Thu, 02/12/2015

Remembering Bob Simon

Bob Simon

We're sad to hear that CBS News correspondent Bob Simon died in a car crash yesterday in Manhattan, NY. Simon was 73 years old. He began working at CBS News in 1967 and was soon offered a position in CBS' London Bureau. Simon reported on the conflicts in Northern Ireland, and later covered the Vietnam War from Saigon in 1971-72. He also covered the Yom Kippur War, the Portugal Colonial War, and Anwar Sadat's assassination. He moved to the State Department in 1981, served as a national correspondent for CBS News in New York from 1982-87, and was named CBS News' Chief Middle Eastern correspondent in 1987. He was held hostage in an Iraqi prison during the first Gulf War in 1991 (he was a prisoner for 40 days along with three other members of the CBS news team). Simon joined 60 Minutes as a regular correspondent in 1996, and reported several memorable stories, including "The Traitor" with Ethel Rosenberg's brother David Greenglass, and "Curve Ball" an interview with the Iraqi defector Rafid Alwan (who fabricated the story about WMDs that helped drive the U.S. into war and actually walked out of the interview). Simon also covered Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, and felt the most important story he covered was "The Selling of the Iraq War to the U.S." 

Below are some excerpts from his 2013 Archive interview:

On getting hired at CBS News:

Back then there was an institution called The Assignment Desk. We’re talking 1967. On The Assignment Desk there were 12 of us working in the newsroom. I mean it was a real newsroom. We took turns doing desk work and going out as what today you’d call an assistant or a gofer. You’d either be sitting in the desk and looking at wire copy - your basic job, particularly at night, and I was on the overnight for months, which I loved - you're looking at wire copy and just making sure that if there was anything the national or the foreign editor should know about, you’d call them.

On working for the CBS London Bureau: 

I was the junior member; the two other correspondents there were Charles Collingwood - I don’t know if anyone of your generation even remembers Charles Collingwood - but he was the consummate chief foreign correspondent. He could have played himself in the movie. I mean he was elegant and well dressed and articulate. The other correspondent there was Morley Safer. So there’s Collingwood, Safer and Simon? You’ve got to be joking. Collingwood and Safer had pretty much divided up the world into Collingwood and Safer zones, with Collingwood taking much of western Europe, and Safer of course, taking Vietnam. And then Beirut. The only place they both hated was Northern Ireland. So I think I was in Northern Ireland more than I was in London.   

On how he was treated as an American journalist in Northern Ireland: 

This is a pattern that was to repeat itself for the rest of my career and frankly, it wasn’t my unique experience - it's everybody who’s been a foreign correspondent. You're always welcomed by the underdog and detested and attacked by the minority rulers. The Catholics welcomed us in Belfast and gave us at times an embarrassing amount of access. We were spending a lot of time with guys who the British Army was after. That repeated itself in, well obviously in Bosnia, where the Bosnian Muslims greeted us with open arms and considered us the enemy, which we were.  

On his biggest challenge reporting from Vietnam:

It was to cover the war. It was a journalist’s dream. History was being made. Look, any journalist who tells you that he doesn’t like war, give him a couple of drinks and ask him again. Because it's the biggest adrenaline rush there is. That’s why a lot of guys, soldiers too, but journalists, friends of mine, get into very deep depressions after a war. Now, some shrinks would say it's Post-traumatic stress disorder. And I’m sure that plays a part. But it's also that there’s no other experience that matches it. Journalists who become war correspondents are pretty much waiting for the next war, and when you're overseas, when you're a foreign correspondent, that’s pretty much what you're doing. Because nobody cares about the European Union and their decisions in Brussels. But when there’s a war they want it. I think I covered 35 wars/insurrections in the course of all my time overseas. 

On being held prisoner during the Gulf War:

On his favorite 60 Minutes pieces:

On the legacy of 60 Minutes:

On the power of television:

Indescribable. And it keeps on getting more indescribable. The fact that the people in Tahrir Square could be watching the revolution in Tunisia and then watching their own revolution on Al Jazeera, a cable channel, this has become part of history. This has become a very, very crucial part of world politics. I don’t even know if ‘politics’ is a broad enough word. It has become an essential. It's determining fates as much as anything else. Important things that happen like what we used to call the ‘Arab Spring’ wouldn’t have happened without television. Going back a long time, even though it was different, I agree with the Army, that it was television coverage that made it impossible for the Americans to stay in Vietnam.  

Watch Bob Simon's full Archive interview and read his obituary from CBS News.