Fred Friendly Award 2009: Morley Safer
As "60 Minutes" Correspondent Morley Safer was honored for his contribution to the field of journalism, he placed the spotlight on what he called the death and disintegration of local newspapers and its repercussions.
"It threatens all of journalism and, by extension, our precarious right to know," said Safer, who received Safer the 16th annual Fred Friendly First Amendment Award from Quinnipiac's School of Communications at a May 20 luncheon in the Metropolitan Club in New York City.
Safer, who begins his 40th season with "60 Minutes" this fall, said broadcasters, whether they admit it or not, use newspapers as primary sources and do not have the resources or the patience to cover the broad spectrum the best newspapers do. He was also critical of bloggers and citizen journalists.
"The blogosphere is no alternative, crammed as it is with the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard. Good journalism is structured and structure means responsibility," he said. He added later, "...I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery."
On this day, more than 120 broadcast and print colleagues and co-workers who gathered to honor Safer's influential body of work. Whether covering a war or sitting ringside at a fashion show with "Vogue" editor Anna Wintour, Safer is known for his ability to get the story and tell it well.
Steve Kroft, a fellow "60 Minutes" correspondent and the 2008 Fred Friendly First Amendment Award recipient, characterized Safer as his favorite correspondent when he joined the broadcast. "He's great with the words and really the first person who imprinted style into TV news," he said, mentioning Safer's predilection for ascots.
Kroft was joined by "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager and commentator Andy Rooney. Among others in attendance were News 12 Long Island Anchor Jodi Applegate; Jim Avila (ABC News); Bill Blakemore (ABC News); Bill Diehl (ABC Radio); Susan Filan '91 (MSNBC); Bob Jamieson (ABC News); Erin Moriarty ("48 Hours"); Steve Scott (CBS News Radio 88); Liz Smith ("Parade" magazine); Gabe Pressman (WNBC); and author Gay Talese.
Safer said the award means a lot to him because Fred Friendly, former president of CBS News, hired him.
"Forty-five years ago, Fred invited a barely tested young foreign correspondent to join the company of men who had distinguished themselves covering World War II and who, along with Ed Murrow and Fred, had literally created broadcast news," Safer said.
Safer's 1965 report in which he showed U.S. Marines burning the Vietnam village of Cam Ne has been credited with helping to change America's view of the war and war reporting. He later wrote about his experiences in "Flashbacks on Returning to Vietnam."
Friendly's legacy, according to Safer, was his resistance, along with others at CBS, to an attempt in 1965 by the White House and the Department of Defense to discredit CBS' coverage of the war and label the network as unpatriotic.
In remarks before presenting Safer with the award, Friendly's widow, Ruth, said her husband steadfastly defended Safer, who was receiving threats on his life, and recalled that some good came of it.
"I found a memo Morley wrote to Fred which said that General [William] Westmoreland had to be scraped off the ceiling when he saw their piece about the Marines. He wasn't mad at CBS, but disturbed by the behavior of the servicemen and suggested that an interpreter accompany troops in the future," she related.
Ruth Friendly said her husband saw "star quality" in Safer. "He'd be thrilled to know that the man whose butt he protected is receiving the Fred Friendly Award today," she said.
Alumni Stephanie Cunha '04 and Marlon LeWinter '03, both in the public relations field, said pioneers like Safer still serve as journalistic role models for their generation.
Talese said he's watched "60 Minutes" since the inception of the broadcast in 1968. "What surprises me is how it remains a commercial success while the quality remains high," he said, noting that a perceived downward spiral in the intelligence of viewers has not affected this show's popularity.
Who would Safer still like to interview?
"Most of them are dead," he quipped.
Does he prefer politicians or celebrities?
"Neither. Often the best profiles are of somebody nobody ever heard of, someone who has achieved a great deal," he said.
Although this piece differed from war reporting, Safer admitted that it was a challenge to "pierce the armor" of Anna Wintour in the May 17 "60 Minutes" piece in which he interviewed the woman said to have served as the inspiration for the icy, demanding editor played by Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada."
"Morley has an amazing wit and an ability to get to the quick of things," says Deirdre Naphin, one of his producers. "Around the office, we call him the 'King of Fun.' "