by: David Harris-Gershon on August 11th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
Last week, my phone vibrated loudly, dancing upon the dining room table and startling me while writing. On the line was a producer for CBS Sunday Morning, who had called upon learning about my forthcoming book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?
He was taken with my story of reconciliation – with my journey to meet the Palestinian man who perpetrated the 2002 Hebrew University bombing, which injured my wife and killed the two American friends with whom she was sitting. The producer, after flattering me with platitudes, began exploring a number of options for turning my story into, among other things, a CBS Sunday Morning profile.
Having great admiration for Sunday Morning’s narrative craft and admiration for how it often shies away from the type of sensationalism so many other news outlets crave, I was excited by the possibility.
When the producer, who we’ll call Jeff, asked about access to my wife and family, I was very clear: this is my story. You can have access to me, but not to my wife, nor my children.
His response: “No problem. I’d love to do this.” And moments after hanging up the phone, an email from Jeff popped up in my inbox:
“Thanks again for your time on the phone. What a riveting story you have to tell. And you deliver it so eloquently too! I truly hope that we have the opportunity to work together.” – Jeff
Jeff understood that my wife, while supportive of my book and efforts to publish it, needed to maintain her privacy and anonymity as much as possible, despite being a central part of the book. He understood that she worked in a delicate profession, and had changed her name to shield this part of her identity – being a victim of terror – from clients and colleagues.
Jeff also understood that my protection of my wife’s anonymity during this process was a central part of my own trauma narrative.
– § –
In 2002, after the bombing and the long, agonizing recovery my wife endured in Israel, we returned to the States, where I became paralyzed by PTSD-like symptoms.
No amount of therapy helped. I was a mess.
A significant part of my psychic distress was due to the guilt I felt after the bombing for not having protected my wife. The post-traumatic effects from which I suffered were largely due to the fact that I had known of the dangers of attending Hebrew University. I had read newspaper articles in Hebrew (something my wife was not able to do) chronicling the university’s lax security. Warning that something dreadful was imminent. However, I shielded such information from her, not wanting to allow fear to steal from us our goal – to finish our graduate degrees in Jewish Education. For I knew that if my wife knew about such newspaper articles, she would have called it quits.
And in that sense, I had failed to protect her. And that failure, and the guilt it brought, contributed to my psychic paralysis.
Now, eleven years later, I refuse to make my wife vulnerable in ways I’m not prepared to allow by giving media access to her in any way. In essence, I must protect her in ways I failed to do when the bomb went off at Hebrew University.
– § –
Jeff knew all of this. Understood it. Appreciated it. And seemed to even understand it as a central component of the narrative to be told.
However, several days later, I received this:
“I need images of your wife for this to move forward.” – Jeff
I refused, offering compromises instead: images of us together with her face pixelated, images of us together from behind, her face not visible, images that would connect viewers to her existence while continuing to shield my wife’s identity.
I had assumed that such compromises would satisfy Jeff’s need for images of her, which was really a perceived need to imagistically connect viewers to her during the telling of my narrative. I had assumed that an outfit such as CBS Sunday Morning would not fall victim to the sensationalism so many others crave.
But for Jeff, it was a deal-breaker: “Without images of your wife’s face, it is impossible to tell this story.”
I was stunned. Really? This story of reconciliation between myself and Palestinians connected to the bombing was impossible to tell without images of my wife’s face? Without the sensational images of the victim, the one thrown across the floor and burned, her body sliced by shrapnel? Closeups on her scars? Her injuries? Her vulnerability?
From CBS News, the pressure to cave was clear. They usually got what they wanted, apparently, and thought such pressure would change my perspective.
My publisher, which has understood and fully supported my position regarding marketing and my wife from day one, was rightfully hesitant to let such an opportunity slip, and engaged in efforts to coax me toward some measure of comfort.
But I shook my head, “No.” I would not do it.
CBS News decided to move on. Just as several other media outlets have decided to move on without access to my wife.
Access they will never get.
Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG
I understand there is an inherent conflict in writing a book about something that happened to my wife and shielding her from any media access. But life is complex. While she has been completely supportive of this book, and views its story as an important one that must be told, it is also a difficult venture for her, and she cannot be a part of it.
Again, life is complex. So too are the pressures of marketing such a book.