Bob Simon, the longtime CBS correspondent who died tragically in an auto accident two weeks ago, covered 35 overseas “conflicts,” from Vietnam to the Falklands and Biafra to Baghdad. Some would call these “war zones,” but many wars are not declared, except by the people in the midst of them. They have, nonetheless, been harrowing and challenging sites, and Simon was there.
He was beaten, starved, spat at, imprisoned, even accidently bombed by U.S. forces. Simon not only survived; he prevailed to write and deliver compelling copy and continued to put himself in harm’s way to get the story.
Simon won 27 Emmys and a Peabody for his work, with the latter award reading: “In an age when neophytes with cell phones, websites and Minicams claim to be journalists and when the debate on critical global issues often takes on a shrill tone amplified by thousands of extremist voices, Bob Simon’s reports for 60 Minutes II and 60 Minutes ring with reason, truth and informed insight...”
But 60 Minutes was just a capper on a career that began in the ’60s in New York and London. Then he was off, sometimes on a motorcycle, to wherever the troubles were—Belfast or Cambodia, Cyprus, Portugal, the Middle East.
Without journalistic boots on the ground, “conflicts” are too easy to compartmentalize. They are something foreign, happening halfway around the world to someone else. Bob Simon refused to allow us to see war in that way. And the only way to do that is to risk one’s own life in the process.
There is an undeniable swagger in the best journalists, the ones who could fill out a trench coat and not look like a parody of a correspondent, the kind of journalist who was not above throwing a game to catch a tip.
When he covered Israel, Simon intentionally lost in tennis to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. According to a 60 Minutes Overtime video on the CBS News site, Simon said that a regular doubles game (husbands and wives squaring off) would end with a handshake and good-byes if the minister and his wife lost. But if they won, it would be back to Rabin’s home for some Scotch and useful information. Talk about a “love” for journalism.
Simon was not the last of that breed of hard-nosed TV journalists who wrote their own copy and risked their own necks to make the news matter. But he was one of them, and one of the best.
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