You will know by now that genuine journalists are an ‘endangered’ species in our digital age.
This week, we are losing one of the legends of the trade. 84 year old Morley Safer is being given a fitting send off on 60 Minutes, the landmark TV show that has been his home for most of the past half century.
He was born and raised in Toronto, and before he headed south in 1964, Morley worked for the CBC. Joining CBS, he quickly established himself as a worthy member of the rogues gallery that included earlier legends like Edward R. Morrow who had just died, and guys like Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid. Down the street was fellow Canadian Peter Jennings at ABC.
Almost immediately, Safer made his bones in Vietnam with a report about the burning of straw huts in the villages of Cam Ne by American soldiers with zippo lighters. It may well have been the beginning of the end for Lyndon Johnson whose presidency was doomed by that unwinnable war.
The President was outraged, accusing Morley Safer and others at CBS of being communists or worse. He ordered J. Edward Hoover to get out of his cocktail dress and do a security check. When he was told that Morley was “not a communist, but just a Canadian”, LBJ apparently said “Oh well, I knew he wasn’t an American.”
Shortly before that, Johnson met Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and called him ‘Mr. Wilson’ , confusing him with the leader of Great Britain. We just don’t get no respect.
Some things haven’t changed much in 50 years. 60 Minutes still enjoys a huge TV audience in a media landscape that’s much more fragmented than it was when the show debuted in 1968. I very much doubt that one American viewer in ten would know that Morley Safer came from Canada, even right now when Justin Trudeau is still the flavour of the moment.