Daniel Schorr dies at age 93
July 24, 2010
WASHINGTON – Daniel Schorr, whose journalism career over more than six decades landed him in the dark corners of Europe during the Cold War and the shadows of President Richard Nixon’s notorious “enemies list” in the 1970s, has died. He was 93.
Schorr, who visited Aspen often and spoke frequently at The Aspen Instiute, died Friday at Washington’s Georgetown University Hospital after a brief illness, said his son, Jonathan Schorr.
Daniel Schorr’s path through the news business began in print, then led to almost three decades in television with CBS News and the fledgling cable network CNN.
By the time of his death, he was best known as a longtime senior news analyst and liberal commentator on National Public Radio. He also wrote several books, including his memoir, “Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism.”
Bill Moyers, who like Schorr had stints at CBS News and in public broadcasting, said Schorr was a model of integrity.
“At NPR, he exemplified the very best of public broadcasting by refusing to be intimidated by either official funders or partisan thugs who besieged the brass in protest of his honest reporting,” Moyers wrote Friday in an e-mail. “With razor-sharp wit, personal courage, and love of our craft, he distinguished himself and journalism.”
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CBS “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer said if not for Schorr, he doesn’t know what reporters would have done to get stories about Watergate. “When Watergate came along, he kept us in the game,” Schieffer said.
“He was a model for us all,” Schieffer said. “I’ve never seen anybody who just enjoyed reporting a story as much as he did. He just loved it.”
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Schorr reported from Moscow, Havana, Bonn, Germany and many other cities as a foreign correspondent. While at CBS, he brought Americans the first-ever exclusive television interview with a Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1957.
During the Nixon years, Schorr not only covered the news as CBS’ chief Watergate correspondent, but he also became part of the story. Hoping to beat the competition, he rushed to the air with Nixon’s famous “enemies list” and began reading the list of 20 to viewers before previewing it. As he got to No. 17, he discovered his name.
“I remember that my first thought was that I must go on reading without any pause, or gasp or look of wild surmise,” he wrote in his book “Clearing the Air.”
Schorr’s stories pointing out weaknesses of the administration’s programs so angered Nixon that he ordered an FBI investigation of the reporter, on the pretext that he was being considered for a top federal job. That investigation was later mentioned in one of the three articles of impeachment – “abuse of a federal agency” – against Nixon.
In White House recordings from 1971, Nixon and Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman discuss a tax investigation of Schorr in the Oval Office.
“You take a fellow like this Dan Schorr, he’s – I notice – he is always creating something, isn’t he?” Nixon said.
“Oh … He incidentally is on – you don’t, shouldn’t get involved in this, but he’s on our tax list, too,” Haldeman said.
“Good,” Nixon replied.
“They’re going after a couple of media people,” Haldeman said. “They’re going after Dan Schorr and (Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Star columnist) Mary McGrory.”
“Good,” Nixon said again.
The recording was made available by the University of Virginia, which is transcribing and annotating the secret Nixon tapes.
Schorr said he figured he became such a thorn in Nixon’s side because his newspaper background gave him a bluntness rare on television.
Later in life, Schorr cherished his Nixon coverage, his son said.
“He had nothing more than the truth to go up against the president of the United States,” the younger Schorr said.
Still, he and Nixon were “extremely cordial” by the end of Nixon’s life, Jonathan Schorr said, “and my dad loved that.”
Schorr became part of the story again in 1976, when he arranged for the publication of an advance copy of a suppressed House Intelligence Committee report on illegal CIA and FBI findings.
At the time, Schorr called it “an inescapable decision of journalistic conscience” to see that the report ended up in print. To his surprise, reaction from his own colleagues in the media was negative, because Schorr had handed the report over in exchange for a donation to a group that aids journalists in First Amendment issues.
Many reporters also found Schorr’s silence troubling when another CBS correspondent, Lesley Stahl, was wrongly accused of leaking the report. Schorr was suspended by the network and the House opened an investigation, though it later dropped the case. He resigned from CBS soon after.
Well into his 90s, he was still giving commentaries on NPR. He was last heard on the air waves July 10, on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” with Scott Simon in a discussion of the U.S.-Russia spy swap, the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona and other news of the week.
Simon called working with Schorr “one of the great blessings of my life.”
“He had no boss but the First Amendment,” Simon said. “He felt his duty was to the news.”
Schorr spoke in a thick New York accent he never lost, a voice that contrasted sharply with the stentorian style of many newscasters of the 1950s and 1960s. It made his delivery all the more compelling.
He was very good at developing sources surrounding the Cold War, in the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union, former CBS colleague Dan Rather said.
“In Washington, he prided himself on being an outsider, not an insider,” Rather said. “He didn’t work the social circuit. He worked his shoe leather and his telephones.”
Born in New York City to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Schorr began his career in journalism while he was still in high school. When he wasn’t working on the student newspaper, he spent his free time as a stringer for the Bronx Home News and the Jewish Daily Bulletin. During college, Schorr also worked part time for several metropolitan dailies.
After serving in Army intelligence during World War II in Louisiana and Texas, he worked as an editor in New York for the Dutch news service ANETA and was a freelancer in Europe for numerous newspapers and ANETA.
Schorr first caught the eye of famed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow during his vivid reports on devastating flooding in the Netherlands in 1953. Murrow persuaded him to join the network, where he started out covering Capitol Hill and the State Department.
After CBS, Schorr taught journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, and then, in 1979, he joined Ted Turner’s newly created CNN as its senior correspondent in Washington.
Soon after leaving the cable station in 1985 over differences with Turner, Schorr found a home at NPR as a senior news analyst. He contributed regularly to “All Things Considered,” and other programs.
He received three Emmy Awards, among other honors that include a Peabody in 1992 for “a lifetime of uncompromising reporting of the highest integrity.” He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists in 1991.
Schorr is survived by his wife of 43 years, Lisbeth, his son, Jonathan Schorr, daughter, Lisa Kaplan, and one grandchild.
Funeral Services will be held on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.