As a journalist who must stay neutral on all issues, I make it a habit not to sign any petitions or political statements. However, in 1991 when I got a call from Francoise, the wife of Bob Simon to organize a petition on behalf of Simon, who was imprisoned by the Iraqi government, I didn't hesitate. I got around forty Palestinian journalists to sign an appeal to the Iraqi leadership to release Simon, confirming his professionalism and rejecting their claims that he was a spy for Israel.
Simon, who happens to be of Jewish background although not practicing, covered the Palestinian intifada with sincerity professionalism and understanding in a way no other television reporter has done. In fact while working in Palestine he intervened to prevent the Israelis from deporting one of his own colleagues Taher Shreiteh, a story that is recorded in a book Shrieteh co-authored entitled Beyond the Intifada." Bob survived his forty day imprisonment in a Saddam Hussein jail and had the professional courage to go back to Baghdad in 1993 and relive and report on those difficult days.
Bob Simon covered both the first and second intifada for CBS News. He has returned many times since to do various stories and interview senior Palestinian and Israeli leaders. His most recent visit for 60 Minutes was focused on the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. Like a professional he gathered his evidence, made his interviews and then confronted the Israeli ambassador in Washington.
The tough interview included a unique exchange with Michael Oren in which Simon revealed he had pressured CBS news not to air the segment. "I have never received a reaction to a story that hadn't been broadcast yet," Simon told the Israeli ambassador. "There's a first time for everything, Bob," Oren said, adding that "I do that very, very infrequently as ambassador."
What made Bob Simon different for me was that he didn't shy away from traveling to the "hot spots." At the time that his colleagues were enjoying the Tel Aviv sun and beach, Bob was ploughing the streets of Gaza and the villages of the West Bank looking for that unique voice, that special interview, which he could beautifully embroider into his news masterpieces. I have used many of Bob's TV reports in my various teaching efforts whether at Princeton University in the U.S. or Al Quds University in Ramallah.
The video reports of Bob Simon represent a unique school. I don't know how many times I played back Simon's well-written and -crafted TV reports to teach would-be journalists how to produce a human interest story that goes beyond slapping visuals over a prerecorded narrative. At a time when worldwide bureaus are closing down, and TV reporters are recording a narrative to be edited back in New York with whatever available images come from APTV or Reuters TV, Simon's beautifully written creations seamlessly sync with the video images to produce a wonderful rhapsody that is second to none.
Bob Simon is a true professional hero to me. His death in a car accident in New York is perhaps a divine message to all would-be television reporters who are afraid of dying in the field. Simon went everywhere, survived wars and prisons and was able to go back and report on them with honesty and integrity.
In Arabic we have a saying that he who has given birth has not died. My personal condolence to Francoise and Tanya (also the name of my daughter). Whenever I met Bob he was proud of his daughter's work.
Bob Simon's professional shoes will be huge ones to fill. Rest in Peace Bob.