Safer, whose death was announced today, has been a fixture of American television news longer than just about anyone, having served as one of the stars of 60 Minutes since 1970 and only retiring from that post last week. But Safer’s American status was an ambivalent one. He was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1931, and made his name as a correspondent in Europe and Asia.
It was his frank coverage of the Vietnam War in 1965 and 1966 for CBS News that made Safer famous. One of his reports showed American soldiers using zippo lighters to set a village on fire. By showing the dark side of the war, Safer earned the enmity of President Lyndon Johnson, who ordered an investigation of the journalist. Told that Safer wasn’t a communist but “just a Canadian,” Johnson responded, “Well, I knew he wasn’t an American.”
In a 1998 interview with Maclean’s magazine, Safer said he felt “stateless.” He added, “I am not American, whatever that is. I cannot say ‘we’ in the collective national sense. ... I bring a different perspective, and I have no vested interests.” RIP.