Friday, May 20, 2016
I awoke today to the news that longtime CBS journalist Morley Safer had died. He was 84 years old. That’s my mother’s age, though she’ll be 85 in nine days. Morley was doing segments on the television news show 60 Minutes right up until his passing as far as I know. (I don’t watch it regularly so that may not be an accurate statement.)
I liked Safer. Liked his calm, matter-of-fact treatise and delivery of news and features. One could not help but be aware of his physical appearance during his latter years. He had the heavily creased and sagging face of an old hound dog. It looked comfortable and reassuring. The last time I saw him on 60 Minutes, I thought about his longevity and just how much more extended it would be. I didn’t know just how old he was but he looked old enough to beg the question. Like his late colleague on the show, Dan Rooney, he was still in there working. I’m certain he was an inspiration to all of the baby boomers who exalted him as being one of the last remaining ‘real’ journalists of his generation: Walter Cronkite; Howard K. Smith; Roger Mudd; Eric Severeid; Peter Jennings; Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. And a few others that don’t readily come to mind at the moment.
Morley Safer’s mortality is my mortality. My mother’s mortality. My older brother’s mortality. My recently-passed younger brother’s mortality. I suspect anyone my age or older is quite conscious of their mortality, if for no other reason than because of the constant reminders from drug ads on television. Obviously the huge swell of baby boomers — even the youngest are now fully ensconced in middle age — makes for a huge market from which the purveyors of drugs and medical benefits would like to profit. Not to mention the incessant pitches regarding retirement funding. Can one help but be constantly reminded of his or her ever-encroaching finality?
I hadn’t thought of this specifically but was somehow always conscious of one over-arching quality of Morley Safer’s reporting: he always managed to stay ‘out’ of the story. This tenet is the guidepost of true journalism. All of the aforementioned journalists of Mr. Safer’s generation lived by it. No doubt it had been pounded into them from their days as print journalists. As my broadcast journalism professor from college, Robert Farson, used to always say regarding interviewer and subject, ‘It should always be a minimum of you and a maximum of them.’
The best news people are master communicators and facilitators. They don’t get in the way of you and the story. Quite the contrary. They get out of the way. That’s what I always noticed about Morley Safer. And I was grateful for it.