Daniel Schorr, 'Talk Of The Nation' Founding Father
TONY COX, host:
Journalism has lost a giant, Daniel Schorr, known as one of Murrow's Boys and Nixon's enemies, died last Friday at the age of 93. Among his six decades of accomplishment in journalism is one very important to this program. Back in 1991, NPR started its first call-in program, special coverage of the First Gulf War, with Dan Schorr as host.
(Soundbite of archived broadcast)
DANIEL SCHORR: From National Public Radio in Washington, this is part of NPR's expanded coverage of the Gulf War, a call-in program to answer your questions. I'm Daniel Schorr.
COX: And, of course, he had a familiar in-studio buddy.
(Soundbite of archived radio program)
SCHORR: All right. Also here with me is Neal Conan, who stands by and helps a great deal during these programs. We'll take your calls soon. The number to call is 1-800-42...
COX: Here to remember our friend and colleague Daniel Schorr and the role he had in inspiring TALK OF THE NATION is our regular host, Neal Conan, who's on vacation right now while I am sitting in his chair. He joins us from his home in Maryland.
Neal, I feel bad. You left work last week, and here you are back working again on Monday.
NEAL CONAN: Well, Tony, it's - I had to make time for this. Dan was very special, not just to everybody listening who knew so well but personally important to me. We - there were a couple of years that I think we spent more time together with each other than either of us did with our wives, and one of them was 1990, '91, during the run-up to the Gulf War.
COX: You know, let me say to our listeners, Neal - of course, we want to hear from you as well. The number: 800-989-8255. I guess that's changed a little bit since 1991. Call us and tell us your memories of Daniel Schorr. Our email address is email@example.com. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. So what do you remember, Neal, most about your time spent working with Daniel Schorr?
CONAN: Oh, he was so special. He was somebody who had encyclopedic knowledge and a vast store of experience, but also tremendous humanity. He saw things and stories that I consistently missed. You could sit there and listen to a speech with Dan Schorr and ask him a question about it and he would say, well, that's an interesting question, but the - you know, the thing I heard was - and he would come up with something that you just simply hadn't thought of, or he would come up with something he hadn't heard that was just amazing.
I also remember we spent so much time doing special events together, not just - the program that eventually became TALK OF THE NATION started when we were doing the Pentagon briefings after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1st, 1990. Then there became the long, slow run-up to the Gulf War and the Pentagon briefings became of more and more interest.
But, obviously, after a little while, we began to realize just hearing that one voice from the Defense Department, I would either anchor with Dan or Dan, as you heard, later would anchor and I would chip in. And then, you know, we'd go to the State Department briefings but didn't want just the administration voice, so we started bringing in our guests. And then the timings got a little more difficult, so we started taking phone calls. And that was really the genesis of the program that became TALK OF THE NATION about a year later.
COX: You know, we've been talking a little bit today, a lot as a matter of fact, Neal, about journalism and about leaks and the impact of those. And there's one story that I want to share with you and the audience and get you to tell us a little bit more about it involving Daniel Schorr.
Back in 2007, you talked with Dan on the air about sources in the context of one particular leak. Now, back in 1948, that's more than a half century ago, Dan had been covering the on-again, off-again negotiations between the Dutch and the Indonesian republics. And he came into possession of a very confidential report which eventually suspended those negotiations. And here's what he had to say about that leak and its source.
(Soundbite of archived broadcast)
SCHORR: I have had people, historians, since that time - and mind you, I'm talking about 1948.
CONAN: Mm-hmm, a while ago.
SCHORR: And what I can tell you is everybody connected with this is -they're all dead. And yet when I was meeting somebody who is a historian about Indonesia and he said to me, I'd die to know how - where you got a copy of that proposal which torpedoed those negotiations. Could you tell me? I said, well, how many years have past, 50? Give me another few. It is something quite impossible for me to do not in a very concentrated way, but it's just viscerally. I can't name sources.
COX: That's quite a story, isn't it?
CONAN: That's quite a story. And it tells you so much about Dan. A relationship with the source - and you know this, Tony, as well as anybody. But a relationship with the source, well, that's a promise. You made a promise to that person. And Dan would never break a promise, even in the interest of history, which mattered a great deal to him. He would not break a promise.
It was so interesting, yesterday, after Dan's funeral, the cortege went up Connecticut Avenue. And shortly - I guess, about an hour after that, there was a tremendous thunderstorm in Washington, D.C., all over -they're all up and down in the East Coast. But I figured that was just what happened after God asked Dan to name the source on The Pike Report story.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: That's a good story. Here's an email that we got from Lita(ph) in Chicago. Just a note regarding Daniel Schorr: I met Mr. Schorr when I interviewed with his wife for a job. The interview was at their kitchen table, and at the beginning Mr. Schorr was not at home. He later arrived and joined at the table. Although I didn't get the job, I remember how gracious both he and his wife were to me, and how very impressed I was that I had met him.
Selina(ph) writes in from Santa Cruz, California. Daniel was the reason I got out of bed early on weekend mornings. He sought out the truth and presented it so the layman could understand. I will miss you infinitely, Mr. Schorr.
And one other one from Katrina(ph) in Alamo, California. I always listened to attentively to Daniel Schorr's commentary. But after my father's death in 2008, I came to appreciate Mr. Schorr even more. He was of my father's generation and they shared the same astute judgment and clear thinking. When Daniel Schorr spoke on any topic, I appreciated hearing his views, and I felt a bit more connected with my dad as a result. In my mind, he is an - he is as irreplaceable as my own father.
Let's take a phone call, actually, Neal. It's so weird me talking to you. Usually, you're sitting here doing this, but I'm doing it for you. But I'm holding down the fort as best I can.
CONAN: Hey, it sounds like you're doing really well, Tony.
COX: Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: I hope you're looking forward to the next couple of weeks. You get to work with a great staff, and you get to work with some of the good - best listeners in the country who will come up with questions that you will not have thought of, and it's quite an experience.
COX: You're absolutely correct. And to that point, as a matter of fact, let's go to Kay(ph) in Silver Spring. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
KAY (Caller): Hi. Hi. Thank you. I absolutely adored that man. And I loved and built my time around that special few minutes with Dan Schorr and Scott Simon. And I particularly remember his choice of words when Scott went off to NBC for - I think, it was about a year. And it didn't work and we are lucky to have Scott back. The last words he said to Scott on their last broadcast years back was - he said, it's been a wonderful time. Your humanity has shown through. I thought that so well summarized Scott Simon and their time together. And I add those words for Mr. Schorr, whose funeral I was privileged to go to yesterday. Having met him a couple of times and I did - certainly, I didn't know him well, but absolutely adored the man and his integrity and his use of language.
COX: Kay, thank you very much for that very nice call. We appreciate it.
You know, Neal, I was thinking about this. You and I have been in this business a long time. And, you know, people - the public hears us or sees us and gets one perception of us based on what they hear and see. But those of us who work inside newsrooms, we get, oftentimes, to see people from a very different perspective. Tell us something about Daniel Schorr that the public probably wouldn't know but would appreciate hearing.
CONAN: Well, Dan was a wonderful family man. We've heard mention of his wife, Lee, who is a terrific woman. He's got a son and a daughter and a beautiful granddaughter. But the strange thing about radio, when you spent enough time on the radio as Dan did - he always liked to do live events with me because Dan - as people were - probably knew, Dan loved airtime. Dan liked to talk on the radio. I think we're hearing yesterday at the funeral and it was interesting how much it was his life's blood.
But he loved live events because there was no clock. And when you're on the radio like that so often, people - it's a wonderful medium because people do get to know your personality. You really can't fake it. Dan used to love to tell a story about TV, about - he was told that, you know, sincerity is the most important thing. Television, as you soon as you can fake that, you've got it made.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Dan never faked anything on the radio. So I do think that people did know something about him. It was very important - obviously, his personal, his family side, they did not know that. But they knew that he loved his work. He loved it so much.
Another story we heard at the funeral yesterday, somebody asked Dan once what he would do when he and if he ever retired. And he looked at them and he said, look for work.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: Those are great stories. As a matter of fact, Neal, we have another clip of Dan from the days when you and Dan were working together here at NPR, in the early days as TALK OF THE NATION was still in its infancy. He really did seem to like taking those phone calls, didn't he? Here is why I say that.
(Soundbite of archived broadcast)
SCHORR: Well, after a while it became very normal, and when it stopped, I said, what do I do now this afternoon? I have an afternoon free. But it was really marvelous. I remember getting started with my getting a call at 6 o'clock one morning, saying that we've invaded Panama. I said, great, so what do you want from me? So, well, nobody understands why Bush would want to invade Panama. And we thought maybe if you would come in, we'll get you and somebody else and we will invite people to call and ask about it. And I said, well, okay. So there we were in what, indeed, were the seeds of TALK OF THE NATION.
COX: Indeed, Neal, the seeds of TALK OF THE NATION.
CONAN: Yes. The - that voice - well, I spent so much time, but there was another moment we were - as some listeners will remember, I took a sabbatical from NPR and went and did Minor League Baseball for awhile and came back in the fall of 19 - excuse me, the fall of 2000. And it was the presidential elections, and I got back in time to do the, I think, the last two presidential debates, and then as people will remember, that election went into extra innings.
And Dan and I did the broadcast of the Florida Supreme Court, which was fascinating, and - but lengthy, lengthy deliberations of the Florida Supreme Court. And I learned at that time that just because Dan's eyes were closed and he was breathing evenly and maybe the slightest of snores happen to be escaping him, did not mean that he was asleep and could not answer a question.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
You know, I was thinking - in fact, let me just let people know that if you'd like to join the conversation, this is Tony Cox, sitting in for Neal Conan, with Neal Conan. Yeah, that's correct. He's on vacation, but we're talking about Daniel Schorr, who left us last week. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, TALK OF THE NATION, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One other thing that crossed my mind, Neal Conan, I wanted to ask you about was this. Daniel Schorr was 93 years old when he left us.
COX: I'm assuming that a number of those years must have been spent mentoring young journalists who came behind him.
CONAN: Well, the building is full of people - NPR and indeed journalism is filled with people who were Dan's assistants. He loved to bring in young people and would have endless amounts of time for them. There were people that were very important to Dan in the business - editors were not among them. But having served as Dan's editor, I can tell you that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: But he had just infinite amounts of time and infinite patience with young people, who he was delighted to answer questions from and explain to them how things had been and look ahead to how things would change.
He was not a master of technology, but he was a master of the craft of writing stories. Dan understood that journalism, yes, it was a lot about information or what information you had, but he also understood that it's a very specialized form of storytelling. Stories have beginnings and middles and ends, and Dan always knew how to spin a story.
COX: I've got two emails I want to read to you I think you'll find interesting, then we're going to take a call. Daniel Schorr - this one comes from Connie(ph) in Sarasota, Florida. Daniel Schorr got an honorary degree from Brandeis University over 20 years ago. I was there because my daughter was receiving her Ph.D. He said he hoped all of those students sitting before him had the opportunity sometime in their lifetime to be fired from their job for standing up for what they believe. Now...
COX: ...that says a lot about the man, doesn't it?
CONAN: It does. It does. But, you know, again, I go back to some of the speeches we heard yesterday. It sounds easy from a distance and, you know, you're such - in such admiration of a man who did that sort of thing. It's not easy to do. It does take courage to, you know, to quit your job on principle and then wonder how you're going to feed your family. It's not an easy thing to do. Courage is doing things when things are difficult, and Dan knew what to - Dan knew when to do the right thing.
COX: Absolutely. Here's one last email we're going to share with you. It comes from Marilyn(ph) in Sacramento. And Marilyn writes, I just want to say that I joined Twitter at the age of 69 because of Daniel Schorr - no kidding. I had intended to write to Dan about my longtime admiration for his intellect and contributions to our nation. Every week, I looked forward to listening to his wise commentary on NPR. I regret so much that I did not contact him on Twitter. He was an amazing man, and I will be forever indebted to him for his honest and intelligent reporting. Thank you NPR and Daniel Schorr.
I suppose, Neal, as I say good bye to you so that you can finally get your vacation off and running, that's a good one to end on, isn't it?
CONAN: That's a good one to end on. Back in the old building at NPR, there was a tremendous flood once back on the first floor where our offices were. And everybody knew that the story we had to tell when Dan came in that day (unintelligible) came from Dan Schorr's office.
COX: Well, you hear that music. I know you know, as the regular host of this show, that that means that it's time for us to say good bye. Neal Conan is the host of TALK OF THE NATION, on vacation - finally - joining us from his home in Maryland. Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: Tony, have a great time.
COX: Thank you.
Tomorrow, troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan face any number of problems, but they are not the only ones under incredible stress. We'll talk about military families here on the home front.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.