Morley Safer: Iraq Riskier than ’Nam

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As American television crews struggle to stay safe while reporting the news from Iraq, veterans of other war zones say this conflict is the most dangerous ever for journalists. Few know the perils of war reporting better than CBS News and 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer. A 42-year CBS veteran, Safer spent several years covering the Vietnam War and established the network’s Saigon bureau. After two of his colleagues were killed in a May 30 attack in Iraq and a third critically injured, Safer spoke to B&C’s Allison Romano about the dangers of being a war correspondent, how he delivered the news from Vietnam and why Iraq is much more dangerous for journalists.

How does your experience reporting in the Vietnam War compare to what the news media is facing in Iraq?

You just can’t compare these two in terms of how you covered it and the perils of coverage. In Vietnam, journalists were generally killed in battle, and there are no battles in this war. They are all street crimes.

In Vietnam, with rare exceptions, the cities were safe places. You could go anywhere in Saigon or Danang or Ben Wah or any of the towns feeling quite secure. There were some dodgy moments, but nothing like Iraq.

Did you feel secure because you were a journalist? Was the media not considered a target there?

It wasn’t because we were journalists; it was the nature of Vietnam. As a civilian walking around in back streets of Cho Long, you obviously stood out like a sore thumb, but I never felt in particular danger. There were dodgy parts of town, but certainly not this kind of random violence.

I don’t think the journalists are being targeted in Iraq; I think they are just victims of random violence that targets everyone from American troops to journalists to civilians having lunch in a cafe. It is that random violence that makes it uncoverable.

In Vietnam, were you able to move freely and report the stories you wanted?

That is the major difference. In Vietnam, there was no place we couldn’t go and get there with the assistance of the U.S. military. You’d go out to the airport and find a helicopter going where you were going and jump on it.

The military ran a regular airline. There were scheduled flights that went to all the major cities in Vietnam and even some quite small towns. It was like taking a shuttle to Washington. All you had to produce was your Defense Department documentation.

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