Safer eyes life after ’60’

Feb 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Morley Safer intends to continue chain-smoking at his desk, but he, unlike longtime colleague Don Hewitt, does not intend to die at his desk.
“Say that,” he said in the heavily tarred voice that is as much a trademark as his checked shirts and graceful way with even the bluntest of words: “I do not want to die at my desk.”
A new contract written to his specifications last year calls for Canadian-born Mr. Safer, 70, who joined CBS News in 1964 as a London-based correspondent and who was named “60 Minutes” co-editor in 1970, to work full time through the end of 2003 and then cut back to half time.
Mr. Safer ruefully conceded that it may harder to manage half-time than full-time workloads because (a) he tends to let the work at hand expand to fill the time at hand and (b) he wants to continue juggling “60 Minutes” pieces, the occasional “60 Minutes II” piece and four or five arts pieces per year for “CBS Sunday Morning.”
The latter “I do purely for the fun of doing them,” said Mr. Safer, who listened to himself listing the CBS News workload he envisions starting in 2004 and rephrased his professional game plan.
“I’m going from double time to full time more than to half time. They would have liked me to have stayed on longer full time,” said Mr. Safer, who has left his mark on electronic journalism with reporting that helped crystallize the country’s feelings about the Vietnam War and that helped a man wrongly sentenced to life in a Texas prison. His numerous honors include 11 Emmys, three Peabody Awards and two duPont-Columbia Awards, and just last year, a Robert F. Kennedy journalism award for his piece about a controversial “school for the homeless.”
“All I know is I want a little more time for myself,” said Mr. Safer, who wrote the best-selling “Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam.”
He plans to write, possibly a book, hopefully nonfiction, he said. “But nothing to do with television. I’m not writing a memoir. I’m way too young to write a memoir. I’m not going to write a history of `60 Minutes.”’
Oh, and about that ashtray full of imported Rothman butts and the office that reeks of unapologetic, old-fashioned chain-smoking: He can’t remember when anyone tried to tell him it was a no-no.
“It’s one of the few advantages of being around for a while,” he said. Between puffs.