Journalism Legend Daniel Schorr Dies at 93

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NPR

Journalism Legend Daniel Schorr Dies at 93

by
Alan Greenblatt

In a Sept. 16, 1976 photo, television reporter Daniel Schorr appears before a meeting of the House Ethics Committee in Washington. Veteran reporter-commentator Daniel Schorr, whose hard-hitting reporting for CBS got him on President Richard Nixon's notorious 'enemies list' in the 1970s, has died. He was 93. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)

Daniel Schorr, a longtime senior news analyst for NPR and a veteran
Washington journalist who broke major stories at home and abroad during
the Cold War and Watergate, has died. He was 93.

Schorr,
who once described himself as a "living history book," passed away
Friday morning at a Washington hospital. He was able to bring to
contemporary news commentary a deep sense of how governmental
institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from
decades of watching history upfront.

"He
could compare presidents from Eisenhower on through, and that gave him
historical context for things," said Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian
and author of a book about the Washington press corps. "He had lived
it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his
broadcasting that was hard for somebody his junior to match."

Schorr's
20-year career as a foreign correspondent began in 1946. After serving
in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II, he began writing from
Western Europe for the Christian Science Monitor and later The New York Times, witnessing postwar reconstruction, the Marshall Plan and the creation of the NATO alliance.

Schorr
joined CBS News in 1953 as one of "Murrow's boys," the celebrated news
team put together by Edward R. Murrow. He reopened the network's Moscow
bureau, which had been shuttered by Joseph Stalin in 1947. Ten years
later, Schorr scored an exclusive broadcast interview with Nikita
Khrushchev, the U.S.S.R. Communist Party chief - the first-ever with a
Soviet leader. Schorr was barred from the U.S.S.R. later that year after
repeatedly defying Soviet censors.

He
covered the building of the Berlin Wall as CBS bureau chief for Germany
and Western Europe. In 1962, he aired a celebrated portrait of citizens
living under Communist rule in East Germany.He was reassigned to Washington in 1966. Other
reporters in the bureau were already covering major institutions such as
Congress or the State Department, so Schorr assigned himself to cover
the implementation of President Johnson's Great Society programs.

"No
one had such a beat," recalled his bureau colleague Roger Mudd. "He was
everywhere. He had almost carte blanche to cover Washington."

David Broder, a longtime political reporter and columnist for The Washington Post,
added: "I think he's unique in the sense that he's been at the center
of so many different stories, both here in Washington and overseas, for
so long. He kept his perspective so well and does not ever exaggerate
what's taking place, but really let you know why it's important."

Becoming Part Of The Story

Schorr
was surprised to find himself on the so-called Enemies List that had
been drawn up by Richard Nixon's White House when he read it on the air.
The list - naming hundreds of political opponents, entertainers and
publications considered hostile to the administration - became the basis
for one of the charges of impeachment against Nixon.

Schorr, along with some other members of the list, counted his inclusion on it as his greatest achievement.

Schorr
won Emmys in each of the Watergate years of 1972, 1973 and 1974. Over
the course of his long career, he was honored with numerous other
decorations and awards, including a Peabody for "a lifetime of
uncompromising reporting of the highest integrity." Schorr was inducted
into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists.

"He was sophisticated about the government and how it works," Mudd said. "He was a damned vacuum cleaner, is what he was."

'Killer Schorr'

In
1975, Schorr reported on assassinations that had been carried out by
the CIA. "The anger of the administration can be gauged from Richard
Helms' denunciation of Schorr," historian Garry Wills recounts in his
2010 book, Bomb Power.

Helms, then
the CIA director, confronted Schorr in the presence of other reporters
at the White House, calling him names such as "son of a bitch" and
"killer."

"Killer Schorr: That's what they ought to call you," Helms said.

In 1976, Schorr reported on the findings of the
Pike Committee, which had investigated illegal CIA and FBI activities.
The committee had voted to keep its final report secret, but Schorr
leaked a copy to the Village Voice, which published it.

Schorr
was threatened with a $100,000 fine and jail time for contempt of
Congress. But during congressional testimony, Schorr refused to identify
his source, citing First Amendment protections. The House ethics
committee voted 6 to 5 against a contempt citation.

But CBS had already taken Schorr off the air. He ultimately resigned from the network that year.

"CBS
found that, like other big corporations, it did not like to offend the
Congress," Mudd said. "He broke his ties to CBS and before they could
fire him, he resigned."

An Enduring Career

In
1979, Schorr was hired to provide commentary for the fledgling CNN. The
network inaugurated its programming the following year with his
interview with President Jimmy Carter. But in 1985, his contract was not
renewed, which Schorr counted as his second "firing."

"Schorr
was always a person to challenge what the government was saying and
being skeptical and contrary," said Ritchie, the Senate historian.

"It really is true that I would sometimes stand up for principle at the risk of my job," he told his son Jonathan for an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition last year. "It is also true that when I lose my job I get terribly nervous."

Upon
leaving CNN, Schorr joined NPR, where he had been doing occasional
commentaries for several years. He had been a senior news analyst for
NPR ever since. He also wrote a column for the Christian Science Monitor for decades.

"What
passes for commentary today is almost all opinion," Ritchie said, "but
Schorr was part of that breed of commentators who dug up information
before they pontificated about it."

Schorr
was born in the Bronx in 1916, the son of Belorussian immigrants. He got
his first scoop at age 12, when he saw the body of a woman who had
jumped or fallen from the roof of his apartment building. He called the
police - and the Bronx Home News, which paid him $5 for the information.

"It was the first time I'd ever seen a dead person in my life," he told NPR's Robert Siegel in a 2006 interview on All Things Considered marking Schorr's 90th birthday.

"Why
didn't I react more emotionally to that? It was the essential
journalist who manages to absent himself from the situation and simply
report it without feeling it," Schorr said.

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