“60 Minutes” decided to pull back the curtain on a charged confrontation it had with the government of Israel over a story it reported about Arab Christians in the country.
“We didn’t realize it would become so controversial,” Bob Simon, the reporter for the story, said on the show’s Sunday broadcast.
The main thrust of the piece was that Palestinian Christians had become, in Simon’s words, “the invisible people, squeezed between a growing Muslim majority and burgeoning Israeli settlements.” The report showed a family of Palestinians boxed in on almost all sides by the wall the Israelis have built in the West Bank, and said that many are fleeing the country.
The story drew so much ire from the Israeli government that its ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, contacted CBS News chief Jeff Fager before the story even aired.
As Simon explained:
For Israel, there could be serious economic consequences. According to Israeli government figures, tourism is a multi billion dollar business there. Most tourists are Christian. Many of them are American. That’s one reason why Israelis are very sensitive about their image in the United States. And that could be why Ambassador Oren phoned Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, while we were still reporting the story, long before tonight’s broadcast. He said he had information our story was quote: “a hatchet job.”
In an interview with Simon, Oren called the story “outrageous” and “incomprehensible” at a time when, in his words, Christians were being “massacred” in the Middle East. He said he had “information” about the story’s negative slant that had been “confirmed” by his interview with Simon. “Nothing’s been confirmed by the interview, Mr. Ambassador, because you don’t know what’s going to be put on air,” Simon shot back.
“True,” Oren said.
“I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet,” Simon said.