Last week saw the passing of a legend in journalism and one of the voices that actually sent me to journalism school, Toronto-born Morley Safer. While my journalism career was barely a flash in the pan, I can bring his voice to my mind in an instant. Yet, despite that, for a part of my life I absolutely hated him.
Wait…wait…bear with me once more.
Sunday nights at 7pm were torture when I was a kid. We had a giant (at the time) TV that was built into one of those big cabinets that were so common back in the 70’s and 80’s. The TV died eventually but that cabinet carried on for years, hollowed out by my dad, shelves installed, various TV’s sitting atop it as it followed us from house to house. I started my road to being a geek from that TV, long before I discovered comics in-depth. There was Force Five, Robotech, the Hanna Barbera cartoons (Space Ghost!) and so much more that were my after school scheduled viewing. The weekends were always hit and miss after 12pm, when the Saturday and Sunday morning cartoons were done…but there was one rule of the house that was always obeyed, no matter how much my brother and I grumbled about it.
Sunday at 7pm was Dad’s time for the TV. I very quickly came to know several names and an opening of a ticking stop watch by heart.
“I’m Ed Bradley. I’m Mike Wallace. I’m Steve Kroft. I’m Leslie Stahl. I’m Harry Reasoner. I’m Morley Safer. Those stories and Andy Rooney tonight, on 60 Minutes”
Really, I loathed that hour of TV for years. Who the hell cared about stories about some old fat smoking “star” I’d never heard of named Jackie Gleason. All they were doing was playing pool while the fat guy smoked like a chimney. What the frack did I care about this guy with a lantern jaw and a face that looked like it had been etched in stone by a blind mason giving a report from some old train (the Orient Express). Who cared about Nixon, or Reagan getting shot, or Vietnam…I wanted my Wonderful World of Disney! Despite all our pouting and protestations though, that rule never changed. It even got more infuriating when a bloody football game would run late and this ticking time bomb of a show would go past 8pm! Can you imagine the horror to my young mind?
For all my complaints, though…more often than not, I sat and watched with my Dad. Most of it went over my head, I had no frame of reference, no sense of history, but something about the stories and how they were told kept bringing my attention back. Especially that guy with the weird name and the penchant for sharing the strangest adventures. Morley Safer. What the hell kind of name was that? Sounded like something from the 1950’s! (ancient to my brain at the time). As time went on, a strange thing happened. I started asking questions. Reading newspapers and looking up information in the library on stories that had been told the Sunday night before. I started discussing it with my Dad. I got interested in news…in information…in stories. And eventually, I got to love sharing those discussions specifically with my Dad.
As more time passed, Dad and I would share interests in more shows, in football, baseball, but there as always 60 Minutes, ever week. We even knew when the repeats had started and got bored with anything else at that time block. Of course, our shared discussions of TV hit its peak during the run of The West Wing…but by then I was well-developed as a dyed in the wool liberal and my Dad had become…a reformed conservative shall we say. Through it all…there were the voices of 60 Minutes…and most especially Morley Safer.
When I heard he had passed away, I was amazed to discover that he had only officially retired days before his passing. I hadn’t followed 60 Minutes in years…the names I knew were mostly gone. Ed Bradley, Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace had all passed away, and the new reporters were good, but I was now doing my own digging, so I lost track of who was left. I never really cared for Andy Rooney, who so often just came off to me like the eloquent crank he became a parody of in his waning years…but when Morley passed, the memories flooded back.
I used his voice. His tone, his tenor, his rhythm of writing in so many stories when I was in journalism school. I blatantly stole style and voice ideas from him and a few other more local voices. Tom Gibney. Gord Martineau. Mark Dailey. The interest and attention paid…all started with that news show I hated so much…because of my Dad. Why I never went fully into journalism is a long story of twisting fates and questionable career decisions. I don’t know if I had the heart for the ruthlessness of some of the industry, especially since I would have entered it just as the Internet became a “thing”, but I still respect the craft. (seriously, see the movie Spotlight to understand why).
If you have 45 minutes, take the time…and watch the 60 Minutes retrospective on Morley’s career here: Honoring Morley Safer It’s well worth the time to see how a unique man crafted such unique stories. And hey…he achieved the greatest honour for any reporter…he had a President try to get him fired. That’s something we all could learn from. So thanks Morley for the lifelong interest in stories..and thanks Dad for enforcing that Sunday night rule.