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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

I Know My Way Around the Catskills

Veteran CBS reporter Bob Simon died in a car accident last week. Wikipedia states that he “covered crises, war, and unrest in 67 countries. Simon reported the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the student protests in China's Tiananmen Square in 1989. During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, he and four of his TV crew were captured and imprisoned by Iraq for 40 days, about which experience he wrote a book, Forty Days.”

I have a different recollection of Bob Simon.

He was the host of CBS’s “Sixty Minutes Two” when David Greenglass broke his 50-year silence. The interview was broadcast on December 5th, 2001, and although my memory is not precise enough to repeat Bob’s questions and David’s answers verbatim, that interview is seared in my mind.

My younger daughter, Rachel, now an attorney suing the government on behalf of political prisoners while working for the Center for Constitutional Rights, was then in law school. The day of the broadcast, Rachel said, “It’s my birthday. Do I have to watch it?” Of course not, I responded, but I felt compelled to watch and was immediately distressed. Even with a fake beard, I could see a family resemblance. I was mortified to think that I looked even a bit like my uncle.

Bob Simon asked Greenglass how he expected to be remembered. David’s reply was unhesitating: As a spy who turned his sister in, he said. Simon followed up with how that made David feel. The instantaneous response was, “I don’t lose any sleep over it.” And I think David was telling the truth, even though it was an astounding statement for someone who’d just admitted on national television that his key trial testimony against his sister, my mother, was a lie.

And so it went, more probing questions, and a series of amoral, sociopathic replies. I was struck that as the interview progressed, Simon leaned further and further back in his seat. His body language seemed to indicate that he wanted to put as much space as possible between himself and Greenglass. Watching the two men, I felt that Simon was almost as repulsed as I was.

The program included a moment of comic relief. Greenglass said that in the month before his arrest he realized the FBI was following him so he devised an escape plan for himself and his family. He told Simon that he slipped his tail and spent the day in the Catskills to see if it would work. Simon was incredulous. You mean you thought you and your family could hide from the FBI in the Catskills? Greenglass replied with a hint of petulance, “You’d be surprised. I know my way around the Catskills.”

Perhaps you will think that I’m letting Greenglass off the hook too easily, but that statement epitomized the mindless arrogance that enabled Greenglass to rationalize all his actions without batting an eye. So I couldn’t help laughing. Perhaps, with Bob Simon’s help, David Greenglass had just written a fitting epitaph.
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