Daniel Schorr: Striving To Explain, Not For Fame

Veteran journalist Daniel Schorr, a longtime NPR contributor, died today at 93. Robert Siegel has this remembrance.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Elsewhere on today's program, we've noted at some length the life and career of Daniel Schorr, our friend and colleague, who died today at the age of 93.

I met Dan in the late 1970s. He was 30 years my senior. He wrote commentaries for this program when I used to be the editor. A few years later when I was in management, I signed him on full time. He wanted to be called an analyst because he was an explainer, not an advocate. I thought that might make him sound like the in-house Freudian. Dan suggested news analyst and so it was.

Of the great many Dan stories that I heard and read so often I could virtually recite them, there's one episode that I recall especially.

In 1962, Dan landed what he was told would be an interview with the Communist Party boss of East Germany, Walter Ulbricht. Ulbricht talked and expected Dan to listen. When Dan interrupted with a question and persisted, Ulbricht angrily called off the interview and stormed out of the room.

The event is famous for one reason. When the owner of CBS, William Paley, complimented Dan on maintaining his composure, the network correspondent explained to the network proprietor that the reverse angle shot of him sitting coolly as Ulbricht stalked out had been shot after the fact and edited in. That was common practice. His composure was artificial. Paley banned the practice at CBS, although it was evidently resumed a while later.

I recall the story for another reason. Twenty-five years ago, I was with Daniel Schorr in the then still divided city of Berlin at a conference of broadcast news directors. A West Berliner who ran a local TV newsroom came up to Dan. He said he'd seen the Ulbricht encounter as a kid, and he'd never forgotten it -an American television reporter insisting on questioning the boss of East Germany, and the party boss was forced to walk out. He and other Berliners had taken heart from that interview. What the German news director wanted to say more than 20 years later was thank you.

To me, it summed up the best of what we do in this business. Dan wanted the big interview as much as the next guy. He was enterprising and competitive.

As for those cutaway shots, I don't think he cared much about media technique, and he was the first to disclose the fakery of it.

Whether he was confronting a world leader, covering a president, protecting a source or talking about the week's news with Scott Simon, the point was not to become famous. The point was to inform, to disclose, to explain.

And from his work, many of us over the years have taken heart. Dan, thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You can see photos from Dan Schorr's remarkable career in journalism and you can read some of his commentaries about world events - all that is at npr.org.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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