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Daniel Schorr, Journalist, Dies at 93


Considered presence on the Nixon enemies list a tribute

By Robert D. Hershey Jr. in the NYT

Daniel Schorr, whose aggressive reporting over 70 years as a respected broadcast and print journalist brought him into conflict with censors, the Nixon administration and network superiors, died on Friday in Washington. He was 93.

His death was announced by NPR, where he had been a commentator for the last 25 years. A spokeswoman, Anna Christopher, said he died at a Washington hospital after a short illness. He lived in Washington.

Mr. Schorr, a protégé of Edward R. Murrowat CBS News, initially made his mark at CBS as a foreign correspondent, notably in the Soviet Union. He opened the network’s Moscow bureau in 1955 and persuaded the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev to sit for his first television interview, with “Face the Nation.” At the end of 1957, Mr. Schorr went home for the holidays and was denied readmission to the Soviet Union after repeatedly defying Soviet censors.

At CBS, Mr. Schorr won three Emmy Awards for his coverage of the Watergate scandal and took pride in his often blunt reporting on the administration. In one instance he hurriedly began broadcasting after acquiring a copy of Nixon’s notorious “enemies list” only to discover in reading the names aloud that his was No. 17.

Nixon was so angered by Mr. Schorr’s reporting that he was said to have ordered the F.B.I. to investigate him.

“I consider my presence on the enemies list,” he said in a 2009 interview with The Gazette of Montgomery County, Md., “a greater tribute than the Emmys list.”

But his 23-year career at CBS was cut short in 1976 when he obtained a copy of a suppressed House of Representatives committee report on highly dubious activities by the Central Intelligence Agency.

He showed a draft on television and discussed its contents, but when neither of CBS’s book subsidiaries was willing to publish the document, produced by the House Select Committee on Intelligence under Otis G. Pike, a New York Democrat, Mr. Schorr provided it — anonymously, he vainly hoped — to The Village Voice.

Many of his colleagues criticized him when he remained silent in the face of false suspicions that another CBS correspondent, Lesley Stahl, had given the report to The Voice.

After Mr. Schorr subsequently admitted that it was he who had leaked the document, there were threats requiring police protection and investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Congress. When the House ethics committee demanded to know Mr. Schorr’s source, he refused to reveal it, risking a contempt citation. When questioned by the committee, he cited First Amendment protections in refusing to “betray a confidential source.” The committee voted 6 to 5 against a citation.

By then CBS had relieved Mr. Schorr of his reporting duties, and he ultimately resigned. Editorial and public opinion swung in his favor — Mr. Schorr was seen as a beleaguered, principled reporter — and he became popular on the lecture circuit. But what he called his “love-hate affair” with CBS News was over.

He ruminated about his departure in a 2001 memoir, “Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism” (Pocket Books): “Washed away by one controversial leak too many? Undone by a reporting style that proved indigestible to a network worried about affiliates and regulations? Unable to adapt myself to corporate tugs on the reins? Unwilling to exempt my own network from my investigative reporting?”

His conclusion: “All of that, I guess.”

Interviewed in 2008 for this obituary, Mr. Schorr continued to refuse to identify his source for the Pike committee report.

At 60, Mr. Schorr endured a brief and disappointing stint as a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley — he found the students most interested in his celebrity, he said — and became a freelance writer. The Des Moines Register and Tribune engaged him to write a column, but after two years the paper’s syndicate did not renew his contract.

Then, after he narrated some public television specials and offered twice-a-week commentaries for the Independent Television News Association, an executive of the association introduced him in 1979 to Ted Turner, the swashbuckling Southerner who was in the process of creating CNN, the first cable news network.

The two met in a hotel penthouse in Las Vegas, and, after a brief discussion, Mr. Schorr became the fledgling network’s first employee, as a senior news analyst.

After consulting his business agent and lawyer, Mr. Schorr drafted an agreement in the hotel lobby, insisting that “no demand will be made upon him that would compromise his professional ethics and responsibilities.” As Mr. Schorr recalled, Mr. Turner scrawled his signature with scarcely a glance.

The cable news venture, initially on a shoestring, took off, and the unlikely pair got along well. Mr. Turner defended Mr. Schorr when Senator Barry Goldwater, the conservative Arizona Republican, wanted him fired. Goldwater had held a grudge since 1964, when Mr. Schorr, while at CBS, reported on the enthusiasm of right-wing Germans for Goldwater as he secured the presidential nomination that year. Mr. Schorr noted that a planned postconvention Goldwater trip mainly involved time at an American military recreation center in Berchtesgaden, site of a favorite Hitler retreat.

Mr. Schorr and Mr. Turner eventually fell out over a CNN plan to team John Connally, the former Texas governor and Nixon Treasury secretary, with Mr. Schorr as commentators at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas.

It was improper, Mr. Schorr said, to mix a politician with a journalist, and he invoked for the first time the 1979 agreement allowing him to veto assignments. The network asked him to drop that right in early 1985, and when he refused, he was told to take leave until his contract expired that May. He soon joined NPR as a commentator, a position he held until his death. He could be heard as recently as July 10, on “Weekend Edition,” discussing the news of the week.

Born in the Bronx on Aug. 31, 1916, to parents who had emigrated from what is now Belarus, Daniel Louis Schorr had an unhappy childhood. He said that in writing his memoir he had come to realize that “being poor, fat, Jewish, fatherless” had made him feel like an outsider, and that he had “achieved identity” through his journalism.

He got his first scoop, which earned him $5, when he was 12. A woman fell or jumped from the roof of the apartment house where he lived, and he called the police, interviewed them about the victim and then called The Bronx Home News, which paid for news tips.

Mr. Schorr attended the City College of New York and contributed articles to New York City news organizations while he was a student there. After graduation he worked for The Jewish Daily Bulletin and then the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Growing restive and with Europe at war, Mr. Schorr took a job with Aneta, the news agency of the Netherlands East Indies. He was drafted into the Army in 1943 and, after completing his service, returned to Aneta, in the Netherlands. He became fluent in Dutch.

In 1952 he returned to the United States and won a three-day tryout on the city desk of The New York Times. On the final day, he was assigned to cover the signing at City Hall of the first contracts for federal aid to help private slum-clearing efforts. He was expected to write a few paragraphs.

Instead he interviewed Robert Moses, the New York urban planning czar, who invited him to lunch and showed him some prospective slum-clearing sites, including one near Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The site turned out to be where Lincoln Center would rise. His editors, who had not known of the project, had him write a full-length article.

Impressed, The Times offered him a job but suggested he return to the Netherlands for a few weeks while details were worked out. In early February 1953, that country was devastated by a severe storm, and Mr. Schorr’s dispatches so impressed Murrow, one of the most respected broadcast journalists working then, that he cabled him — Mr. Schorr recalled the exact words more than a half-century later — asking, “Would you at all consider joining the staff of CBS News with an initial assignment in Washington?”

Mr. Schorr still preferred The Times, but when he didn’t hear further, he inquired and learned that the offer had been withdrawn. As Mr. Schorr told the story, an editor later sheepishly explained that the paper was concerned that too many Jewish bylines might jeopardize its coverage of the Mideast.

Then began his broadcast career, which, in addition to his reporting on intelligence, the Soviet Union and the erection of the Berlin Wall, included coverage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs and Watergate. He appeared frequently on “Face the Nation” and made a notable Nixon-era documentary about health care called “Don’t Get Sick in America.”

Mr. Schorr married when he returned to the United States at the age of 50. He and his wife, the former Lisbeth Bamberger, met on his beat when she worked at the Office of Economic Opportunity. She survives him, as do their son, Jonathan; their daughter, Lisa Kaplan; and one grandchild.

Despite decades of experience in the latest broadcast technology, Mr. Schorr shunned computers and word processors for years, sticking with electric typewriters into his 90s. But he had a Twitter account, and last December he posted this message there:

“Big day in my career. First time I composed my commentary for All Things Considered on my computer. Good-bye, typewriter.”

View the original article at Veterans Today

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