NPR’s Guy Raz Remembers Daniel Schorr
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr died yesterday. He was 93.
No other journalist in memory saw as much history as Daniel Schorr. He was born the year before the Russian Revolution and lived to see the digital revolution. He was there when the Berlin Wall went up - and there a generation later, when it came down.
He was born before people had radio in their homes, but he pioneered the use of radio, television, satellites and then the Web to report the news. How many other people were personal acquaintances of Edward R. Murrow, Nikita Khrushchev, Frank Zappa and Richard Nixon?
For all the history he reported, Dan Schorr will always be remembered for the moment he stood before live television cameras in 1974 with a breaking bulletin.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
DAN SCHORR: This morning, John Dean talked about a list of enemies that was compiled at the White House. He spoke with several...
SIMON: Dan began to read the names, number by number.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
SCHORR: Sixteenth, congressman Ronald Dellums of California, who is black. Seventeenth, Daniel Schorr of the Columbia Broadcasting System in Washington. The note here is: a real media enemy. Number eighteen, S. Harrison...
SIMON: Years later, he said...
SCHORR: I can remember what went through my mind. What went through my mind was, don't lose your cool. Be professional.
SIMON: Dan became a professional at the age of 12. A woman jumped off the roof of his family's apartment building in the Bronx. The police and fire crews rushed to the scene. Dan called the�Bronx Home News�Service - and got paid $5 for the story.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, went to Europe, and freelanced for several U.S. news services before becoming one of the last reporters hired by Edward R. Murrow. Dan opened the CBS bureau in Moscow and, as the premier of the Soviet Union discovered, soon became famous for a pointed interviewing style.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
SCHORR: We are not here, Mr. Khrushchev, to argue with you but to get your opinions. But since you have raised America's troubles in Formosa, and this is a frank discussion, I only wanted to ask you: How long do you think the Kadar regime would last without Soviet troops and tanks in Hungary?
SIMON: Dan would win three Emmy Awards at CBS News: reporting on the Cold War from behind the Iron Curtain, Watergate, and the war on poverty in the United States.
But in 1976, he received a leaked copy of a congressional investigation, called the Pike Report, on illegal activities in the CIA and FBI. CBS refused to let Dan do a story on the report. Dan felt the public's right to know was overriding, and leaked the contents to the�"Village Voice."
He was called before a congressional committee and refused to name his source, declaring: To betray a source would be to betray myself, my career and my life.
Dan was celebrated by many for his courage and integrity. But he irritated many people at CBS, who said that at first, he had not owned up to leaking the CIA report but blamed it on another CBS reporter, Lesley Stahl. Mike Wallace interviewed Dan about it for�"60 Minutes,"�and went over the transcript with us.
Mr. MIKE WALLACE ("60 Minutes"): I say to him, correct me if you think I'm wrong; you denied to CBS management that you supplied the Pike papers to the�"Village Voice." You denied - for a number of hours, at least.
And Dan answered me: That's not exactly right, that I denied. I dissembled. I'm not quite clear, I don't really think I ever specifically denied - I certainly did not volunteer, and I certainly did not help CBS for several hours to get that information. That is true.
You permitted your colleague Lesley Stahl to be implicated as the person who had leaked the Pike papers. For a few hours, he answered.
SIMON: And may I put you in the spot of asking, what do you think of that? What did you think of it at the time, maybe is an easier way of asking it.
Mr. WALLACE: I was surprised, because I had always thought of him as a stand-up guy. And do you do that to a colleague?
SIMON: And yet Mike Wallace admired Dan Schorr.
Mr. WALLACE: What distinguished Dan was his determination to report, as much as he could, what had not been reported before. He was an independent, hard-digging, and liked to be an investigating reporter.
SIMON: You know, I must say, around our hallways - certainly over the past 10 years and even more - it's the tendency to think of him as just kind of a sweet, old grandfather.
Mr. WALLACE: There was not a lot of small talk in Dan. And Dan had told me that, that he'd come the hard way, so to speak, and he wanted to make a name for himself in broadcasting, in news. And he did not suffer fools gladly, and he was not particularly interested in nonsense or pabulum.
SIMON: Dan parted ways with CBS, then became CNN's first Washington news presence. Parted ways with them, then became NPR's senior news analyst in 1985. At the age of 69, he began a third career that would last for a generation.
William Safire,�the New York Times�columnist who died in 2009, once worked in the Nixon White House but became a close friend of the man his employer once targeted for a tax audit. He remembered when his newspaper once received information about the CIA's involvement in foreign assassinations.
Mr. WILLIAM SAFIRE (Columnist, The New York Times): The�Times�was given it off the record and couldn't use it. Well, somehow or other, it got to Dan Schorr. And he checked it out, and he went with it. And this, you know, was an enormous story, and it had a great effect on American foreign policy and law, but he couldn't be swayed or argued or persuaded that the national interest would be better served if you shut up.
That's where he became stiff-necked and stiff-backed and cantankerous - and went with the story. And God bless him for it.
SIMON: Dan became one of the most distinctive voices on NPR, giving his famous name and long experience to a growing, young network. As NPR's audience grew, Dan Schorr received many lifetime achievement awards for his journalism and defense of free speech.
But he achieved a different kind of popularity in his Saturday morning conversations on�WEEKEND EDITION, where he let himself reveal a sense of humor and even whimsy.
(Soundbite of archived recording)
SIMON: Opening ceremonies Friday in Athens for the Olympic Games. Are you going to be defending your triathlon medal?
SCHORR: Well, to tell you the truth, I was planning to, but then they told me I could not use steroids. And I don't see why I don't have a right to do that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Thank you, Dan Schorr.
And in this last stage of his career, Dan Schorr had fun. He appeared in three movies. He lunched with Anthony Hopkins to offer tips on how to play Richard Nixon. He joined Frank Zappa on tour, and sang with the Mothers of Invention to promote a youth voter registration drive.
When he was in his 90s, Dan would receive a critical note or email now and then that began, I hate to criticize a man who must be 75 - and waved it exultantly to his co-workers.
Look, Dan would say, they think I'm 75.
William Safire said that for someone who had the reputation of being prickly, prideful and difficult, Dan Schorr kept legions of fast friends and devoted colleagues.
Mr. SAFIRE: When you look at it, frankly, he didn't switch all that much. In the course of, what, 50 years of reporting, he did not have too many bosses. And even his bosses were never his masters.
SIMON: Bill Safire often spent family holidays with Dan Schorr.
Mr. SAFIRE: And you could turn to him and brag a little or cry a little and he'd understand, and he'd be with you all the way. And because he was kind of a patriarch at our table for over those many, many years, he had an enormous impact on all the young people at the table.
And loveable is a word that we don't apply to cantankerous journalists. But I can't think of all the words we've gone over with in characterizing Dan Schorr. I think loveable would be the least expected but the most accurate.
SIMON: And I was one of those people at the table.
A lot of good people got a start in journalism working for Dan Schorr. Many of his assistants have gone on to become names you know here on NPR, including our producer/director Sarah Beyer Kelly and Guy Raz, the host of WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
GUY RAZ: I never had the privilege of attending journalism school. I was really eager to get into a newsroom right after I left college. And I probably would've made many more mistakes on my path if I hadn't had this huge stroke of luck pretty soon after I got to NPR. And that luck was a job that became available, to be Dan Schorr's research assistant.
Now, I was 22 and, you know, starting with a gig like that was incredible. I mean, youre working with the giant of American journalism. Well, you know, to say the least, it was an education on how and how not to be a reporter.
Dan wasnt the easiest boss at times. He was actually a tough boss. And if I made an error, or if I got a fact wrong, I'd hear about it. I'd come home feeling pretty rotten and beaten down, wondering whether I was ever going to be good enough to be a professional reporter.
But what Dan was doing, he wasnt hard on me to be hard on me. He was doing what all great mentors do, and he was transmitting a lesson. I think that Dan would be damned if the craft that, you know, the reporters of his generation had honed would be run into the ground by my generation. And so by demanding excellence by really forcing you to check and recheck, and to do things right, he was teaching me a lesson in trust and integrity, because Dan knew that that was your only integrity as a journalist. And since that time, I've always thought about those lessons that he transmitted, that - sort of that demand for excellence and accuracy and fairness and nuance, and this kind of unwillingness to just take things for face value.
SIMON: Guy Raz, the host of WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and one of Dan Schorr's former assistants.
You can see photos of Dan throughout his career on our website, npr.org.