Morley Safer knew good questions unearthed good stories

As you’ve probably heard, long-time CBS 60 Minutes journalist Morley Safer has died, just days after the TV show marked the occasion of his retirement with a retrospective.

It was compelling TV. Wistful, really, because we don’t value journalism like that as much as we should these days, even if we got it, which, too often, we don’t.

In fact, I tweeted this after the Sunday night broadcast.

Unlike the ’60s and ’70s, and because of the sharply-fractured media landscape, there don’t seem to be the journalists anymore than can make an entire generation of wonderers want to get into the field. Maybe that doesn’t hurt us much now, but it’s hard to see how it doesn’t hurt us a few years from now.

Safer, of course, could report from a war with the best of them. He could bring down the arrogant with the best of them. And he could change a policy with the best of them.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear Walter Cronkite ended the Vietnam War all by himself. He didn’t.

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And yet, when I considered my all-time favorite Safer story from 60 Minutes, it wasn’t reporting from a war, bringing down the arrogant, or changing a policy that made the final cut. It was that he could document the human condition with the best of them, as he did when he made a great story out of a simple question like, “What’s the matter with Fins?

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  • Chris B. Critter

    Thanks for posting your thoughts about this, Bob.

    I’m not a journalist (nor do I play one on TV), but I do appreciate (and wish for) solid journalism. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, when a lot of the people still in TV, radio, and newspaper news departments were from the era when journalists and reporters didn’t take “no” for an answer and who didn’t care who they pissed off, as long as they got the truth. The nightly news was (and still isn’t, in my opinion) not a profit center. It’s a public service.

    Nowadays, it seems there are very few people in the news business wants to do anything to upset anyone. Under the guise of objectivity, multiple sides of a story are presented, even if most of those viewpoints are just flat out wrong. Few journalists call out their interviewees with “No, that’s just not true.” And if they do, then they lose access.

    I do know there is some solid journalism happening in the world (NPR, BBC, network news, among others; that’s all that come to mind right now), but we average end users (in general) don’t get to see as much of it as we should. It seems that for every story about what Donald Trump said today or Kim Kardashian wore today, an actual news story ends up in the editing bit bucket. “It’s what the people want!” So? They can get their Hollywood update somewhere else.

    And speaking of news entertainment, when TV stations constantly have “BREAKING NEWS” splashed across the screen, or they have a by-the-second countdown clock to an upcoming news event (that’s likely going to be late anyway), it screams hype and desperation.

    Just the facts, please. Just tell me what you know, and what it actually means. You’re the experts: It’s your job to discover it, report it, and interpret it. It might be boring, but I’d rather have a bunch of calm, thoughtful adults talking to me than what seems like a gaggle of teenage girls who discovered the latest gossip.

    But that’s just what I think. Your mileage may vary.