February 11, 2015

Bio-Photo-Simon-60-xlargeOne of CBS News’ most honored journalists, Bob Simon, died in a car accident in New York City Wednesday night. Simon was 73.

Simon’s career spanned five decades from covering the Vietnam War to filing a story last Sunday for 60 Minutes about the movie “Selma.” He is the recipient of what is believed to be an unequaled 27 Emmy Awards for field reporting.

CBS said:

Simon recently reported on the persecution of Coptic Christians caught up in Egypt’s political turmoil and the situation in Fukushima, Japan, three years after it endured the triple tragedy of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. His 2012 story from Central Africa on the world’s only all-black symphony won him his fourth Peabody award and an Emmy. Another story about an orchestra in Paraguay, one whose poor members constructed their instruments from trash, won him his 27th Emmy.

To get the story, Simon sometimes paid a stiff price. CBS’s official bio of Simon notes:

In addition to several short detentions, close calls and wounds, he was captured by Iraqi forces near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border during the opening days of the Gulf War in January 1991. He and the other three members of CBS News’ coverage team spent 40 days in Iraqi prisons, an experience Simon wrote about in his book “Forty Days” (Putnam, 1992). He went to Baghdad again in January 1993 to cover the American bombing of Iraq.

Simon said he and his crew ventured out of the safe watch of the military because they felt they were so restrained from traveling that they were not seeing the real story.

In 1990, Simon told People Magazine:

“We were brutally interrogated. They beat me on my head and feet, then they beat the others. I asked for water but was told we wouldn’t get any until the following day, in Baghdad.” 

The trip to the Iraqi capital was “the longest and most painful imaginable,” he says. The blindfolded men “could recognize each other’s voices, so we knew all of us were alive. But the road was shelled incessantly. Every time a bomb exploded, we were thrown backwards, the cuffs cutting into our swollen and bleeding wrists. The couple of times I asked them to loosen the handcuffs, they beat me. I never asked for anything again.” 

Ten hours and 210 miles later, they arrived at an army prison. “At that point there was still some compassion,” acknowledges Simon. Indeed, a medic treated sound man Caldera, who had developed a cough, with antibiotics, and a teenage soldier gave the team a kerosene heater for their dank cell. ” ‘But we learned that the Iraqis had not announced our capture, and we feared that our families did not know we were alive.” 

The date of Bob Simon’s death February 11th, carries a significance. It is the same date on which Nelson Mandela was released from a South African prison in 1990. Simon was there and covered Mandela’s release, it became one of his hallmark stories in a career filled with history-making events.

CBS says, “He and his wife, Françoise, have a daughter, Tanya, who is a producer for CBS News’ 60 Minutes in New York.”

Simon said that after being held in that Iraqi prison, one thing about his life was never the same. “Never again will I visit a zoo, where animals are kept behind bars, in a cage,” he said. 

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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