Still, brevity is no excuse for lack of nuance. Simon’s 60 Minutes bio calls him “the most honored journalist in international reporting,” and whether this is true or not, he can do better. The 60 Minutes story on Qatar could have fulfilled its purpose without neglecting Al Jazeera’s emir-imposed limitations, insulting Arab journalists, and mispronouncing the country of interest. There’s so much imprecise Western reporting on the Middle East; it’s important for places like 60 Minutes to hold themselves to a higher standard.
What the world has in Qatar is a classic rentier state in which a populace accepts certain setbacks (political stagnation, speech limitations, and tardiness of women’s rights) for the payoffs of the state’s sale of natural wealth: free education, guaranteed employment, little or no taxes, and state-funded health care. Journalistic exploration of Qatar should introduce it as the latest country in the rentier model, spending at least as much time dissecting the system’s perils as toasting its bling.
Some of the blame for the failures of this story belongs to 60 Minutes producer Harry Radliffe, who put the story together. Still, Bob Simon is a grown man who decides whether or not to speak on camera. When Radliffe showed him the crackpot script, Simon should have said, “Are you kidding? I’m not reading this shit.”
I once heard someone float a possible book title for a tome on American foreign policy in the Middle East: Bumbling White Men in the Sand. That title fits the 60 Minutes story well.