'Viral' examines scourge of anti-Semitism

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The new PBS movie "Viral" is not about COVID-19, and in fact, was finished well before the pandemic hit.

It's called "Viral" because its subject matter is also a scourge that is spreading.

"Anti-Semitism is spreading and growing," writer, producer and director Andrew Goldberg said. "Started small, and like a virus, it moves big."

The metaphor also makes the new documentary especially relevant at the moment.

"There are now websites where people have said, 'If you get coronavirus, go to a synagogue or go to an area where there are a lot of Jewish people, and cough on them,'" Goldberg said. "People are suggesting that you take this disease and use it to harm Jews."

Goldberg is a former employee of Eyewitness News who wrote copy for the late Bill Beutel and then for Bill Ritter.

"I was mentored by a lot of people there," he said. "I learned about objectivity in journalism. Going from breaking news to documentary is sort of a natural transition. Documentary is a form of long form news."

In "Viral," Goldberg takes four separate instances of how racist beliefs that start on the fringes of political discourse can infect the mainstream.

"It starts with comments," Antisemitism: Here and Now author Deborah Lipstadt said. "It starts with words, and then it escalates."

Former President Bill Clinton links her words to the tragedy in Pittsburgh, where 17 people were shot -- 11 fatally -- at a synagogue.

"The shooter in Pittsburgh is spending time on these far right websites," Goldberg said. "He's just one person, but then he takes those ideas into a synagogue, and he murders 11 people."

The filmmaker also moves overseas to Hungary, France, and Britain to show how politicians on the right and the left use racism to distract citizens from other problems and anxieties.

"The politicians tap into preexisting ideas in those people's minds," Goldberg said. "If people are a little bit racist, are unsure about African Americans, a leader can grab onto that and say that African Americans are bad and people will run with it. And, the same case is the case with Jews."

PBS will air "Viral" on WNET-13 Tuesday night before making it available for streaming.
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