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Announcing the Winners of the Inaugural Walter Duranty Prize

FIRST RUNNER-UP by Roger Kimball

Kimball: The selection committee of the 2012 Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity is delighted to award its commendation and second-place prize to Bob Simon for his supremely untruthful report “Christians of the Holy Land,” which aired last April on CBS’s storied news show 60 Minutes.

Expert practitioners of the art of mendacity from the time of the sophist Callicles have advised their pupils, when telling a lie, to make it a big one. This Mr. Simon did with consummate bravado. Not for him the subtle misrepresentation, the quiet fudging of a fact, the deft deployment of misleading innuendo. No, Bob Simon started with a doozy: the “one place where Christians are not suffering from violence” in the Middle East, he reports, “is the Holy Land.”

Who knew? Yes, he admits, Muslims are persecuting Christians -- and Jews, too, of course -- in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere, but in and around the birthplace of Jesus, Christians are unmolested by Muslims. Nevertheless, they are fleeing the Holy Land in droves. This puzzles Mr. Simon. He took the formidable resources of CBS and went with 60 Minutes to the Holy Land to find out why.

We on the Committee of the Duranty Prize were surprised at Bob Simon’s surprise -- or what might more accurately be called his feigned surprise. For surely his in-depth, on-the-ground, walk-the-streets-and-interview-colorful-natives investigation uncovered what is patent to even a cursory examination of the facts about the persecution of Christians by Muslim Palestinians.

We think, for example, of the at least 14 homes of Christian Palestinians that were burnt to the ground by a Muslim mob in 2005 in the West Bank because a Christian man was dating a Muslim woman. What provocation!

We think also of that catalogue, assembled by Church leaders and reported by the London Telegraph, of the nearly 100 incidents of abuse perpetrated, in the words of one commentator, by an “Islamic fundamentalist mafia against Palestinian Christians.” Comparing the tone and substance of “Christians of the Holy Land” with the historical reality, the Committee instantly understood that in Bob Simon we had a practitioner of journalist untruthfulness worthy of comparison with his great precursor, Walter Duranty.

The Committee was also deeply impressed by the breadth and versatility of Bob Simon’s mendacity. For not only did Mr. Simon blithely deny the reality of Arab violence against Christians in the Holy Land, he also skillfully and brazenly laid the blame for Christians’ fleeing the area at the feet of the Israelis -- as if Israel’s policy of self-defense precipitated the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.

Mr. Simon also blatantly misrepresented the character of the documents he drew upon for evidence. He suggested, for example, that the so-called Kairos Document, a statement issued by a group of left-leaning Palestinian Christian pastors in 2009, was a blueprint for peace, when in fact it is a noxious specimen of anti-Israel propaganda that also whitewashed Palestinian acts of terrorism as “legal resistance,” a description that other Christian groups have rightly rejected as “repugnant.”

Bob Simon furthermore followed anti-Israeli Palestinian propaganda in falsely describing the nature of the security barrier that protects Bethlehem. He said that it “completely surrounds” the city, transforming it into “an open-air prison.” But as he must know from the evidence of his own eyes, the barrier lies to the north and west of the city only.

In the course of his report, Bob Simon interviews and rudely baits Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., who told him the “major duress” on Christians in the West Bank comes from Muslims. In response, Simon trotted out a Christian Palestinian businessman who denied it -- but whose very livelihood depends on the good will of Muslim Palestinians. As one commentator for the Committee for Accuracy for Middle East Reporting in America asked: “Did Simon really expect to get [this] prominent businessman with a lot to lose … to admit to problems with the Muslim majority in Palestinian society in an on-camera conversation with two other people sitting next to him? Is this what passes for investigative reporting at 60 Minutes?”

On a personal note, I would like to register the fond place that 60 Minutes occupies in my memory. I do not much watch that or any other television news show these days, but in years past my wife and I would often spend Sunday evening with Bill and Pat Buckley who lived near us in Connecticut. No Sunday evening could proceed without taking in 60 Minutes together before dinner. I found the segments sometimes informative, occasionally tendentious, but no episode I recall commanded the breathtaking mendacity displayed by Bob Simon’s piece of anti-Israeli propaganda masquerading as concerned journalism.

“Christians of the Holy Land” is a textbook case of deploying the trappings and authority of objective reporting in order to further the ends of ideology. Bob Simon, though unworthy of the canons of responsible journalism intermittently upheld at CBS, is nevertheless a flagrantly successful embodiment of the spirit of mendacity that the Walter Duranty Prize was founded to commemorate. Congratulations, Bob Simon, on your award. You richly deserve it.