Morley Safer, the legendary, Toronto-born reporter who covered such landmark stories as the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Vietnam War, has died at the age of 84 at his home in Manhattan, according to CBS News.
His career spanned over 50 years and he reported from practically every continent.
Safer once claimed “there is no such thing as the common man; if there were, there would be no need for journalists.”
He was one of the best-known journalists in the United States, and was famous for his decades at the CBS show 60 Minutes. The program aired a tribute to Safer on Sunday after he announced his retirement last week.
Born in Toronto in 1931, Safer began his journalism career as a reporter for the Sentinel-Review in Woodstock, Ont., and later joined the Free Press in nearby London, Ont.
He eventually moved to Oxford, England, on a Commonwealth Press Union grant and worked for the U.K.’s Mail and Times. He then moved on to work for Reuters in 1955 in London before returning to his hometown of Toronto to work for CBC News. He returned to Europe to work as a foreign correspondent for CBC, where he stayed until 1960.
He later joined CBS as a correspondent, covering some of the biggest news stories in Europe and around the world.
CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves called Safer “one of CBS’s and journalism’s greatest treasures.”
“Morley was one of the most important journalists in any medium, ever,” he 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.”
Reputation for journalistic integrity
CBS said he changed war reporting forever when his 1965 report showed American soldiers burning the huts of Vietnamese villagers. The piece, which was controversial at the time, has been cited as one of the 20th century’s best pieces of American journalism. It aired on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.
Morley Safer was a good friend. I'm sad to say goodbye to such a wonderful journalist and all-around terrific guy. Rest in peace, Morley.
— Larry King (@kingsthings) May 19, 2016
— Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) May 19, 2016
For that story, Safer had been invited to join a group of Marines on what a lieutenant described as a search-and-destroy mission in the tiny villages that made up Cam Ne.
It’s been a wonderful run, and I want to thank the millions of people who have been loyal to our @60Minutes broadcast. Thank you!
— Morley Safer (@SaferCBS) May 15, 2016
But what he encountered there, and captured on film, was the spectacle of American soldiers employing their Zippo lighters to burn the thatched-roof, mud-plastered huts to the ground, despite having encountered no resistance from village residents.
Safer’s story ignited a firestorm.
Then-president Lyndon B. Johnson gave then-CBS president Frank Stanton a tongue-lashing and suggested that Safer had “Communist ties” and had staged the entire story. Safer feared for his safety in the company of angry U.S. soldiers.
“The Cam Ne story was broadcast over and over again in the United States and overseas. It was seized upon by Hanoi as a propaganda tool and by scoundrels of the left and right, in the Pentagon and on campuses,” Safer wrote in his 1990 memoir, Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam.
He gained a reputation for journalistic integrity, and won many awards throughout his career. He won 12 Emmy Awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards and two Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Awards. He also won a Lifetime Achievement Emmy and was named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
Safer held dual Canadian and American citizenship. In 1998, he told Maclean’s magazine he felt “stateless,” adding that he believed this status was an advantage.
“I bring a different perspective and I have no vested interests,” he said.
He is survived by his wife, the former Jane Fearer, and his daughter, Sarah.