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Morley Safer: a reporter with Canadian roots

A short, trim man with graying black hair, friendly brown eyes, and a craggy face, Morley Safer's abilities defy his humble appearance. With a career spanning over 50 years and reports from practically every continent, Safer is one of the best-known journalists in the United States. Famous for his decades at the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes, Safer began his journalistic career in his native Canada. In this radio interview, Safer recalls some of the many stories he's covered.
• Morley Safer was born on November 8th, 1931 in Toronto to Anna (Cohn) and Max Safer, the proprietor of a small upholstery business. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, Safer began his career in Woodstock, Ont. as a writer for the Sentinel Review and then as a staff reporter at the London Free Press. Safer took a gamble leaving Canada on a Commonwealth Press Union grant and began work in Oxford, England for the Mail and Times.

• In 1955, after a brief stint as an editor and reporter for the Reuters News Agency in London, Safer returned to his hometown of Toronto. There he joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as an editor and subsequently a foreign correspondent.

• In early 1958, Morley Safer began producing, and occasionally appeared on CBC's Newsmagazine, the oldest news program in Canada. Safer covered most major European stories of the time, including the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and Pope Paul VI's famous visit to the Holy Land in 1964. Job requirements took the young reporter to the Middle East and then Africa.

• His move to the U.S. and CBS materialized after conflicts with the CBC arose. Although Safer resigned as editor of CBC's Newsmagazine in January 1960, his later attempts to withdraw this resignation were in vain. Out of work, prospects were bleak until 'surprisingly' the phone rang. In April 1964 he joined CBS News as a London-based correspondent.

• In 1965 Safer was recruited to open the CBS News bureau in Saigon.
• The war in Vietnam brought Safer great fame and controversy. In a 1965 piece that revealed U.S. Marines burning the undefended village of Cam Ne, he gained a reputation for journalistic integrity by delivering an uncensored report. U.S. President Lyndon Johnson was outraged and accused the reporter of being a communist. Unable to find any seditious opinion, Safer was cleared of suspicion and reasoned he "wasn't a communist, just a Canadian."

• The awards surged in, including two from the Overseas Press Club, who honoured him for the best TV reporting from abroad and the best reporting in any medium requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.

60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt said Safer's finest hour was his investigative segment "Lenell Geter's in Jail." Due to Safer's efforts and the introduction of new evidence, the wrongly-convicted Geter was released from a Texas prison where he had been serving a life sentence for armed robbery.

• With a preference for what he described as "the observed kind of story," Morley Safer's reports covered such events as the mysterious disappearance of pleasure boats from Gulf Coast marinas, drug-addict doctors, Tupperware parties, and the dangers of dog litter.

• After 35 years with 60 Minutes , Safer cut his work to a half-time basis. "All I know is I want a little more time for myself," he said, but conceded he had been so busy that, "I'm going from double time to full time more than the half time." "I do [pieces] purely for the fun of doing them," Safer said.

• Morley Safer was the recipient of 12 Emmy Awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards, and two Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Awards. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and was named a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government (1995).

• Although Safer spent most of his days residing in Europe and the U.S., he retained his Canadian citizenship. "I have never had a compelling reason to change my citizenship... but then I don't believe that the colour of your passport should matter. I believe that a reporter should be stateless. It is not a matter of loyalty, but integrity."
Medium: Radio
Program: Variety Tonight
Broadcast Date: June 4, 1982
Guest(s): Morley Safer
Host: Vicki Gabereau
Duration: 21:01

Last updated: January 24, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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