Radio news vets air questions about Cuba, Lebanon and U.S. | AspenTimes.com

Radio news vets air questions about Cuba, Lebanon and U.S.

John Colson

Mark Fox/The Aspen TImes

When National Public Radio news veterans Daniel Schorr and Scott Simon sat down for a chat with listeners and fans Monday night, they were met by an array of thoughtful and provocative questions that, in one case, left the two men speechless.

It was the first question from the audience, in fact, that left the two radio news heavyweights without words. The man asking the question wanted to know if there are “forces” at work in politics today that influence events but are not discussed much by anyone.

“I’ll have to think about that for a while,” responded Schorr, after a moment’s hesitation. Simon quipped, “Ask Mel Gibson.” He apparently was referring to the actor’s explosively controversial recent remarks made to a California deputy sheriff during a DUI car stop, in which he allegedly declared, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” and asked the arresting officer, “Are you a Jew?”

The on-stage chat took place at Paepcke Auditorium among Schorr, Simon and KAJX Executive Director Brent Gardner-Smith. KAJX, Aspen’s public radio station, sponsored the event.

Gardner-Smith, acting as moderator, guided his guests through a field of questions about their lives and experiences observing the world, and their respective views about various world events, starting with Fidel Castro’s recent handing-over of power to his brother in Havana, Cuba, following stomach surgery on the aging Cuban leader.

Simon, who professed to having made “a dozen trips to Cuba” over the years since the 1959 revolution, said he has been told that Castro is up and walking around his hospital room, and is expected to return to work soon.

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Simon also predicted that when Castro dies and his brother Raul takes over for good, little will change on the island nation, at least not right away.

“I think gradually change is going to come. … The Cuban people are ready for it,” he said.

Schorr then interjected that the United States must change its policies toward Cuba, ending the decades-old trade embargo and normalizing relations, to effect beneficial change.

“Then the president could talk about democracy,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

When asked about the state of journalism, Schorr said he is “a little concerned about what is happening to my beloved profession” and criticized television news for diminishing “the devotion to truth that we’re supposed to have.”

He lamented that reporters were once honored, or at least respected and liked, and told the audience of the time in 1976 when he was hauled before Congress and threatened with jail time unless he revealed where he had obtained the secret Pike Commission report on illegal CIA and FBI activities.

A barrage of phone calls flooded congressional lines demanding he not be jailed for doing his job, and Congress backed down, he said. He added that if it had happened today, in light of recent subpoenas and jail terms for reporters, the outcome might have been different.

Simon, responding to a later question about resisting the spread of corporate journalism, recommended people can “vote with our feet” and pay attention only to those news outlets they feel confidence in, specifically mentioning NPR.

Schorr termed the current border war between Israel and Lebanon “an utterly hopeless situation” and predicted that diplomatic efforts will not find a resolution.

“They’re going to tear at each other’s throats for a long, long time and stop when they’re exhausted,” he predicted.

Asked where people can look for hope in today’s troubled world, Simon replied, “I see a lot of hope in this country.” He said the strength of the United States comes more from cultural exportation than military strength and cited examples he has seen of the weakening of racism and bigotry in the southern states as an example of something hopeful.

Asked if he had a closing remark at the end of the evening, Schorr, who has spoken at many such occasions in Aspen, declared, “I’ve always liked Aspen audiences, and I still do.”

John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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