Who ya gonna call? take 3

If you have any interest in the 60 Minutes hatchet job on Israel broadcast this past Sunday, you really have to read Ben Smith’s report at Buzzfeed:

When the venerable CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” aired a segment critical of the Israeli treatment of Palestinian Christians last week [sic], correspondent Bob Simon repeatedly suggested that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren had crossed a line by contacting the network’s top executive in advance to complain of a coming “hatchet job.”

“We didn’t realize it would become so controversial,” Simon said in his introduction to the story, which featured an on-air clash between him and Oren. “I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet,” Simon told the ambassador during the segment.

But Simon’s apparent shock — and high dudgeon — at Oren’s conduct were nowhere to be found in a letter he wrote the ambassador before the taping, and which was provided to BuzzFeed by a political operative not party to the dispute who said he shared it because he thought it illustrated CBS doubletalk.

“Fortunately, we are still in the process of reporting the story, so [CBS News Chairman Jeff] Fager and I want to give you an opportunity to express your views and correct any misrepresentations or omissions which you apparently believe might have occurred,” Simon wrote, in a courteous missive on personalized “60 Minutes” letterhead, dated January 4. “Thank you and best wishes.”

Oren responded to Simon on January 11 with an equally courteous letter, saying he was “indeed concerned” about the planned segment and that he would like to “respond to the allegations raised” once he knew what they were.

All this is fairly common in the dance between reporters and sources. It’s not unusual for reporters to seek difficult interviews with innocuous correspondence. Less common is the theatrical outrage Simon expressed on air, but not in the letter, at Oren’s interest in shaping a story about his country.

And the courteous tone broke down during the taping of the interview in early February. As the tape ran, Simon confronted Oren with his complaints to Fager. Oren said the segment’s topic was “outrageous” and “incomprehensible” in the context of violence against Christians elsewhere in the region, and that Simon’s questions had “confirmed” his fears.

“Nothing’s been confirmed by the interview, Mr. Ambassador, because you don’t know what’s going to be put on air,” Simon responded.

Smith also had a look at correspondence from Ambassador Oren to 60 Minutes following the interview:

“The interview not only confirmed my concerns about the segment but deepened them,” he wrote, calling Simon’s approach “a feebly disguised attempt to exploit Christians—and inflame religious tensions” without any “historical or diplomatic context.”

Oren blasted “Mr. Simon’s lack of understanding of – or genuine interest in – the basic facts regarding Christians in the Holy Land,” and anticipated the segment “would be irresponsible, unfair, and beneath the standards of your program.”

Smith asked 60 Minutes spokesman Kevin Tedesco to comment on the exchange summarized above — he includes copies of the letters at the end of his report — but Tedescro declined to comment and the correspondence, as lawyers love to say, speaks for itself.

Even so, I will reiterate that Oren had obviously a good bead on the hatchet job that 60 Minutes had in the works. We can now add that Simon is a faker and the interview was an ambush.


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