Journalists stunned by ’60 Minutes’ reporter’s death

Bob Simon

“He was a warrior-poet who loved life and loved people.”
–Anderson Cooper

It’s only Wednesday, and already, it has been an especially rough week for news, and for those who report the news:

  • The reported killing of Kayla Mueller, the young humanitarian aid worker who may have been married off to one of her ISIS captors, and the failed rescue attempts;
  • The disgraced downfall of NBC Anchor Brian Williams who has stained journalism (yes, mom. It is a big deal that this media role model lied, broke the public’s trust, and thereafter, created a rippling effect of suspicion that every journalist must overcome;
  • Political watchdog and comedian Jon Stewart announced his upcoming retirement from “The Daily Show;”
  • President Obama announced he is seeking approval for ISIS war powers; and
  • Today, three Muslim college students were killed execution-style with bullets to their heads in North Carolina. There are suspicions about this atrocity reportedly being committed by a man–a neighbor to the killed family members–either in reaction to his anger over (for f*ck’s sake!) a parking spot, or as a hate crime.

But if all that wasn’t enough to throw you off balance, tonight, veteran reporter and “60 Minutes” Correspondent Bob Simon, 73, was killed in a car crash.

I am an Anderson Cooper fan. It’s not just how adorable he is (sorry, Coop, but you are…and my mom has a crush on you), but more importantly, I respect him as a journalist. This evening when he was interviewing the sister of one of those unfortunate slain college students, I noticed a hint of tears forming and a change in his voice. But a short time later, it was the news of Bob Simon’s death that certainly tested his composure.

image010Walter Cronkite Announces Kennedy Death Cooper donned his spectacles, looked down at his phone, and as he read an announcement from Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” it reminded me of one of those rare Walter Cronkite moments–e.g. the day President Kennedy was assassinated–when emotions took control of a generally serious and composed newsman. It was the way the two men removed their dark-rimmed glasses and tried to escape the camera’s attention and the eyes of America and the world. The two men paused, swallowed tears and looked down to clear their mind of the kind of sadness that can grip your emotions; he had to finish reporting and separate himself from the story’s tragic end.

Cooper’s voice cracked, he swallowed his words, and his eyes turned red in stark contrast to his bright, blue eyes, alabaster complexion and silver hair. I wanted to give him a hug. (I sent a message to his “New Year’s Eve Live” buddy Kathy Griffin asking her to give him a call, get him to giggle and lift his spirits.)

AC360“He was a warrior-poet who loved life and loved people,” Cooper described Simon.

He added: “I gotta say just on a personal basis, I grew up admiring Bob Simon, and whenever I gave talks at schools I’d always say Bob Simon is the greatest writer and the person I most look up at (in) this business. And when I started working at ’60 Minutes,’ to even be in the same halls, the same offices as Bob Simon, was such an honor, and it’s just a huge loss for CBS and for everybody.”

Finding that delicate balance of humanity versus objective disassociation

For many years, I covered police and fire stories for a newspapers. As much as I loved my work, I saw a lot of horrible things. I’ve had to keep my composure when I’ve had to report especially heinous crimes and senseless accidents. I’m thankful I didn’t have to face a camera when I was interviewing a woman whose husband’s chunks of brain–stinking a peculiar metallic odor, and still warm and steaming in the cool morning air–were splattered on the garage walls or sitting in puddles of blood on the ground.  Getting someone to reveal their story–their feelings–requires the journalist to display the delicate and challenging balance of humanity with objective disassociation. Years later, my stomach still flips a bit when I remember the distraught face of a crying teenager I interviewed only moments after he had pulled the limp body of his friend out of the murky, reed-tangled river water. I was out on another story and had heard a group of friends laughing and jumping off a platform that had washed down river during winter storms. It was the boys’ screams for help that attracted my attention. The teen lay motionless in the dirt as paramedics arrived to find the boys crying and trying to resuscitate their friend, but it was too late.

60-minutesBob Simon started at CBS News in 1967, and later joined 60 Minutes in 1996. Since I was very young, every Sunday, I couldn’t wait for news magazine show to start. It still gives me a bit of a thrill when I hear the tick, tick, ticking of that famous stopwatch. When I was a child, my family crowded on the couch to watch every week as they presented weighty stories that triggered discussions, arguments, activism, sadness, empathy and joy.

It’s because of reporters like Simon that my life’s calling was to become a writer and journalist. It wasn’t just his unique speaking and writer’s voices, but also his unusual approach to all manner of subjects. It was his enduring curiosity, his dedication to the craft, and his bravery when marching into dangerous situations and war zones to deliver stories to the world and expose the truth. These are the attributes journalists strive to achieve whether they are following soldiers onto a battlefield, or facing off with an intimidating leader and pressing for answers to the difficult questions.

Bob Simon4Simon leaves a rich legacy of what’s best in journalism. He reported stories crucial for the public to be informed about their world, and he did his part to make people in positions of power accountable for their acts.

My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time. #RIPBobSimon