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March 9, 2021 11:33 am
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’60 Minutes’ Producer Reflects on New Book and Jewish Heritage

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avatar by Alan Zeitlin

Opinion

The book cover of “Ticking Clock.” Photo: provided.

Ira Rosen has won 24 Emmy awards for his work as a producer for CBS’ “60 Minutes” and “Prime Time Live” on ABC. In his new riveting book, “Ticking Clock: Behind The Scenes at 60 Minutes,” the two-time Peabody winner writes of harrowing experiences and tough situations.

In a phone interview, Rosen spoke about nearly being kidnapped in Pakistan, a strange move by a colleague at the Western Wall in Israel, and being the son of someone who survived the Holocaust by being hidden in a barn by non-Jews.

Q: Your father survived the Holocaust because a Christian family hid him in a barn. Was your story about exposing a Nazi who was alive in the Bronx more sweet because of that?

A: No, I didn’t do the story about Nazis in America to honor my father’s experiences. That’s not to say it wasn’t in the back of my mind. I look at it as an independent story.

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What my father had gone through was an extraordinary thing. It was the best of humanity and the worst of humanity. It was the worst in that they committed the Holocaust. But the fact that a Catholic family was willing to risk their lives to save my father at the age of 15, it’s something that I think about a lot. What choice would I make? Would I risk my family, my children to save another human being? That family decided to do it.

Q: Tell me about Bob Simon. How cruel is it that he was kidnapped in Iraq, got out, and beat depression, only to be killed in a car accident while riding in a livery cab near CBS’ office in Manhattan?

A: You’re exactly right. Simon was probably the most beloved figure at “60 Minutes.” He had an incredible sense of humor. He was an extraordinary writer. He shared credit with producers. The fact that he died on a cab ride … was terrible. He was a correspondent in Israel for many years. He had that country down. He understood it so well. I think he lived in Herzliya when he was there. It was a huge loss for us.

Q: You write that you were at the Western Wall in Israel with Steve Kroft, and you explained the tradition of writing a wish on a piece of paper and placing it in the stones. When you asked him what he wished for, he said he wished for a third producer. … You didn’t write in the book what you wished for. Why?

A: Mine is private.

Q: In Pakistan, you were talking with a guy named Razi and another guy, and your interpreter shouted at them and rushed you back to the car. You write that your interpreter told you the men were debating whether or not to kidnap you, like Daniel Pearl. How were you not scared? Your last name is Rosen. You’re not exactly hiding the fact that you’re Jewish.

A: I kind of had my radar shut off. A lot of people in those situations, if you walk around scared in hostile situations, it’s no good. You kind of shut that off so you can function as a journalist. In that case, I must have taken a stupid pill before I went out that day. Cause I shouldn’t have gone. I later found out that the ISI (Pakistani intelligence) thought I was a Mossad agent.

Q: Were you upset that the convicted  murderer of Daniel Pearl was ordered to be released by a judge in Pakistan?

A: Are you kidding? Everyone is upset. It’s insane. Why would they release someone involved in the beheading of a journalist?

Q: Jesse Jackson famously made the “Hymietown” remark. Do you think he was antisemitic?

A: I don’t think so at all. It was a mistake when he said it. But I know him a bit, and I never saw anything to indicate he was antisemitic.

Q: An interesting part of your book is Ashraf Marwan and the controversy of whether or not he was a spy for Israel, or a double agent really spying for Egypt. The Mossad claimed he was not a double agent, and gave Israel valuable information. Egypt claims that he fed Israel good information only to give the wrong start time of the Yom Kippur War, so Israel would not be prepared for the invasion.

A: I have Israeli friends who I’ve debated with, Mossad folks, and I’ve gone back and forth with this. I think he was a double agent. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a triple agent. Those four hours that he gave allowed the Egyptian army to cross. … The Egyptians believe that was a direct result of what … Marwan did. The Mossad says there’s no way he would give up the information he gave up if he was truly a double agent. But the Egyptians say, “how do you deceive one of the greatest intelligence [agencies] in the world? You have to give good information.” It’s one of the true great mysteries in the spy world. Who knows what we will ultimately learn.

Q: You criticized Donald Trump’s mental state. I’m wondering with President Biden’s earlier statement that we would have 300 vaccines (instead of 300 million), or his statement that there were no vaccines when he came into office, what do you think of Biden’s mental state?

A: I think his mental state is perfect.

Q: So his comments are just slips of the tongue?

A: I’m not familiar enough to really comment on that. I didn’t write about that in my book. I don’t know about it.

The author is a writer and educator living in New York.

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