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July 28, 2010

“It Ain’t Necessarily So”

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Lost in the pseudo-intellectual psychobabble noise that passes as the news these days, journalism lost one of its greats last week – Daniel Schorr, August 31, 1916-July 23, 2010.


Mr. Schorr’s amazing career spanned more than 70 years – from the latter years of the Great Depression, through World War II, the McCarthy era, the Cold War, the rise of cable television and the introduction of the news business to cable television and the technology era.


David Hinckley, writing for The New York Daily News, observed that Mr. Schorr “grew from a feisty young gun to a well-respected and often-skeptical elder statesman of television and radio…


“He was an impassioned defender of free speech even when he abhorred its content. He once publicly denounced his boss Ted Turner's call for a ban on violent movies… Schorr was also a frequent critic of what is now often called ‘the mainstream media.’”


Over the years, he worked with Edward R. Murrow at CBS News, started the New York Times’ Moscow bureau in 1955, and in 1957 got the first television interview with First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev. He was later banned from the USSR.


Mr. Schorr worked at CBS where he won three Emmy Awards in 1972, 1973 and 1974 for his coverage of the Watergate scandal and later got fired in 1976 – well, actually he resigned before they fired him.


He was a rather proud member, No. 17, of President Richard M. Nixon’s “enemies list.”


Over the years he was investigated by the FBI and Congress, managed to annoy presidential candidate Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater, and in 1979, he was one of the first employees of Ted Turner’s fledgling CNN, the first cable news network – where he also got “fired” in 1985.


In an era when many news reporters will tell you where they were when the Berlin Wall fell – Mr. Schorr covered the initial building of the wall.


To top it off, when Mr. Schorr died, he had a lively Twitter account.


After Walter Cronkite died, Mr. Schorr tweeted on July 22, 2009: “With Cronkite's death, this has been a week of memories. It took me back to a time when there was such a thing as a trusted journalist.”


And that’s the thing, Mr. Schorr harkens back to an era when much of the public actually trusted the media. In later years, when he worked at NPR as a commentator, whether you agreed with him or not, one could not doubt that he knew his material, was honest about his position and had depth and integrity.


He was not a talking head with only a teleprompter’s understanding of the issues; he was an accomplished writer with exercised intellectual capacity and the genre of inquisitive mind that could easily drill into the layers of a story.


To be certain, Mr. Schorr is to be admired because of his skill as a writer; which gave him a solid foundation in the media. However he was also a highly regarded newspaper reporter, had a comfortable, if not an avuncular, presence in front of the television camera and a conversational delivery on the radio – and he seemed to seamlessly transcend from one media to the next.


David Cook, the Washington bureau chief for The Christian Science Monitor wrote, “Daniel Schorr: An appreciation” on July 23, in which he quoted Scott Simon, Mr. Schorr’s colleague on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition: “In a business that’s known for burning out people, Dan Schorr shined for nearly a century.”


Mr. Schorr “began working for NPR in the late 1970s and became a senior news analyst for the organization in 1985,” according to Mr. Cook. “While at NPR, he continued writing for the Monitor. From 1986 to 2007, Schorr wrote 750 opinion columns for the paper.”


In a July 23 National Public Radio story on his death, it was noted that Mr. Schorr “once described himself as a ‘living history book.’


Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian and author of a book about the Washington press corps said: “He could compare presidents from Eisenhower on through, and that gave him historical context for things. He had lived it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his broadcasting that was hard for somebody his junior to match.”


Amazingly, at 93 years old, Mr. Schorr “was still offering regular commentaries on NPR. His last commentary on Weekend Edition aired on July 10; in which “Schorr still flashed the wry, bemused style that became his latter-day trademark.”


In spite of all his ups and downs in the media that were the result of his honesty and integrity, Mr. Schorr remained true to himself and insisted on being his own man.


The NPR piece on his death summed it up best with Mr. Schorr’s own words: “If asked, I tell (journalists a third to half my age) what lessons I have learned over the past 60-odd years. And since there are today more pressures than ever to conform, to avoid rocking the boat, I'm prone to advise: At least once in your lifetime take a risk for a principle you believe in, even if it brings you up against your bosses.”


To add to his incredible career, Mr. Schorr became good friends with fellow First Amendment activist Frank Zappa. According to – “Daniel Schorr And Frank Zappa Were Friends. Really,” Mr. Schorr appeared on stage with Mr. Zappa on February 10, 1988, and sang “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”


Words to live by for any successful journalist: “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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