There is a lot of justifiable hue and cry about the ’60 Minutes’ segment that blames Israel for the decrease in the Christian population in the West Bank. Numerous commentators have effectively dissected this travesty, and it seems that CBS received a torrent of critical e-mails, many from Christian organizations – a response that CBS has tried to mischaracterize as consisting of only a few hundred e-mails that were all carbon copies of an original.
While it’s too soon to know how much damage this episode will cause, there are some interesting early lessons:
1. The response to the many factual errors (and equally damaging omissions) in the report was quick and comprehensive. At minimum, it seems to me to be likely that CBS will be a bit more careful in future. I believe that, unlike the Guardian, which cannot possibly care about accusations of bias, given the egregious nature of its “coverage” of Israel, CBS is still a serious organization and there will be at least some measure of internal review.
2. The information that Israeli ambassador Michael Oren contacted the CBS brass ahead of time and tried to get the story stopped, was not, to put it mildly, helpful. This allowed Israel’s opponents to make that the issue, and to turn Bob Simon’s performance from lazy, shallow, incompetent, and unprofessional into downright heroic: the courageous actions of a near-martyr in the cause of freedom of the press, standing up against Israeli bullies who wanted to impose censorship. This story line proved particularly fruitful for the social media – most of the comments on Twitter took the slant of “the story Israel didn’t want you to see.” There was no good reason for Israel to hand its opponents such a freebie. Whoever advised Oren on this should be reassigned to the hasbara bureau in Magnitogorsk.
3. One more time, Christian supporters of Israel in the USA demonstrate their steadfastness and influence. Much more should be done to work cooperatively with this important constituency.
4. This is the perfect opportunity for a corrective video to be produced for YouTube, exposing all the errors in the program and definitely including CBS’ answers (or, more likely, non-answers) to provocative e-mail questions that should be composed specifically for the purpose. These questions should also be addressed directly to Bob Simon’s Twitter account, and his answers disseminated widely.