Longtime 60 Minutes contributor Bob Simon died Wednesday night in a car crash in New York City. The 73-year-old journalist was riding in a livery cab that hit another vehicle on the West Side Highway and then crashed into the median. Simon was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after the crash. The cab driver sustained injuries to his arms and legs; the driver of the other vehicle was not injured.
Simon’s long career with CBS began in 1967, and he spent many of those years abroad. He was based in the network’s Tel Aviv bureau from 1977 to 1981, and returned to Israel as the network’s chief Middle East correspondent in 1987.
Simon and two of his crew members were kidnapped by Iraqi forces in Kuwait and held for 40 days at the start of the Persian Gulf War. According to his CBS obituary, the network “quietly lobbied the news media to refrain from mentioning that Simon was Jewish, fearing his Islamic captors would kill him.” (His Red Cross ID card mistakenly identified him as Protestant.)
But during an interrogation and beating, an Iraqi captain slapped him and forced open his mouth and then, spitting into his mouth, called him a Jew. “I would have killed him if I could have. …” Simon told reporters at a press conference days after his release. “And I would have had no more remorse than I had every morning when I got up and killed a cockroach in my room.”
After his release Simon wrote a book about the imprisonment, called Forty Days. He earned four Peabody awards and 27 Emmys throughout his career.
A controversial 2012 60 Minutes segment, in which Simon reported that the Israeli occupation had led to the evaporation of Palestinian Christian communities in Jerusalem and the West Bank, featured Simon confronting then-Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on camera about Oren’s request to CBS executives that the piece be softened.
Simon’s death occurred in the middle of evening news programs and left many anchors, like Anderson Cooper, visibly upset while learning and reporting the news. Jeff Fager, 60 Minutes’ executive producer, said in a statement, “It’s a terrible loss for all of us at CBS News. It is such a tragedy made worse because we lost him in a car accident, a man who has escaped more difficult situations than almost any journalist in modern times. Bob was a reporter’s reporter. He was driven by a natural curiosity that took him all over the world covering every kind of story imaginable. There is no one else like Bob Simon.”
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.