A Cold War Muckraker Passes – Daniel Schorr Remembered
Prior to his death on Friday, legendary multimedia journalist Daniel Schorr must have been one of the very few Twitter users over the age of 90. He wasn’t a frequent user, but his July 22, 2009, tweet commenting on the passing of another news media icon still seems incredibly apt considering the recent failings of the medium:
With Cronkite’s death, this has been a week of memories. It took me back to a time when there was such a thing as a trusted journalist.
Indeed, with the passing of Dan Schorr, there is one less living reminder that the broadcast journalism industry of today — while more colorful, and much, much louder — is a mere shadow of a bygone era.
Daniel Schorr, 93, a combative broadcast reporter who over six decades broke major national stories while also provoking presidents, foreign leaders, the KGB, the CIA and his bosses at CBS and CNN, died July 23 at Georgetown University Hospital. The cause of death was not reported.
Mr. Schorr, a senior news analyst with National Public Radio for the past 25 years, was one of a handful of reporters with firsthand knowledge of newsmakers from the 1950s through the 2000s.
Schorr began his career as a foreign correspondent, working in Europe following World War II. Schorr’s radio coverage of the 1953 Holland floods caught the attention of CBS news icon Edward R. Murrow, who hired Schorr, and later tasked him with reopening the CBS News bureau in Moscow.
Schorr The Cold War Muckraker
It was in the Soviet Union that Schorr began to run up his tally of the perturbed and powerful. The following list is far from complete:
Though Schorr’s relations with the Kremlin were warm enough to be granted an interview with Nikita Khrushchev in June 1957, his relationship with KGB censors was far less cordial. Following a brief visit to the U.S., the Soviets prohibited Schorr’s reentry upon his return that December.
According to his Museum of Broadcast Communications’ Bio, “Schorr’s report of the impending resignation of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles so irked President Eisenhower that he denied the report, only to have it confirmed by his press secretary a week later.”
While relating the drama of Cold War Berlin back to the States, President Kennedy sought to have CBS remove Schorr from West Germany for sounding too critical of American policy in the region.
Schorr raised the ire of the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964 when he filed a report imparting the Senator’s ties to “certain right-wing German politicians.”
After returning to the U.S. in 1966, Schorr became an irritant for the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration, focusing on the inadequacies of “The Great Society” on the CBS Evening News.
Schorr’s most famous work was done covering the Richard M. Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal. As the Nixon presidency deteriorated under the scrutiny, Schorr was honored for his work with three Emmy’s, 1972 – ’74, for “outstanding achievement within a regularly scheduled news program.” Schorr’s coverage earned the broadcaster a place on Nixon’s “enemies list,” which he was surprised to discover durring an on-air reading of the list. Alan Greenblatt noted in his NPR obit, “Schorr, along with some other members of the list, counted his inclusion on it as his greatest achievement. “
Greenblatt also recalls the disdain harbored for Schorr among CIA officials, particularly that of Richard Helms in 1975. “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,’” over Schorr’s reporting regarding agency assassination attempts abroad.
Schorr’s Leak Becomes The Story
While covering the House Select Committee on Intelligence (commonly referred to as the Pike Committee) in 1976, Schorr was given a draft copy of the Committee’s final report on its investigation into illegal activities at the CIA and FBI.
The Pike report was initially scheduled to be released over the objections of intelligence officials and the Gerald Ford administration. Schorr had already displayed the report on television, without specifics, two days before the House Rules Committee, and later, the full House, voted to keep the Pike report secret.
Schorr initially sought help from CBS in getting the sensitive materials published. After encountering resistance from his employer, Schorr surreptitiously leaked the draft Pike report to the Villiage Voice, which paid compensation for the document, not to Schorr, but to a legal defense fund dedicated to protecting freedom of the press.
Much to Schorr’s dismay, other media outlets took to publicly questioning his integrity. The episode landed Schorr before the House Ethics Committee, before which, he successfully defended the anonymity of his source as well as himself.
Schorr, himself, never regretted leaking the Pike report; rather, as the controversy unfolded, he lamented his decision to go the furtive route:
I realized that my ill-advised effort to conceal myself as the source was diverting attention from the report and what it revealed about the CIA…
Regardless, Schorr’s long relationship with CBS was through. He would go on, credibility intact, to help get CNN underway in 1979. His differences with network owner Ted Turner resulted in Schorr’s 1985 departure; after which, Schorr joined NPR as a senior news analyst — a position he held until his death. RIP.
Daniel Schorr (left) with Dr. Sergi Khrushchev in 2001 at the National Press Club ~ Photo by Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Inst.) via Flickr.com - public.resource.org