Friday, July 23, 2010

Daniel Schorr

He was one of the last surviving "Murrow's Boys," a select group of men who were personally recruited to CBS Radio by the legendary Edward R. Murrow, considered the father of broadcast journalism. Legend has it that Dan's news career began when he was 12 years old. The story goes that Schorr came upon a woman who had jumped, or fallen, from the roof of his own apartment building in the Bronx; after calling for help, he dropped a dime to the Bronx Home News. He earned five bucks for this very first scoop.

Two years after Murrow added Schorr to his news team, Dan was given the enviable task of opening the first CBS News bureau in Moscow. In 1957, he was the first American to interview Soviet Communist Party chief Nikita Khrushchev, an interview which was broadcast on Face the Nation. Dan left the Soviet Union for a time due to its strict censorship laws, and was denied a visa when he attempted to return. Nevertheless, he became an authority on the Cold War, and in 1962, delivered an in-depth report on everyday life behind the Iron Curtain.

Schorr was an adamant supporter of first amendment rights (which lead to an unlikely friendship with rocker Frank Zappa, of all people), and if he had been recently connected to the mainstream media, he would surely be labeled a left-winger. But in the 70s, a liberal bent toward freedom of the press was considered an asset, which helped Dan rise to the top of his profession. His relentless investigations into the suspected corruption of the Nixon White House lead to his being investigated by the FBI. When Nixon's infamous enemies list was made public during the Watergate hearings, Schorr scored a bit of a coup when he read the list aloud on live television, only to discover his own name at number 17 (two slots above Paul Newman!)

It was during this period in the early 70s that Dan won three Emmys, back to back, for outstanding achievement in news reporting. By 1976, he had drawn the criticism of his own network, CBS, when he leaked the contents of a confidential report detailing illegal activities performed by the FBI and CIA. He resigned from the network, but retained his reputation as a reporter scrupulously devoted to the truth. In 1979, he was hired by Ted Turner as the first on-air newsman for CNN; he ultimately clashed with his boss regarding Turner's crusade to censor violent movies, and in 1985, he moved to NPR, where his commentary as Senior News Analyst became an invaluable source of historical context. When he turned 90, NPR renamed a studio after him (by the way, did you know it's not National Public Radio anymore? Nope, it's now just NPR, like Kentucky Fried Chicken is now just KFC...but that's another posting).

I have to confess that, when Dan Schorr was in the height of his career, I lumped him in with all those other news hounds, but in recent years, I have greatly enjoyed tuning in to his weekly chat with Scott Simon every Saturday morning on Weekend Edition. He filed his last commentary only two weeks ago, and was as lucid as ever. He died today, only 5 weeks shy of his 94th birthday.

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