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CBS Shareholders Accuse '60 Minutes' of Anti-Semitism

Leslie Moonves
Leslie Moonves

At the company's annual meeting, members of a pro-Israel media watchdog group say the country is owed an apology and a retraction for a controversial story that aired last year; CEO Leslie Moonves says he stands by the report.

One of the most venerable TV franchises in history was under assault Thursday, May 23, at the CBS shareholder meeting, where activists who dominated the question-and-answer period accused 60 Minutes of airing a misleading segment in 2012 that amounted to anti-Israel “propaganda.”

The segment, “Christians of the Holy Land,” from journalist Bob Simon, reported that Israelis have been oppressing Christians living in Bethlehem so severely that their numbers have dropped from 30,000 in 1964 to 11,000 now.

But Simon got the number of Christians wrong and it is the Muslim majority that is persecuting Christians, Talia Shulman Gold of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America told CBS executive chairman Sumner Redstone and CEO Les Moonves on Thursday. CAMERA is a pro-Israel media watchdog group based in Boston.

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“The failure of CBS News to take action on this matter remains astonishing and inexplicable,” she said at the shareholder’s meeting, which was held for the first time at the CBS studios in Los Angeles.

Another member of CAMERA, general counsel Edward Schwartz, also complained to CBS shareholders, executives and board members of inaccuracies in the segment that he said are so egregious, they could be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

Schwartz also quoted extensively from a speech delivered by CBS News chairman Jeff Fager, who said in 2011, “No doubt about it, one of the most serious threats to a free press is a big mistake without an apology or a correction.” Schwartz complained that CAMERA has “repeatedly” pointed out the mistakes in the piece to Fager but that he and CBS board members are “stonewalling.”

“We anticipated that factual errors denigrating the state of Israel would be corrected and the record set straight,” Shulman Gold said. “Instead, the detailed letter sent to Jeff Fager enumerating errors in the Bob Simon segment that we shared with this board a year ago received a totally un-serious, four-sentence reply that did not address even one of the factual errors cited.”

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Each of the CAMERA representatives spoke twice, and Moonves responded that he was standing by the 60 Minutes segment. CBS general counsel Louis Briskman spoke of 60 Minutes being the “crown jewel” of CBS News, and he said that the show’s “First Amendment rights should not be chilled.”

Other than the controversial remarks about 60 Minutes, the meeting was filled with positive talk about the stellar financial achievements notched by CBS lately.

“We’re here at the home of the classic game show, The Price Is Right, and for anyone who has bought our stock these past few years, what an appropriate place to be,” Moonves said.

CBS stock hit an all-time high on Wednesday, Moonves said, and the company expanded its share repurchase program by 57 percent last year and increased its dividend by 20 percent.

In the past four years, Moonves said, CBS stock has risen 1,559 percent compared to a rise of 145 percent for the S&P 500. That makes CBS the second-best-performing stock among all S&P 500 companies during that time frame, he said.

Redstone, sounding frail, spoke only briefly at the meeting in order to introduce “super genius” Moonves.

“What a great time to be in the media business, and a terrific time to be a CBS investor,” Moonves told the roughly 100 shareholders, board members and CBS employees in attendance.

At the start of the meeting, the shareholders reelected all 14 members of the CBS board of directors.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com