After viewing CBS’s 60 Minutes segment on “Christians of the Holy Land,” I was struck by a question.
My question wasn’t how the CBS fact-checkers could let a number of flat-out wrong statements be reported, or how they could let controversial statements from the interviewees stand unchallenged. It wasn’t even a question about the lack of parity in the interviews.
I wanted to know where the actual substance was. What is it that CBS actually “reported?”
The construction of the segment is such that it is based around a solitary element of data: the demographics of Christians in the Holy Land.
Solitary, because the rest of the piece consists of Bob Simon speaking in platitudes and broad strokes about the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while treating the viewers to familiar panoramic shots of graffitied concrete walls, green-clad soldiers manning border crossings, and the narrow stone alleyways of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
What’s more is that he never really attempts to prove a specific thesis. He just sort of implies, against a backdrop of pictures and some interviews that at best speak in general terms about the conflict, that the responsibility for the drop in Christian population is directly tied to Israel.
How is it tied to Israel?
Well, he only utilizes a coherent argument for “why.” That is, he elaborates at length about “why” Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, might want to stop the segment, and how airing it could damage support for Israel. Then Simon frames the ambassador’s actions in conspiratorial terms and actually chastises him.
The detailed explanations stop there. In fact, Michael Oren is the only professor to appear in the segment at all.
Simon doesn’t actually explain the mechanics of why Christians are leaving the Holy Land, or how Israel’s actions affect Christians specifically.
That’s because such an explanation would require facts. And Simon and his team haven’t got many of those.
Which raises another question: How far has the journalistic standard fallen that 10-odd minutes of tired Middle-East clichés qualify as an “investigative report?”
Where are the academic experts on history, demographics, sociology and religion? Where are the charts of facts and figures? Where is any research at all?
If there is only one complaint allowed of this episode, it isn’t an accusation of bias or misreporting of facts — it is the non-reporting.
The sheer laziness of 60 Minutes apparent in the segment should be appalling not just to its viewers, but should be cause for anger upstairs at CBS’s management. What is it, after all, that Bob Simon and his team are paid for? It cannot be to simply repeat an interviewee’s claims as fact and go home, job done.
The simplest internet search would have found that the extremely brief reply allowed to the Israeli ambassador, wherein he talks about the decline of Christian communities throughout the Middle East, is the closest the segment gets to the real story.
Dozens of bylines from news media such as the The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, B.B.C., Telegraph, Globe and Mail, Daily Mail, New York Post etc talk about actual, researched reasons for Christian flight from the Holy Land.
Specifically, there is much discussion of Muslim intimidation and violence toward Christians in places like Bethlehem, especially since the area was transferred to Palestinian control.
There is talk of Palestinian governmental corruption and ineffectiveness making the wealthier Christians easy prey for local criminals, especially when smaller Christian families are challenged by larger Muslim ones in the hamula-, or clan-oriented society.
The articles note how educated and Westernized Christians are more severely affected by the economic downturn of the violent intifadas, especially in the tourism market.
The articles also note how educated and Westernized Christians are able to immigrate with greater ease to places in the West, places where many of them already have family.
Had he searched, Simon might have also found that the “Kairos” document, plugged in the segment as a “love and faith” solution to the problem of dwindling Christian communities, actually praises an ambiguously defined idea of “resistance,” calls for boycott of and divestment from Israel, and embraces the sort of replacement theology rejected by the Second Vatican Council.
Simon’s team could also have found that neither a wall, nor any other part of Israel’s security barrier, “completely surrounds” Bethlehem, and that the Orthodox Patriarch’s statement that in 1964 there were around 30,000 Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City is fiction, since there were less people than that living in the entire Old City.
Had Bob Simon and the team at 60 Minutes actually reported, they might have talked about parallels with all the Christian communities imploding across the Muslim-majority Middle East – in places without “Israeli settlements.”
They might have also learned that the only country in the Middle East to actually have a growing Christian population is Israel.
And they would have seen that numerous other journalists have reported that vulnerable Christian communities are fearful of speaking out against the real threats to their communities and prefer the society-recommended activity of blaming Israel for their plight. Blaming Israel is the option that may prevent, rather than invite, reprisals. Simon and his team may even have ventured a guess as to why the Coca-Cola franchisee for the whole West Bank, a smart man no doubt, amazingly has never heard of the phenomenon of anti-Christian violence.
Had Bob Simon performed real, hard-hitting reporting, he might have used his position as a journalist to actually help the Christians of the Holy Land. Instead his are just another pair of eyes closed to their tragedy.