Friday, July 23, 2010
Daniel Schorr 1916-2010
The obituaries and appreciations are pouring out.
There's no point in repeating the many details of Dan's storied career. But the most laudatory and clear-eyed obit I've seen is by NPR's Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday. Every Saturday after the 9 am newscast, Dan and Scott would chat about the week's events. Dan always gave the listeners insight and context that couldn't be found anywhere else. Scott's tribute is elegant and inspirational.
Every week, in my role either as NPR's VP of News or as NPR's ombudsman, I would regularly receive emails praising and condemning NPR for having the nerve to put Dan on the air. During the harsh days of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, Dan would point out the foibles and the dangers of administration policies. When it came to the Bush White House, Dan was never at a loss for words.
Dan Schorr was one of the last of the Murrow Boys - the group of men hired by Edward R. Murrow who as part of CBS News, created the finest commercial broadcast news organization. It was known for the fearlessness of its reporting and for the integrity (most of the time) of its senior management, especially Richard Salant.
Dan was forced out of CBS in 1976, when he was leaked a copy of a secret investigative report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called the Pike report, which detailed illegal activities by the FBI and CIA. Dan felt CBS’ lack of enthusiasm for the story, so he re-leaked it to the Village Voice.
He spent a few years at CNN, before tangling with Ted Turner, the volatile and irascible genius who ran the network until he himself was removed in a boardroom revolt.
Dan was then offered a role at NPR by my predecessor, Bill Buzenberg. Dan and NPR turned out to be a perfect match.
Some in commercial broadcasting at the time were appalled and saw Dan's shift to a then much smaller and less influential NPR as a dreadful career move.
As the Mike Wallace character says in the film, The Insider (1999), when faced with the prospect of resigning from CBS: "What should I do? Wander in the wilderness of NPR like Dan Schorr?"
Some wandering. Some wilderness.
When I left NPR, I went by Dan's office to say good-bye. He thanked me for my support and told me that I was the only boss he had who didn't try to fire him.
There were moments when some of his (much) younger colleagues would complain about him. "Can't we find someone more youthful?" they would say. My response was that we could, but we wouldn't find any other journalists whose first major assignment was to cover the Anschluss in 1938.
So long Dan. Thanks again for setting a standard we should all emulate. Now more than ever.