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CBS News Icon Morley Safer Dies At 84


As the U.S. was ramping up its role in the Vietnam War, a young CBS news correspondent named Morley Safer filed a report that stunned the world. It showed U.S. Marines destroying a village even though the enemy was nowhere to be seen.


MORLEY SAFER: If there were Viet Cong in the Hamlets, they were long gone. The women and the old men who remained will never forget that August afternoon.

MONTAGNE: That's Morley Safer in the mid-1960s. He died yesterday, at the age of 84. After his remarkable work as a foreign correspondent, Safer went on to become the longest-serving correspondent on "60 Minutes," the CBS news magazine. And there he showed his whimsical side, as in this piece from Finland.


SAFER: What do they do about this clinical shyness, this almost terminal melancholy? They come to places like this, there are 2,000 of them in the country, and take part in what has become a kind of national obsession, the tango.

MONTAGNE: Well, there's a smile there. And we're joined now by Jeff Fager. He's the executive producer of CBS' "60 Minutes," a longtime friend and colleague of Morley Safer. And first of all, just my condolences to you and, of course, his family and all his friends.

JEFFERY FAGER: Thank you, Renee. It's very sad over at "60 Minutes."

MONTAGNE: I can imagine it is this morning. Could you start with that stunning Vietnam story? I mean, his Vietnam coverage made a difference, didn't it?

FAGER: It did. It had a real impact, especially that story. The Cam Ne report when Morley was - they captured on film the torching of huts in this village. And it was really horrible. It had a major impact. And the White House was so upset and tried to get him fired. The president was quoted saying, you know, he must be some kind of communist. And when he was told he's a Canadian, the president was said to respond, I knew there was something.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter) Sounds like LBJ.

FAGER: Yes, it was LBJ.


FAGER: But it was tough. I mean, you know, they really were upset. And the president himself called CBS president Frank Stanton to say so. So there was a lot of pressure. But CBS stood by him.

MONTAGNE: You know, are you thinking this morning - I'm sure there are many, many stories and thoughts - but is there a favorite story, either as a colleague or friend, that you could share?

FAGER: I have so many. You know, it's funny, we produced a special last Sunday about Morley upon his retirement as his health was declining. And there were 900 plus "60 Minutes" stories. And it's hard to whittle them down to your favorites. I love Jackie Gleason, the profile he did of him. I love the story we just heard, "Tango Finlandia," which was just beautifully, classically written by Morley. So many of his stories had his touch, which was his way with words. He had such a command of the language and was just a brilliant broadcast journalist.

MONTAGNE: But what about him as a colleague? Or may I say even as a friend, give us a sense of what it was like to be with him or to work with him.

FAGER: Well, he was fun. I mean, that's - I think the thing I'm going to miss the most is just laughing with him. He loved to laugh. He loved what he did. It was always an enjoyable experience to be out on the road with him. But to be in the office with him, he was just a lovely, wonderful man who was a great friend. I mean, if you were his friend, he was your friend forever and was always there for help and advice.

MONTAGNE: And I realize it's easy to say, you know, there goes a great. People like that don't come along much. But how would you say, in a few words, who he was?

FAGER: It's so true, Renee. He's such an original. You know, you - we will replace him - we have replaced him, but you can never - you can fill the job, but you can never replace the man. He's that special.

MONTAGNE: Thank you. Jeff Fager is the executive producer of "60 Minutes" - CBS' "60 Minutes" - remembering Morley Safer, who died yesterday. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.