Bob Simon, Rest in Peace

Bob Simon of 60 Minutes

Image courtesy of CBS News/60 Minutes

Bob Simon, Rest in Peace
| published February 12, 2015 |

By Thursday Review editors


At CBS News—and among the world of some of the world’s best reporters—grief over the death of newsman Bob Simon was mixed with a sort of strange irony: as a journalist, Simon had been in some of the most dangerous circumstances and environments in the world, yet he died in a car crash in New York City.

Like many great reporters of the previous century and the current age, Bob Simon wasn’t averse to risk. He reported from hot spots and dangerous places many times, including riots in American cities in the 1960s, combat zones in Southeast Asia at the height of the Vietnam War, and Iraq at the onset of the Gulf War, where he was once taken captive, held by Iraqi soldiers loyal to Saddam Hussein, and even tortured for information for 40 days in an Iraqi prison.

Simon, who first went to work for CBS News in 1967, was also bureau chief and senior correspondent in CBS’s Tel Aviv office for five years before being promoted to State Department correspondent in late 1981. Hardly jobs without tension, stress, and pressure. But Simon also had an affinity for reporting from war zones. He was there, in Vietnam, literally to the bitter end as Marine helicopters plucked the last Americans and the last of their Vietnamese friends from the embassy rooftop in 1975. He also reported from the Falklands, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Grenada, and Somalia.

He was also a member of what is arguably the most elite circle of television journalists: correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes, the most popular news magazine show in TV history. This put him in the same company as some of the best journalists in the substantial stable CBS talent: Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Dan Rather, Leslie Stahl, Steve Croft, Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Scott Pelley.

As such, Simon had racked up four Peabody Awards—one of the highest honors bestowed upon television journalists—for a variety of reporting projects, including most recently an award for his story of the impoverished town in Paraguay where the locals make musical instruments entirely from the materials found in the town’s massive trash landfill. His highest honor came after the height of the war in Bosnia: an Alfred I. DuPont/Columbia University top award for his “Shame of Srebrenica,” a long form report telling of the genocide and the humanitarian aspects of that war.

Simon’s career at CBS News spanned 47 years, and in addition to the prestigious awards, he also won at least 27 Emmys, and scores of other journalism and news awards.

Bob Simon was what many of his colleagues called a “true newsman” and "a reporter's reporter," the sort of journalist who was drawn toward important events and moments of history-in-the-making. This was no accident for a young man who graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in history from Brandeis University. Nor was it happenstance that his first major news assignment was covering the strife and fighting in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.

In January of 1991, during the first week of the Gulf War, Simon and his crew apparently crossed the border from Saudi Arabia into Iraq. They were captured by Iraqi soldiers, and carted off to more than a month of mostly solitary confinement, physical abuse and mental torture. He later wrote a book, Forty Days, detailing the harrowing experience. Almost two decades later, Simon travelled to Japan to report on the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent nuclear reactor disaster at Fukushima, perhaps as courageous an act of journalism as any of his experiences in Vietnam or Iraq.

Simon was pronounced dead upon his arrival at a New York hospital last night. He was killed when the Lincoln Town Car he was being shuttled in collided with another car which was stopped at a traffic light on Mahattan’s west side; After the initial collision, Simon’s car careened into the metal barriers which divide the oncoming lanes.