Morley Safer, 84, war correspondent became fixture on CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ – Boston Herald

Nobody could tell a story like Morley Safer.

The veteran “60 Minutes” correspondent died yesterday from pneumonia just one week after retiring from CBS. He was 84.

Safer started on the news magazine back in 1970 and stayed 46 years, an unparalleled record, and contributed more than 900 reports.

“Morley was one of the most important journalists in any medium, ever,” said CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves. “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 …”

“Morley was a fixture, one of our pillars, and an inspiration in many ways,” said Jeff Fager, “60 Minutes” executive producer. “He was a master storyteller, a gentleman and a wonderful friend. We will miss him very much.” 

The Toronto native started his career writing for Canadian newspapers and transitioned in front of the camera for Canadian television in the mid-1950s. He earned a job on CBS’ London bureau in 1964 and emerged as the most influential reporter on the Vietnam War. His coverage of Marines burning a village outside of Da Nang in 1965 so angered then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, he tried to get him scrubbed from the airwaves. CBS declined. The news helicopter he was riding in was shot down once, but Safer could not be stopped.

Safer was the first newsman to film a story inside Communist China. He won one of his 12 Emmys for his report on the 1971 investigation of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam.

Perhaps the story Safer was most proud of aired in 1983, when his report on Lenell Geter, a young black man in Texas convicted of robbing a Kentucky Fried Chicken and serving a life sentence, revealed a rush to injustice. Ten days later, the man’s conviction was overturned.

Safer had two strengths as a reporter that seem in short supply today: He was congenial and he was curious. He couldn’t be pigeonholed into a type of story, but a Safer story, no matter the subject, was thorough, enlightening, and often on “60 Minutes,” entertaining.

Safer did quirky — features on the merits of abstract art, the Muppets and Martha Stewart (twice). He also got big “gets.” In 2011, more than 18.5 million viewers tuned in to watch him ask Ruth Madoff how she could not have known her husband Bernard was running a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

In his final story in March, he profiled Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.

In addition to his body of work on “60 Minutes,” he wrote the best-seller “Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam” in 1990. He developed an interest in painting watercolors as a way to unwind on the road, and “60 Minutes” always kept him on the road. He estimated he logged about 200,000 miles a year during the peak of his tenure on the news magazine.

When announcing his retirement earlier this month, Safer reflected on his career and said with his usual mix of self-deprecation and wry humor: “I really don’t like being on television. It makes me uneasy. It is not natural to be talking to a piece of machinery. But the money is very good.”

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