Bob Simon was the kind of journalist whom Brian Williams could only dream of being. There was no finer writer or story teller, no more courageous correspondent, no better example of the highest achievements of reporting, than Simon, described by so many in the last few days as a giant of broadcast journalism. In today’s world of multiple platforms, you can drop the “broadcast” modifier. He was a giant of journalism.
He covered all the wars and conflicts of our generation – Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Sarajevo, Grenada, Somalia, the Middle East and more. Captured by Iraqis in 1991, he endured six weeks of torture in captivity. More than just moving from one war zone to another, he reported on other issues (racism, ebola, for example) and uncovered the smaller stories that reflected humanity and nobility where they’d seem least likely to be found. One of my favorites was of a group of poor villagers in the Congo who learned to make and play classical instruments and formed a symphony, expressing the deepest emotional values and aspirations of Beethoven’s Ninth.
Throughout his career, Simon’s demeanor was elegant; his language, painterly. CBS colleague Robert Hartman, in reflecting on what distinguished Simon from so many other broadcast journalists, noted that Simon was one who “always put the story above the teller.” He made it look easy, as if the stories were telling themselves. It was, of course, not easy, but he raised his professional skills to an art form. And he almost always had an impact.
In the past, Simon himself talked about life’s ironies, and he might have wondered aloud at the circumstances of his own death. Given all he had survived putting his life on the line pursuing the story regardless of personal risk, the manner of his death – in the Manhattan crash of a town car in which he was a passenger- is sadly mundane. He would, I am sure, be able to find some universal truth in this hideous tragedy. Those who admired this gifted man can only feel pain and loss.
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