Q&A with Wolf Blitzer on Muslim Refugees, ‘Fake News’ and His Favorite Journalism Movie


CNN newsman Wolf Blitzer, one of the world’s most recognizable journalists, has personal and professional connections to the Holocaust and Israel.

Blitzer’s paternal grandparents died in Auschwitz. His parents, both survivors from Poland, immigrated to the United States after the war, following the 1948 passage of the Displaced Person’s Act, which opened America’s borders to Europeans persecuted by the Nazis.

Blitzer, 69, was born in Germany and raised in Buffalo, N.Y. He was a reporter in Israel before joining the staff of CNN in 1990.

After being honored Nov. 5 by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Blitzer discussed today’s Muslim refugees, being a Jewish journalist at a time of rising anti-Semitism, his favorite journalism movie and more.

Jewish Journal: Can you compare the plight of Jewish refugees after the Holocaust with today’s Muslim refugees from Syria? 

Wolf Blitzer: As a son of Holocaust survivors who came to the United States as refugees after World War II, I strongly believe in refugee resettlement. This country welcomed my parents, who went on to establish a wonderful life in Buffalo, N.Y. My parents, like other Holocaust refugees, were thoroughly vetted by U.S. officials before they were granted entry visas. My dad told me about the questions he was asked. They were so grateful to this country and went on to become great American patriots.

JJ: How comparable are the situations?

WB: Refugees are refugees even as there are, of course, different degrees of oppression that made them refugees. Surviving genocide and mass murder, for example, is different than surviving a civil war. But make no mistake: Both are awful and brutal.

JJ: What can be done about Holocaust denial in the Muslim world? 

WB: The best way to deal with Holocaust denial is to get the truth out there — whether it’s here in the United States or elsewhere around the world, including in the Muslim world. And that’s where Holocaust survivors play such a critical role. They survived the horror and their stories are so powerful. Unfortunately, they are now in their 80s and 90s and there are fewer survivors every year. Their personal stories and testimony — shared at Holocaust museums on video — will remain and should be told in the Muslim world and everywhere else.

JJ: Before joining CNN, you worked at The Jerusalem Post and at Reuters’ Tel-Aviv bureau. How was the transition to CNN?

WB: It was very smooth. The folks at CNN are so nice. They really spent some time helping me during the transition. I was a print reporter and the hardest thing was learning how to write for television. It’s different than writing for newspapers or magazines. But in the end, it’s all about being a reporter and gathering the news. Those techniques are the same. My first day at CNN was May 8, 1990 — and Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait a few weeks later in August. I was CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, so I had no choice but to learn all about broadcast journalism very quickly.

JJ: Do Jewish journalists have special responsibilities at a time when anti-Semitism in on the rise?

WB: Our responsibility is the traditional responsibility: report the news honestly and fairly and get the job done. That’s what we’ve done for my whole career, that’s what journalists do and that’s what the viewers, readers and the listeners deserve — factual, honest reporting.

“Occasionally we make a mistake. If we have to correct something, we correct it, then we move on.”

JJ: In the age of “fake news,” and with President Donald Trump calling CNN fake news, how can journalists ensure that the public can continue to trust the media?

WB: Just keep doing our job and don’t get distracted. Just report the news and be honest and responsible. Look, we’re the first draft of history. Occasionally, we make a mistake. If we have to correct something, we correct it, then we move on. But it’s not that complicated: just report the news. That’s what we try to do.

JJ: What’s your favorite journalism movie?

WB: “All the President’s Men.”

JJ: What’s the likelihood of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement?

WB: We’ve been working on that a long time. Let’s see what happens.

Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Q & A with Daniel Radcliffe


In the “Harry Potter” films, actor Daniel Radcliffe battled the evil Lord Voldemort with his wand and fortitude. Since the eighth Potter film premiered in 2010, the English actor has tried to diversify his career with films such as the supernatural thriller “Horns,” the gay, Jewish beat poet saga “Kill Your Darlings” about Allen Ginsberg, and the horror film “The Woman in Black.”  Now he’s back with a new movie, “Jungle” — which hits theaters on Oct. 20 — based on the book of the same name by Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg. The memoir tells of Ghinsberg’s misadventures during three weeks stranded in the Amazon jungle in Bolivia in the early 1980s. The Journal recently caught up with Radcliffe, whose mother is Jewish, to talk about his new film.

Jewish Journal: Why were you drawn to the story and to the character of Yossi Ghinsberg?

Daniel Radcliffe: I pursued the part passionately. Sometimes when a story is true and incredibly powerful and communicates something that’s useful about the human survival instinct, I just wanted to become a part of further disseminating that story into the world.

JJ: Did you identify with the story’s themes of survival, especially as an actor after Harry Potter?

DR: You can be worried that people will typecast you, but I’ve been lucky because for every director who saw me out there as just Harry Potter, there was another one who was excited by the prospect of reinventing that image.  You just sort of grab those opportunities when they come around as much as you can. And also I’m very lucky that I’m in a position where I don’t have to work, so I don’t have to accept roles that I’m not passionate about.  

JJ: You spent many hours speaking to Yossi about his experiences. What kinds of questions did you ask him?

DR: Just talking to him about his inner monologue; how he kept himself going.  He said an interesting and also very sad thing about hope. I asked whether the hope of getting home is what kept him alive, and he said actually the opposite was true. Most of the time, he was just surviving from one moment to the next. He said that the moment when a plane flew overhead, he thought he was going to be saved. But the second when that plane flew away was the most demoralizing, deepest despair he had ever felt. He said as useful as hope can be, it can also break your heart.

JJ: Did you learn anything interesting from Yossi about Israelis?

DR: It was this idea that for the generation of kids who grew up as the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors, like Yossi, what is your responsibility?  What do you have to live up to? I think that because Yossi wanted to go off backpacking, that was a disappointment to his father, a Holocaust survivor, and so I think his journey was tinged with a bit of guilt.

JJ: You went on an extreme diet for a month to lose weight for the final scenes of the film.

DR: I was generally having a fillet of fish or chicken and a protein bar every day, as well as vast amounts of coffee and cigarettes. It just makes you feel a tiredness that seeps into your whole being.

JJ: What was it like to film the scene in which your character removes parasitic worms from his forehead with a pair of tweezers?

DR: When you look up and you see the crew looking beyond grossed out, you go, OK, clearly it’s gone all right.

JJ: What was your most difficult moment on the shoot?

DR: One moment that was particularly heartbreaking was when the final scene was postponed for a week because the river had risen 7 or 8 feet and washed away our set. In my hotel room, I had a massive bar of chocolate and I had asked the kitchen to give me a steak for that night; I was going to eat finally. I was so close that I could practically taste it, and then it got rescheduled a week. 

Martin Storrow. Photo courtesy of Martin Storrow

Martin Storrow: Putting creativity toward the greater good


Name: Martin Storrow
Age: 34
Best-known for: #First100Ways
Little known fact: “I played cymbals in the school band. I was the disruptive person. At my mercy, a song could have a great or disastrous ending, depending on when I clashed the cymbals.”

From professional music to young adult engagement to projects of social good and activism, Martin Storrow, 34, approaches all aspects of his life creatively.

He co-founded #First100Ways, a campaign designed to mobilize people around small, positive actions they can take every day for 100 days to benefit a cause or an organization. Before that, he launched Keys for Refugees, a refugee-awareness campaign.

Storrow has worked for or volunteered with many Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Entwine program for young Jewish leaders and Moishe House, where he planned and coordinated retreats for young Jews.

What do you consider your life’s central purpose?

To use creativity for good. That’s what ties it all together. I’m happiest and feel most fulfilled — through music or social good — when I’m doing something that utilizes my creativity toward what feels like the greater good.

What did #First100Ways achieve, and what’s the next step now that the campaign has concluded?

The best thing about it was we ended up with this team of people, the combination of whom was so weird: artists and policymakers in [Washington] D.C., and advertising and media professionals and lawyers. All these people together in the room would have been the funniest little party you can imagine. We started with an email — “Does anyone want to do something?” A group of 15 people were at our core, with an outer team of 100 people, and we were able to build it together.

The biggest lesson was that perception plays such a huge part in our experience. [After the last election,] people around us were living in uncertainty and, in the face of that, we were able to create productivity in a way that was in its conception nonpartisan and inclusive. Our goal was to be progressive but never to be partisan. The goal now is to figure out a meaningful next step for our community of 7,000 active users.

How have Jewish values helped power or inspire your work or creativity?

I grew up with creativity as a Jewish value. We are a part of creation, and just as creation is responsible for us being here, creativity is at the core of Jewish life. It feels really natural that those two go together: being encouraged to question everything, not always as a deconstructive process but as a constructive process building toward new ways that things can be done.

How did you meet your fiancée?

This is a wonderful Jewish Journal question. I met Rachel Brandt, who works in advertising, at a Moishe House retreat in Northern California. She was not involved in anything Jewish at the time. And now her parents always tell me how happy they are that we met! She has constantly raised the bar, encouraging me to be my truest and best self. When I get a crazy idea for what I want to create, she’s the one who tells me to do it, let’s just do it. I don’t think I could have done any of these projects without a partner like her.

We owe a lot to the Jewish community. We’ve had a lot of great experiences because of the Jewish community. Local organizations like the Pico Union Project gave us opportunities to get involved, and JDC trips to places like Ethiopia, Turkey, Georgia and Cuba have enhanced and enriched our lives. We can see the world because people are generous. There’s a lot of generosity out there.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?

You can’t do it alone. I had a mentor early on who told me this but I had to live it in many iterations to learn it. It’s a wonderful thing when people can dream with you and help make your dreams reality. Having an awesome team, we accomplished something together we couldn’t have accomplished individually. Finding the right people is important.

How do you stay inspired when things get challenging?

I read a lot. And I’m always looking at how I can get my hands dirty with whatever’s happening in the world. The thing that keeps me inspired is knowing that it’s a rare day when someone is going to knock and say here’s how you can help. But I know that you don’t have to be an expert to help out. If I’m feeling uninspired, I think about where the needs might be.

If money were no object, which issue in the world would you devote your attention to?

That we could ensure that every single person on this planet had a home. It wouldn’t be that hard if we just decided to do it.

Which three songs and three Jewish values would you say are essential to you?

Songs: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” which I listened to for the first two months of this year on repeat. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” — it’s not a very Jewy choice, but still. And “Landslide,” by Stevie Nicks. One of the first songs I ever learned on guitar, but no one sings it like she does.

Jewish values: Tikkun olam, Tikkun olam, Tikkun olam.

What’s an interesting thing about you that most people don’t know?

I’m a secret writer. I have kept a journal for 13 years. It’s a Word document that is 1,300 pages long, single-spaced.

So, if you turned that into an autobiography, what would you title it?

“Just Make Up Your Mind Already: The Martin Storrow Story.”

Who would play you in the movie version of that autobiography?

Until Maya Angelou died, I had this dream that she was my spirit animal in some way. … She would have played me. I aspire to be the kind of person that Maya Angelou could have portrayed in a movie. But let’s not kid ourselves, probably Ben Stiller.

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