Celebrated television journalist Morley Safer died today in Manhattan. He was 84 years old.
The longtime CBS newsman - who spent the last 46 years working on the series “60 Minutes” - had just announced he was retiring last week. The network said his health had been declining.
Safer’s reporting from Vietnam in the 1960s, which angered many, was considered groundbreaking. Most notably, an August 1965 segment that aired on “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” in which he talked about witnessing U.S. Marines destroying the huts of villagers in Cam Ne with fire.
After seeing the award-winning piece - which New York University declared as one of the 20th century’s most compelling pieces of journalism - then President Lyndon Johnson accused Safer of being a communist and called CBS News executives “unpatriotic” for running the clip.
The newsman said some Marines thanked him for exposing this cruel tactic that they were forced to use, while others threatened his life. Safer also said the pentagon had been treating him with contempt ever since that report hit the airwaves.
Safer - who was born in Toronto Nov. 8, 1931 - began his career in newspapers shortly after dropping out of the University of Western Ontario after only a few weeks. He soon moved on to television, serving as the London correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He was hired away from them by CBS in 1964 and worked for the network for the remainder of his career.
Among his many achievements with CBS: serving as its Saigon bureau chief from 1964-1966; continuing to report while his helicopter was being shot at in 1965; being the first reporter to film inside Communist China, for the CBS News Special Report titled “Morley Safer’s Red China Diary,” in August 1967; and serving as a “60 Minutes” correspondent longer than anyone else (he joined the program in December 1970), reporting on everything from headlines and science to celebrities, culture and art. Throughout his career, he won numerous awards for his work, including Emmys and Peabodys.
“Morley was one of the most important journalists in any medium, ever,” CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves said. “He broke ground in war reporting and made a name that will forever be synonymous with ‘60 Minutes.’ He was also a gentleman, a scholar, a great raconteur - all of those things and much more to generations of colleagues, his legion of friends and his family, to whom all of us at CBS offer our sincerest condolences over the loss of one of CBS’ and journalism’s greatest treasures.”
“This is a very sad day for all of us at ‘60 Minutes’ and CBS News,” added “60 Minutes” Executive Producer Jeff Fager, a close friend of Safer’s. “Morley was a fixture, one of our pillars, and an inspiration in many ways. He was a master storyteller, a gentleman and a wonderful friend. We will miss him very much.”
Safer’s last segment for “60 Minutes,” a profile on Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, aired March 13. This past Sunday, after the news of his retirement went public, CBS honored him with the hourlong special “Morley Safer: A Reporter’s Life.”
He is survived by Jane, his wife of 48 years, daughter Sarah Bakal, her husband Alexander Bakal, three grandchildren, a sister and a brother.