaced and the result of some very poor research. Neither Kisser or Hassan added anything to the subject-at- hand or to the discussion between Koppel and a reporter from Canada on the Order of the Solar Temple. Kisser outlined how she would go about introducing Ted to her imagined "cult." She concluded her presentation with a dour lobbying effort for more funding and resources to be provided to her industry. Too bad the Clinton health care legislation failed to produce the goods Cynthia. Now you'll probably have to go back to work!

To the evident surprise of his host, Hassan took a significant detour from the topic at hand. Without solicitation, he embarked upon an attack on Mrs. Arianna Huffington (wife of Republican Senate candidate, Michael Huffington) for some prior association with a California-based self-improvement/spiritual group. With his hot-air balloon on a quick descent after Ted's rejoinder for clarification after a commercial break, Hassan hastened to salvage himself by referencing his fleeting association with the UC. (This in fact is the only item on Hassan's business card that garners him any attention from a gullible press). Confident that his awkward opener was now under the carpet, Hassan benevolently issued an advisory to Koppel's discriminating viewers: if you think you are not vulnerable to mind- control techniques, you are vulnerable. His concluding remarks were an attack on the Jehovah's Witnesses. All in a night's work for Steve! But more on him in next month's Unification News.

Other than the comedy provided by Hassan falling ass-backwards over himself (who else can better trip up Steve than Steve?) and Cynthia Kisser's Al Gore impersonations, this program was probably one that Ted was pleased to see close. However, for Unificationists around the country watching one of America's last proponents of journalistic integrity on any of the major networks, Ted's introduction to Hassan as having "been formerly associated with the Moonies" caused consternation. This after all was not Moonwatch or Cultic Studies Journal. This was Nightline!

Throughout the following day, October 6, Unificationists from all across the country phoned the Nightline studios in Washington, DC, to protest Koppel's use of the term "Moonie" and to insist on an apology. Nightline's DC office acknowledged receiving over 300 calls, while local ABC affiliates received hundreds more. In conversation, one of Koppel's staff members commented how gracious and polite each caller had been while registering their complaint and requesting an apology.

In passing, it is instructive to recall that some of America's best social commentators have recently written about the loss of civility in contemporary society. Symptomatic of this regression is the polarization and radicalization of social discourse, so much so in fact, that there is no longer any middle ground upon which to construct any social consensus. DMZ's are drawn up all too readily thereby postponing the promise of reconciliation to some distant date.

However amidst the din and rancor, this interchange between the Unification community and Ted Koppel's staff was a very refreshing and very reassuring happening. A community felt offended and outraged because of a particular abuse. And so they protested. Yet, they did so while conducting themselves in a "polite" manner. Upon receiving their calls Nightline's staff reciprocated with civility and empathy. In distinctive voice, Ted Koppel's gracious and unequivocal apology on Nightline, on the evening of October 6, (not to mention his flawless pronunciation of the Reverend Moon's full name!) concluded this dynamic in a very fitting way.

After 40 years, the Unification community has come of age and has now expanded to its third generation. This has occurred accompanied by great, perhaps unequaled, controversy. And yet despite the extent of scrutiny by the press, so little is in fact really known by many Americans of who or what a Unificationist really is. In this regard, the contribution of ABC News, Ted Koppel and the staff at Nightline will not be forgotten.


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