Friday, July 23, 2010

Daniel Schorr

Back in 1981, when my first book was published, I hit the road to promote it. This gave me my first serious taste of business travel: the airports, airplanes, hotels, taxis, rental cars, bad coffee, worse food and blend of excitement and fatigue familar to road warriors. Those book tours foreshadowed the travel writing I do now - with additional time spent talking about the book in newsrooms, green rooms and television and radio studios thrown in.

It was frequently exhausting. Two things kept me going on my road trips to promote the book, a history and analysis of media and politics entitled "A Trumpet to Arms.'' One motivator was political: My hope that socially conscious writing like the kind that informed my book could have meaning. The other was personal: I was buzzed on words that Daniel Schorr, the distinguished broadcast journalist and writer, who died today, contributed to the dust jacket:

"This is a wholly admirable book,'' Schorr wrote in his blurb, "disciplined in its scholarship, balanced in its approach, edifying in its information, penetrating in its perceptions.''

Daniel Schorr passed away, aged 93, in Washington, D.C. this morning.

My hope is that he will be remembered for a long time. Schorr was tough and smart and kind. His words meant a lot to a young writer just starting out. More importantly, his work touched millions in a career that spanned some 70 years, beginning as a college stringer for New York newspapers and ending as a senior political commentator for National Public Radio, with lengthy and distinguished careers at CBS News under the legendary Edward R. Murrow and Cable News Network back when CNN was pioneering 24-hour, all-news television.

Along the way, Schorr, who didn't suffer fools gladly, irritated his bosses at CBS and CNN and was therefore pushed out of both places. He took on and deeply discomfited disparate and powerful people like Nikita Khruschev, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, William S. Paley and Ted Turner. He scooped the New York press with news that a little place eventually called Lincoln Center would rise on Manhattan's West Side. He covered the Watergate scandal with energy and probity. He controversially slipped a copy of a secret House of Representatives report on murky Central Intelligence Agency activities to the Village Voice newspaper when mainstream media didn't want anything to do with it. He made Richard Nixon's enemies list. He was enemy no. 17 and had the distinction of reading his own name on the air when he got hold of the list, drawn up at the behest of America's most paranoid president.

Between reporting jobs, Schorr had a short stint as a college journalism professor. His real teaching, however, was manifest in his own reporting and commentary. He set an example for everyone. Matching his example isn't easy for anyone. But Daniel Schorr, b. 1916, d. 2010, made it clear that engaged journalism, done with intelligence and fairness, can have meaning.

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