CBS News needs to come clean about ‘60 Minutes’ Palestinian Christians segment

By Dexter Van Zile/JNS.org

Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News, has a problem. Either he doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he’s lying about the security fence that Israel built to protect its citizens from suicide bombers coming from the West Bank during the Second Intifada.

Click photo to download. Caption: Reporter Bob Simon on the controversial CBS "60 Minutes" Holy Land Christians program. Credit: CBS.

I came to this troubling conclusion during a talk he gave at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in New Canaan, Conn., on Sunday, April 7, 2013. Invited to speak at the church by his pastor Rev. Peter Walsh, Fager showed an audience of more than 200 of his fellow parishioners a segment about Palestinian Christians that aired on the CBS “60 Minutes” program in April 2012.

During the segment, correspondent Bob Simon stated that the security fence “completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the ‘little town' where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open air prison.’”

The fence does not completely surround Bethlehem, as Simon reported. The security fence is located to the north and west of Bethlehem and leaves the rest of the city’s perimeter open to the West Bank. The factual misstatement raised some questions about the notion that Bethlehem is an “open air prison.” If conditions in the city are so bad, it shouldn’t be necessary to exaggerate the extent of the security fence, but Palestinians spokespeople do it all the time. And journalists fall for it on a regular basis—even “60 Minutes.”

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), pointed out the “60 Minutes” error in an article on its website soon after the segment aired and in a half-page ad that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 14, 2012.

Nevertheless, the CBS show has not issued a correction to this day.

After showing his fellow parishioners the “60 Minutes” segment, Fager complained about the angry response the show elicited. In particular, he condemned the Wall Street Journal’s decision to run CAMERA’s ad, which he said was intended to create havoc on the CBS show’s reporting.

Fager then told his audience that CAMERA got it wrong about the security fence in its ad and that “Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall.”

This is a patent falsehood. Maps provided by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations, B’tselem, and even the PLO all indicate that the security fence does not completely surround Bethlehem. People can go to Bethlehem and see for themselves.

But instead of telling his fellow parishioners the truth about the fence and that “60 Minutes” made a mistake, Fager of CBS doubled down.

Because I was in attendance, I felt obligated to call his bluff.

During the question and answer period, I raised my hand, stated I worked for CAMERA, the organization responsible for the ad in question, and then issued a simple and direct challenge: If Jeff Fager could prove that the security fence completely surrounds Bethlehem like he said a few moments before, I would donate $5,000 to a charity of his choosing.

His response was a simple “Okay.”

After the event concluded and the people in attendance started to leave for the church’s Sunday services, I gave him my business card. So far, no response.

Somebody at CBS News needs to tell Fager something similar to what John Dean told President Nixon during the Watergate Crisis in the early 1970s: There’s a cancer growing on his chairmanship of CBS News and his beloved franchise, “60 Minutes.”

This cancer can be excised with a simple on-air admission that the security fence does not completely surround Bethlehem as Simon reported in 2012 and as Fager said again almost year later. Nobody is asking Fager to resign or commit seppuku. He just needs to instruct his people at “60 Minutes” to come clean and move on.

And while they’re at it, whoever has Fager’s ear needs to tell him something else: It’s not the error.

It’s the stonewalling.

Dexter Van Zile

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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Posted on April 9, 2013 and filed under Opinion, Israel, U.S., Christian.