BRIAN LAMB: Morley Safer, how have you changed your approach to information over the last 42 years of 60 Minutes?
MORLEY SAFER: Well there’s certainly no dramatic difference in terms of either reporting the news or doing interviews for the news or and really, even between doing what is construed as hard news versus more feature-y stuff
really the same rules apply. You try to get to the core of the story, to the core of the individual. And I think really that’s why we have an audience out there over the last 45 years of 60 Minutes.
It’s I think precisely why people watch the broadcast. There’s trust. We have no or few axes to grind. I don’t think we really have any at all. I think we’re fair and I think it’s the fairness that is the attraction, unlike so much of what you see on cable, where fairness is the last thing people are being offered, and I guess to a certain audience, the last thing they want.
LAMB: We have some video from your office; took a camera over there. We’re going to run it and I want you to just talk us through what the environment is, how long you’ve been there; you can see it on the screen.
SAFER: I have to put these specs on...
SAFER: Well that’s yes, that’s the lobby and we have a huge clock, which no one really likes. That is the corridor where the correspondents all live with their helpers.
LAMB: That’s a familiar face.
LAMB: Is that a normal desk for Morley Safer right there?
SAFER: I confess it is probably neater than normal.
LAMB: Why the big poster?
SAFER: The big poster is reflects a story I did 30-odd years ago on the question of whether a major painting at the Metropolitan Museum was in fact a fake. And they it caused quite a controversy and I had I had friends at the Met who refused to speak to me for 20 years; have since come around. The painting is called The Pickpocket or the Thief. I can’t remember precisely.
LAMB: There’s a picture right there of you with some of your old colleagues.
SAFER: Oh, Ed. I really miss Ed Bradley. Ed was my next door neighbor in the office and we both were early risers who were in there before anybody else in the morning. We all had we had sort of a morning bitching session over coffee. And there; that was an award I got out in California.
LAMB: How much time do you spend there?
SAFER: In the office?
SAFER: A lot more now. About four years; three or four years ago, I decided I wanted to go onto half onto halftime. I did not succeed in going halftime I’m afraid, so it’s I spend much more time than I really need to, but it’s the habit. I mean when you get up and get I don’t have to tell you this. When you’ve been getting up in the morning for 60 years, putting on a clean shirt and tie and going into an office, it’s a very hard habit to break.
LAMB: We saw you just a minute ago puff on a cigarette.
SAFER: Yes, I’m afraid...
LAMB: I understand that’s not a real cigarette.
SAFER: It’s not.
LAMB: But you’ve had a, what; how many year cigarette habit. When were you able to ?
SAFER: I haven’t. I still haven’t. This is the electronic cigarette that, for all intents, looks like a real one and to some extent, tastes like a real one. It’s just pure nicotine. There’s none of the junk, the tar or the tar that’s in that’s in the regular cigarettes. And the smoke that you see if vapor, so
LAMB: Does it work?
SAFER: Well it certainly works in giving you a nicotine fix; absolutely does work. But there’s still something about the other. I mean it’s why it’s why it’s called an addiction.
LAMB: This question is not, I’m sure, a lot of fun to answer, but you’ve sat there and watched a whole bunch of your friends die.
SAFER: Certainly have and just in the last within the last year, we lost Andy Rooney. A few years ago, we lost Ed, lost Mike, lost Joe Wershba, who was a longstanding, wonderful producer. I worked with John Tiffin, another longstanding; these are the originals of 60 Minutes. It’s been a very, very rough year and a year couple of years.
But I must say the having lost some of these stalwarts of the broadcast, the broadcast itself has not been affected. Jeff Fager took over from Don Hewitt, who another certain the master of 60 Minutes, who died. And Jeff has maintained all the values and pretty much all of the unwritten rules of putting this broadcast on the air.
LAMB: When I started watching you 42 years ago, you were getting 30 million people watching 60 Minutes. And you were in the top and often the top show of the week. You’re now getting 10, 11, 12 million and you’re still in the top. What’s that say?
SAFER: Well it says that there’s been this extraordinary revolution, both within the with the Internet, plus the whole cable community has obviously fractured the audience. I think I think I see the hear the figure is 60 percent being bandied about; 60 percent of the over-the-air television, network television has been lost. There’s probably more than that.
So you know the competition is extraordinary, but you know on big days, important pieces; there’s a piece on, recently, as you know, about the operation to get Osama Bin Laden. We got a huge audience for that. And I think people do turn to us in great numbers when in history-making moments certainly.
LAMB: Let me ask you a journalism question. Those that watched it saw a reference to the man that wrote the book as Mark Owen, but everybody else in the country knew his name was Bissonnette.
SAFER: I understand, but I think that probably we consciously stayed with the original rules.
LAMB: Set up when you got the
SAFER: The rules of engagement in terms of putting this piece on the air. I don’t know the precise details and I think that’s actually not a that is a very seemly thing to do.
LAMB: One thing that I’ve noticed in the last four years is that and I’ve never seen you do this in the history of 60 Minutes; that at my last count, I think you’ve had 12 interviews with the President, Mr. Obama, since he got involved. I can’t remember you ever doing that many with a President. Why so many with this one?
SAFER: Well, I’ll tell you quite honestly, because there because they say he says yes. I mean, there was no shortage of requests for George W. Bush to come on and as I recall, I don’t think we ever interviewed I’m wrong; he may have been interviewed once. But there is always these kind of the rules of the game to have a request in for an interview with the President, whoever the President may be. And the Obama people and Obama himself I guess like to get on the air.
LAMB: It’s the biggest audience in information.
LAMB: So you know it’s got a bigger audience than any other.
SAFER: Pretty much, pretty much. You really get access to certainly an engaged part of the population.
LAMB: Do you ever worry about being used?
SAFER: Of course. Of course you always worry about being used, but the presumption is, and I think it always is, that at the same time, we’re using them. And we are not going to be patsies for any administration and I don’t think we ever have been.
LAMB: Let me ask you about people. I want to run some video of Don Hewitt, who for years how many years did you did you know him?
SAFER: Well I knew Don from the very beginning of my life at CBS, which was in 1964. Don was the executive producer of the CBS Evening News; Cronkite News when I joined. Shortly after, he was fired and was in a kind of limbo or news Siberia for a couple of years. And I had done I did a documentary. I’d gone to Communist China, as it was called, in 1968 and did an hour documentary and Don was nominal executive producer of that broadcast.
So I’ve known I’ve known Don for a long, long time. And when he came up with this idea of 60 Minutes, he became a kind of Willy Loman. He put together a reel of old CBS Reports documentaries, using 10 or 15 minute segments, taking the best of each of them and put together a reel. And he put this reel under his arm and he went shopping that around to every executive at CBS.
I was the London Bureau Chief at that point. He brought it over to London to show it to me. He brought took it to Paris to show to the guys in Paris; trying to sell or get support for his idea of this thing he called 60 Minutes. And he had Harry Reasoner was the original host in this, call it a pilot, if you like. And then he added Mike into the pilot; Mike Wallace.
And it was just Don’s relentless pursuit that they said, ”OK, OK, OK; we’ll you can have it. We’ll do it. We’ll try it. And we’ll put you on at 6 o’clock on Sunday.” And so Harry and Mike went on. Eighteen months later, Harry left to go to ABC and they brought me in to take to be the other guy on 60 Minutes.
And we were not a huge success at all; partly because it was 6 o’clock on Sunday and the football season completely wiped us out. Sometimes they’d wipe us out to do a kind of 10-minute broadcast. And then they thought you would have a little news bulletin at the end, or at the beginning; all kinds of experiments.
And then they tried us on a different night. We went against something called Marcus Welby, which was the most popular program on television. And finally, we settled, because there was nothing else they could put on at 7 o’clock on Sunday, and 7 o’clock on Sunday, we took off like a skyrocket. Can’t remember what year that was; probably ’72 or ’73. I can’t remember.
LAMB: What have you found that does not work?
SAFER: What does not work? Well Don Hewitt’s first rule, and I think he was absolutely right, we do not cover issues; we tell stories. It’s a major difference in that.
LAMB: Did you feel that way yourself or did you have to learn that?
SAFER: Well, without being making myself self-important, I had done I had executive produced a half-hour weekly magazine that went out on Sunday night at the CBC; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It was called CBC News Magazine. It’s not on the air anymore, but it was on the air for a good long time. So I had produced; I was not on the air myself. I had produced this broadcast and wrote most of it.
So I actually believe I actually believed in Don’s theory before I before he articulated it. And for the simple reason that if you take Fred Friendly used to do this. He would show you show somebody the script for an hour broadcast. That script for an hour broadcast is about two pages worth of information in the New York Times. Well you can’t do a lot on television. You have to know your limitations and they are enormous limitations. And if you were going to cover issues, there’s no way you could do an honest job of that in even in an hour; never mind 12-1/2 minutes, which is roughly what each of our stories now runs.
LAMB: What’s the longest interview you’ve ever done, and I know you only use minutes of it in a 12-1/2 minute piece; then all the stuff on ended up on the cutting room floor? You remember?
SAFER: The longest in terms of...
LAMB: Where you sat down with somebody and talked and talked and talked to get what you needed.
SAFER: Well I’ll tell you, it probably is on the stories that never got on the air.
LAMB: How often does that happen?
SAFER: Not very often at all. If the if the interview goes on and on and on, generally speaking generally it’s because the subject is either totally inarticulate and so you just keep going and going and going, trying to get him to make some sense, or the answers are just so clearly, just misinformation and an interview can just, you know, become a slanging match. It doesn’t really it creates more heat than any light, so you just junk it.
LAMB: You were born in Canada; where?
LAMB: What was the family like?
SAFER: We were, I would say, lower working class. My father was an upholsterer, immigrant; I’m first generation, immigrant from Austria. My mother came from a family, East End of London, Cockney girl. They my father immigrated my father had been in the Austrian Army. He immigrated, I think 1912; Mother’s family immigrated about 1910, perhaps. She was 13 when she came. She was a seamstress; came from a big family.
They came over as what’s called assisted passage. For five pounds, an entire family could they were trying to encourage immigration to Canada could immigrate to Canada. And a brother and sister, both older I was the youngest and I have a brother; mercifully, my brother and sister are still alive.
LAMB: How old are they?
SAFER: Sister’s 86; brother’s 84 or about to be 85.
LAMB: And you were born in ’20; 1920?
SAFER: No, ’31.
LAMB: Oh. Make you older than you are.
SAFER: Yes, I’m 80.
LAMB: Well let me ask you about ages for a second, because I got a list here of when people died and they almost all worked to the end. Don Hewitt was 86, Mike Wallace was 93, Andy Rooney 92, Ed Bradley was another situation; 65. Walter Cronkite of course went off the air when he was 65 and he lived to be 92. Seems to me in the early days of broadcasting that never happened; people were allowed to stay beyond 65.
SAFER: No, indeed. And the I can’t remember I don’t remember precisely what the rules were, but I think that if you were a contract employee staff people, executives, whatever, I think had to retire at 55 or there was some internal memorandum about that. Contract people had no such limit. And look, I mean all the guys that you mentioned had pretty much had their marbles to virtually the end.
I mean certainly Ed and Don; Don effectively left the broadcast probably when he was 84, something like that, 83 or 84. Mike when he was 89 or 90, and really right to the end.
LAMB: Well, two weeks later or something...
LAMB: I want to run that video of Don Hewitt; it’s just only 40 seconds.
LAMB: So people that had may not remember him can see what he looks like.
LAMB: Who invented the tick, tick, tick at the beginning of 60 Minutes?
DON HEWITT, CREATOR, 60 MINUTES: I did, but it wasn’t at the beginning of 60 Minutes. It was the it was the closing thing over the credits. And I looked at the first show and I said to myself, ”Wait a minute; you’ve got to be crazy to put that at the end. That’s that arresting that’s in lieu of a theme song.” And Marvin Hamlisch always accuses me of devising the tick, tick to screw some poor songwriter out of a royalty. But it just worked and it was it was it was at the end. And I moved it up and it worked.
LAMB: What was his genius?
SAFER: Kind of gut instinct that made him a great editor.
LAMB: Did you two ever quarrel?
SAFER: I don’t think we have a screening I’m overstating this. But pretty much most of the screenings, there was a lot of blood on the floor. Don believed in conflict. He really had a real passionate belief in conflict; that the more you were challenged, the more he challenged you, and the more you responded to his challenges, the better the piece got.
LAMB: What impact did it have on you; that in-your-face personality?
SAFER: I could deal with it, because I don’t mind a certain amount of conflict myself.
SAFER: Yes. And Don and Mike, it was it was exactly the same with Don and the same with Ed as well. Don was a tough editor; very, very tough. And some of his ideas were completely mad; I mean just bananas, crazy, wrong. But you could talk him down and that was the great Don, for all of his sometimes crazy and garish behavior, you could talk him out of a really lousy idea. And he had a lot of lousy ideas, but he had some brilliant ones as well.
LAMB: Let me go back to your upbringing. You how much schooling did you get in Canada?
SAFER: I was not a great student. I got through high school; there were five years of high school. So the fifth year; fifth form, as it was called, was kind of like the first year of college. So I and it was you had to matriculate. It was like a baccalaureate exam that you had to pass and I scraped through. I was a pretty good athlete and I got sort of recruited by University of Western Ontario. I mean it was not an athletic scholarship.
LAMB: What sport?
SAFER: Football. I...
LAMB: What position?
SAFER: I played halfback. It was not an athletic scholarship. I was encouraged to come and what they did, which was important to me at the time, was that during the football season, you got full board, so that was one way of ...
LAMB: How long did you stay?
SAFER: I think three months.
LAMB: So you didn’t get a college degree.
SAFER: I did not; I did not, no. I did not even finish freshman year.
LAMB: So how did you get into the information business?
SAFER: I knew exactly what I wanted to do. That was how I got into it. I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I had I was, like a lot of people of my era; I was Hemingway bit. I’d read a I was always a great reader, my whole family was a family of readers, and I read everything of Hemingway’s up to that point. And he had been a foreign correspondent, Kansas City Star; also the Toronto Star. He covered the Spanish Civil War I think for the Toronto Star.
I knew exactly what I wanted to do and tried to get a job here, the you know all of the all of the big metropolitan papers would just laugh me out of their offices. Ended up in a place called Woodstock, Ontario; it was a daily newspaper, Woodstock Sentinel Review. And the my editor there was a wonderful man named Alf Berman and he said to me on my first day, ”Safer, you have no experience at all at this; do you?” And I said ”Yes, sir; I have no experience.”
”You can’t even type; can you?” I said, ”Sir, I can’t type.” And he said ”Well you’ll learn to type here. And once you are typing in any kind of proficient way, do you know what the first thing you’re going to be typing is?” I said, ”No, sir; I don’t know.” He said ”A letter of application to a bigger newspaper.” And he was almost right.
So I moved on from the Woodstock paper to the London Free Press in London, Ontario. That was a major metropolitan, morning and evening. We had I think five or six editions of the paper, back in the days when papers were actually putting out five and six editions, and did everything. They had police beats; they had feature stories, breaking news, crime, overnight shifts. I really got a lot of really good experience there.
After which after a couple years, I applied for something called a Commonwealth Press Fellowship, which was a you get to spend a year in Britain, working at one of the national newspapers, which was I think the Times, the Telegraph, and the and the Guardian; the three quality dailies at that time. And I applied for that and of course did not, because it was like a Nieman or something. They were taking people with 10-15 years experience and I had four years or something like that, working on not a major, major paper.
But they liked my application and the stories that I had sent them. And they said, ”Look, we can’t pay the freight on this, but if you can get yourself to England, we’ll get you a job on a good paper.” So I took my chances and went over and worked for the Oxford Mail in Oxford and that was just a joy to be working in Oxford at that time. I mean because, even though there is very, very, very serious separation between town and gown at Oxford, between the university and an otherwise industrial city it was one of the big manufacturing cities at that time, Oxford there was a certain amount of drift between the two and it was it was just great fun.
I hung out with a lot of the all of the reporters except for me were actual graduates, so I learned a lot. I learned a lot. And a very and a very, very tough editor. I remember I came in on my day off once; the editor was named W. Harford Thomas. And I came in to pick up my mail, because that was my fixed address because I was moving from one rooming house to another, so pick up my mail in the office.
I came in on I got one day off a week; sometimes only a half a day, but I had one day off and I came, I guess it was a Saturday. And I went in to pick up my mail and I was wearing a t-shirt and it was in the summer, June or July, and well turned out, but wearing a t-shirt; hot day. Went in, picked up my mail, went out. When I came into the office the next day, there was a note in my pigeon hole from W. Harford Thomas saying, ”Mr. Safer, we at the Mail generally prefer dark clothing.”
LAMB: Meaning if it was a dark t-shirt you’d have been all right.
SAFER: No, no, no. He by dark clothing he meant what you’re wearing. And certainly not with a pink tie.
LAMB: What were you know there’s always those moments in somebody’s life that make a difference; that change everything. What was the first big one for you?
SAFER: Well certainly the day I was back in Canada at the end at the end of year of 1960 1963, ’64. They brought back all the foreign correspondents. I was the had been the bureau chief in London for CBC. They brought us back for these yearend review broadcasts that all the networks then did. And I was on with four or five other correspondents you know the U.N. guy, the Paris guy, the Bonn correspondent and Moscow, with these roundtables.
And we did the broadcast and stayed on after the broadcast for maybe a week or so. And just before I went back to London, I got a call from the CBC representative in New York, who said, ”I shouldn’t be telling you this, but I just got a call from CBS and they would like to talk to you.” I said, ”What about?” He says, ”That’s all, so can you go back to London via New York?”
So I did. And I walked into the to see Ralph Paskman, was then the sort of the news editor. And then he took me in to meet Fred Friendly and a couple of other people. And they said, ”Would you like to come to work at CBS?” And you must remember this was the network of Murrow. This was the network that created broadcast news; I mean radio first and then television. I mean it was being asked to join the Pantheon; remarkable. Can’t tell you how I was knocked out by this and had doubts you know.
”Do they really mean this? Am I good enough?” And I said, ”Well where did you how did you even know about me?” And they said, ”Well we one of the correspondents on the one of your correspondents on the yearend show sent us the kinescope of the broadcast when he was applying for a job.”
LAMB: What was a kinescope, by the way? What was that?
SAFER: A kinescope was something that preceded videotape and it was essentially a camera shooting off the screen, so it was pretty grainy, unwatchable stuff, but looked good at the time, I guess. And a guy named Stan Burke, who was our U.N. correspondent, had been applying for a job at CBS and they looked at his broadcast and they called me. They looked at the broadcast and called me.
And I called a couple of people I knew at CBS and saying, you know, ”Should I really do this?” one thing or another and keep
You know Winston Burdett, who I’d met covering the Middle East, he was another one of those Murrow boys. You know, I asked Winston, ”Should I do it?” And he said ”You don’t have any choice. Do it.” I called Jack Chancellor at NBC, who was a I met on covering the Pope’s trip. I said, ”Jack, should I do it?” He said, ”Yes; it’s a hell of a lot better than NBC.” Jack was a great guy.
So that’s how you asked what changed my life or a seminal moment; certainly was that.
LAMB: I have a review of Douglas Brinkley’s book on Walter Cronkite in Sunday’s Washington Post, September 9th, 2012 and it’s written by Robin MacNeil Robert MacNeil.
SAFER: Sure. An old friend.
LAMB: Of MacNeil/Lehrer.
SAFER: Good friend.
LAMB: And are you still a Canadian?
SAFER: I’m both; I’m dual citizenship.
LAMB: Dual citizenship.
LAMB: All right. Here’s his first paragraph and I want you to react to it. ”For anyone interested in the evolution and power of broadcast news, this book,” meaning the Cronkite book, ”is a tremendous read, minutely documenting TV journalism most remarkable phenomenon: Walter Cronkite.” Do you agree?
SAFER: Absolutely. I think Walter I mean Walter got very, very tired of being described as the most trusted man in America, because he knew he shouldn’t be. And I say that with affection. But Walter exuded accuracy, decency, fairness, and I think that it was, just, resonated out there that here’s a guy who really was leveling with you. He wasn’t holding anything back. He, at the same time, he wasn’t engaged in kind of hyperbolic reporting or conversation or interviews.
Patriot, in the best sense of the word; the best sense of the word is a patriot is someone who loves his country so much, he wants to expose its weaknesses and its shortcoming. And I think that just resonated, although we always joked about him being to his face about being the most trusted man in America. I guess in the final analysis, he really was.
LAMB: You know there are a lot of people listening that say, you know, ”What’s patriotic about showing the shortcomings?” You know that there are a lot of people out there. You’ve heard them. They’ve e-mailed you.
LAMB: They don’t like that.
SAFER: I know they don’t like that, because I don’t think they understand the meaning of the word. I mean who said, ”Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel?” Was it Dr. Johnson or somebody like that? Well that kind of that excessive patriotism, the flag-waving by instinct is the is a false kind of patriotism. It’s not wanting to hear the truth is a total phony patriotist (sic). And I think that there has been so much of that flying around in these last few years, and particularly since the since 9/11. I and it quite honestly, it just makes my skin crawl.
LAMB: How much of it do you listen to?
SAFER: That’s interesting. I’m not without giving away anything politically about my family or my wife or any of that, when we’re watching the conventions; when we’re watching the conventions, my wife at one of the conventions ”I don’t want to hear this, I don’t want to hear this.” I said ”No! You’ve got to hear it.” This is what you the you know you don’t want to hear all you don’t want to sit in front of a television set in the political season and not wanting to hear what the other side has to say, because then you’re becoming like them.
I’m not I’m not I’m not giving away anything politically.
LAMB: I know you’re not, but I do want to go back to our interview; we’ve not talked for 22 years, when you had a book about Vietnam and your experience there. And we talked about the whole situation that you had where you were accused of being a communist because and I don’t want to go through the Cam Ne thing again.
But I wrote down, when I went back and looked at it, the following quote from you: ”I am a conservative on most issues.”
SAFER: I am a conservative on most issues.
LAMB: But over the years, have people thought that you were just the opposite?
SAFER: Oh, of course you know.
LAMB: What do you say to them?
SAFER: There are most people who get up their dander up over this; there’s not much point in saying anything, because they don’t want to hear. But I what I do try to I try to explain that I am a conservative in most things or, and perhaps it’s the same thing, a very old-fashioned liberal, in the in the old British, I’m not going to suggest the Imperial Britain British sense of, you know, ”the White Man’s Burden” and all of that business, but an old-fashioned liberal who has very conservative views in terms of fiscal policy.
I think the word conservative has been given a really bad name by some of the crazier elements of the right in this country. I think whatever happened to conservatives like Nelson Rockefeller and Jack Javits and those guys who had were among the most patriotic Americans that you could think of, because essentially, were working as politicians to make this a better country. And the other thing that you got me going here. The other thing that drives me completely nuts is all of these candidates who are running as not as politicians. It’s a, you know, a point to lead their opposition, say, ”He’s a politician! I’m ” I don’t know, whatever.
Politicians are what makes make countries work. The best moments in this country were moments designed, created by politicians. It’s a good, positive word. How did it come into such disrespect and disrepute? That’s what really drives me nuts; the it’s the destruction of language. It’s making really useful words become inappropriate.
LAMB: Let me show you some videotape of a young lady by the name of Michelle Fields, who was a guest on this program. She’s a lot younger than both of us. She’s about 22, 23 years old. She was educated at Pepperdine University. She’s in the mix, working for the Daily Caller and she has video interviews she does, but I want you to hear what she says today, from her perspective is journalism and get your reaction to it.
MICHELLE FIELDS, REPORTER, DAILY CALLER: I feel as though Twitter and Facebook have enabled people who maybe don’t are not in the media; they don’t have a loud voice, to become one of the loudest voices in media. I mean we see people like Matt Drudge, who has no connection to the media. He’s a political outsider and look how far he has come. He took advantage, he saw this potential of this new medium, which is the Internet, Internet journalism, and his voice is just as loud as the media establishment.
LAMB: Reaction, sir.
SAFER: Appalled. I’m appalled. I mean I don’t know quite what she if she thinks this is a good idea.
LAMB: No, she does.
SAFER: She does think it’s a good idea?
SAFER: I think it’s a dreadful idea. I think journalism, good journalism, good reporting, must work within the constraints of great editing it has to. I got into trouble a couple of years ago: I was making a speech, I got some award in Canada, and I was talking about the so-called citizen journalism. And I said, ”I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust a citizen surgeon.” You need to work within discipline; within certain disciplines. And I think the Matt Drudges and these many of these others give the real thing a very bad name, because now everybody’s on the Internet.
I mean and one of the one of the problems I have with the Internet, in terms of reading, everything looks as valid as the New York Times, whether it’s the type face, the way it’s been set up. So when you’re reading somebody who, you know, believes aliens are out to get him or reading something from the Op Ed page of the New York Times; it all has the same look, the same makes the same visual sense, and you know I know I’m sounding like a Neanderthal when I say this, but I’m just appalled by half of the stuff that I see on the Internet, you know.
LAMB: You know, one of the things I want to ask you about is in the Brinkley book on Cronkite, we learned a lot about his personal politics and his involvement, even asking Robert Kennedy to run for President, back during the war, and there’s a lot of resentment on the there was, has been for years, on the part of the conservatives in this country or the whatever you want to call, the right wing or that there is an agenda.
SAFER: I don’t think Walter’s so-called agenda ever, ever got expressed in his reporting. I really believe that. And I know that.
LAMB: What about his Vietnam statement?
SAFER: His Vietnam statement; well, there you are, precisely. The and he where he actually openly stepped aside from his traditional role and made a personal statement. And that’s I can’t say there’s not another and that was and he believe me, Walter really sweated that. He really did sweat that.
LAMB: In what way?
SAFER: Well in the way, ”Am I doing the right thing here?”
LAMB: Did you talk to him before he did it?
SAFER: No, I did not. Talked to him a lot about it afterwards.
LAMB: Well you have a similar we talked about this a long time; the Cam Ne incident, where the burning of the village in by the Marines in ’65 and I think I read you having said that you think that might have started, or people think that might have started a trend against the Vietnam War.
SAFER: I certainly never said that and people have blamed me or credited me for it and I don’t believe it. The trend; believe me, the trend when the country’s turned starting turning against when the country turned against the Vietnam War was when casualties were reaching 100 a week in terms of killed. And that’s and the people being killed were the sons of middle class Americans, because of the draft; that’s when the country turned against Vietnam.
LAMB: What about today and Afghanistan and Iraq, where it was a volunteer army; rarely see a New York City, Manhattan person killed in either place.
SAFER: Yes, because you know think of all of those commercials that went out on every broadcast, and particularly sports broadcasts, of join the Army, join the Marines, join the Navy, you know, get an education. They didn’t say go to war; they said get a degree. And how appealing is that to a young guy with ambition, can no way can afford college? Give a couple of years in the service and get on your way; get a life. And that’s the way the military service was and service was offered up, and with a huge dose of patriotism as well, of course.
But, so I don’t think my story had any particular effect. I don’t think Walter’s story had that much of an effect, quite honestly. I think it was when the casualties started getting over 100 a week, sons of middle class families were being lost; that’s when never mind the students protesting; when the parents started to protest. And when Vietnam, in effect, was a lost cause.
LAMB: What’s your take on the Iraq-Afghanistan coverage?
SAFER: Well, I mean look; I mean the there virtually is no coverage; I mean except when something really horrible happens. I mean, to most Americans, the quite honestly, it’s ”What war?” Most Americans are not affected by this. It’s the sons and daughters of working class Americans pretty much and people whose families live below the poverty line.
LAMB: Why no coverage then?
SAFER: Why no coverage?
SAFER: Because sons of daughters of middle class and plus it’s a also, I mean not that Vietnam was an easy war to cover, but compared to I mean it was a piece of cake compared to covering the kind of war that’s going on in Afghanistan and was going on and to some extent still is going on in Iraq. I mean we took lots of risks in Vietnam, but not like the kind of risks that guys run in Afghanistan and Iraq; no way.
LAMB: Let me ask you about your interviewing style; when you
SAFER: Let me just
SAFER: Vietnam, in a certain way, was a civilized war, if there is such a thing.
LAMB: What do you mean by that?
SAFER: I mean by what I mean by that is there were no suicide bombers. There were no cars being blown up in front of, you know I think there were two car bombs in Saigon when I the years I covered the war there.
LAMB: Civilized for who?
SAFER: Civilized from both sides in a certain way. I mean, compared with what’s going on in...
LAMB: I started to ask you about your interview style. When you go out and talk to people for your different and your most of your stuff is not war-related.
LAMB: Is that is that your choice?
SAFER: Yes. I mean largely my choice. The I think I like I like doing stories that no one else is doing. So I like doing in terms of primetime television, so I like to I do a lot of arts you know I do a lot of stories that would come under the rather broad umbrella of the arts.
LAMB: Let me stop here. Might as well; I want to show you a little segment of you and the arts. I know that’s a big thing.
SAFER: Almost 20 years ago, we broadcast one of the most controversial stories in our 44 years on the air. It was called Yes, But is it Art? I was accused of being a Philistine; someone lacking the aesthetic sensibility to appreciate the challenging nature of some contemporary art. Art like Jeff Koons’ floating basketballs, or another artist’s dripping faucet.
In those 20 years, works that I questioned, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, are now worth hundreds of millions. In fact, contemporary art has become a global commodity, just like oil or soybeans or pork bellies. And there seems to be no shortage of people wanting to speculate in it and no shortage of billionaires willing to invest in it, as a haven for their cash or love of art or as a status symbol.
And to feed those beasts, there are now art fairs virtually every weekend round the globe. And in contemporary art, none are more important than the one we went to in December.
LAMB: So what made everybody so mad 20 years ago?
SAFER: I discovered something that I had absolutely could barely believe; that when you question someone’s taste in art, it’s more personal, more probing than their politics, religion, sexual preference. It’s something that goes to the very soul when you say, ”You bought that?” It is remarkable.
LAMB: Do you still paint?
SAFER: Not enough and I keep it’s one of the things I just keep; I’ve got the space to do it at home. I’ve certainly got all of the materials to do it, but getting I’m lacking the focus of being able to separate my work from my other life. And I’ve got that’s the one area of mine that I’m weakest.
LAMB: If we saw you in a in your personal life, doing things that you enjoy more than anything else, what would we see?
SAFER: Well there’s two kinds of enjoyment. There’s the tortured kind that when you’re writing you know there’s no greater kick, I find, than writing something and no greater torture at the same time. So it would be either writing something or drawing or painting, you know.
LAMB: What can you tell us about your wife? Where did you meet her?
SAFER: I met her in England, when I was the bureau chief there. It was I remember the day because it was July 4th of 1968. Cronkite and Betsy, Walter and Betsy Cronkite, were coming to London. I can’t remember why. And I had been invited to a July 4th evening by some friends of mine, the husband’s American and the wife is British, and that I felt that I had to go to, but Walter had called and said, you know, ”Let’s have dinner.”
So I met Walter at a hotel, at his hotel that he got, and I said, ”I’ve got to go to this party up in North London. I’ll meet you at a restaurant.” I can’t remember which one. So I went up to this party, and there was this young woman at the restaurant who was a graduate student studying at Oxford, American, who was a cousin of the family giving the party.
And she seemed pretty bright and she was very beautiful and I said ”Hey, you want to have dinner?” I said, ”You want to have dinner with Walter Cronkite?” She said, ”Who’s Walter Cronkite?” I said and she my wife; she’s an anthropologist and she spent a couple of years living with in a tribe of Indians in Colombia, so she really wasn’t clued into what was on television and all that.
And that was it. Went Walter and Betsy; I had a I had a Bentley, an old Bentley convertible with a rumble seat and the which in British automobile parlance is called a dicky; the rumble seat. So off we went, picked up Cronkite, Betsy, who got in the rumble seat in the open car and we had a lot to drink that night, Walter and I. Walter and Betsy were great, great fun to be with, I must say.
And when we finally sort of ended the evening, which was about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, I’m driving Walter to his hotel, we went past Buckingham Palace, and then there was no security around it. Now the whole all those roads are blocked. But this no security, so except for the guardsmen out in front, and Walter insisted that I do a couple of circle, circuits around Buckingham Palace and he got out and did his impersonation of the Queen. The only witnesses were the two guardsmen in the sentry boxes outside of Buckingham Palace.
LAMB: How long did you date before you married?
SAFER: That was July 4th and we were married in on October 28th.
LAMB: Who is Sarah Alice Anne Safer?
SAFER: Sarah Alice Anne Safer is my daughter; our daughter, who is had a very brief career in journalism and still may have another career in it, but at the moment she’s busy raising twin girls and a 10-year twin 6-year-old girls and a 10-year-old boy.
LAMB: What kind of marks do you give yourself as a grandfather?
SAFER: Very low. I was not a great father either. And I confess. I was on the road for so much of those years that she was growing up. And that’s something I regret and still do feel deep regret about that I didn’t I did not I chose not to spend more time with her.
LAMB: What are you thinking about your legacy and your papers and all that? What does it matter to you?
SAFER: I think about it a bit. I mean I’m not obsessed by it. I think I think I made a contribution; more than some, less than many others. And I think to the extent that I tried to make interesting use of this medium of television, which is it’s a difficult medium to work in, because of the time constraints; simple as that. As I said before, if you look at an hour-long television broadcast, you’ll find a script that won’t even cover two pages of the New York Times.
LAMB: What will you do with do you have papers? Do you have videos of your...
SAFER: I have papers and some videos and I’ve given every I’m giving everything to the University of Texas, which has a wonderful archive of American journalism. It’s and it’s the archive actually of American history. And Walter Cronkite has given his papers. Rooney; Andy Rooney has. Many of the real giants of journalism have given their papers...
LAMB: Going to read you a quote from our interview 22 years ago. You say that writing the book that you had written back in ’89 was very satisfying. And then you said, ”I’d like to do it again you know perhaps in a year or two.” What happened?
SAFER: Well you know what happens. I mean come on. And it’s some that is something I’ve really been thinking about a lot and what keeps me from doing it; first of all, I’ve been asked, I can’t tell you how many times, to write a memoir, which I have no interest in doing. There are one or two subjects that I would like to expand on, but I think what people don’t quite understand is the physical strain of writing a book.
It’s hard work. It’s hard physical work and it’s very draining. And there’s something about a book and the permanence of a book and the hard covers of a book that you really want to make it, at every step of the way, the best it can possibly be; not that I phone in anything I do for television. But there’s extra pressure. You know there’s something about the permanence of a book. I don’t have to tell you this. There’s something about the permanence of that book; looking at your bookshelf, you your name on the spine and you want to be proud of it at all times.
LAMB: We’re past time. We’re out of time. Thank you so much for spending the hour with us.
SAFER: Well thank you. It’s always such a pleasure to talk to you.
LAMB: Morley Safer; thank you.