"For a long time I said I'd like to be remembered as the one who tried to find out what people needed to know and somebody wasn't telling them. Now in the age of Internet, when people are deluged with information, I want to change that. I want to say: you're getting information called data from everywhere. I want to help you to understand it."
About This Interview
In his nearly three-hour Archive interview, Journalist Daniel Schorr (1916-2010) talks about his early years and education, where he began his career as a print journalist. He details his transition to radio, then television, working for CBS News in Moscow in the mid-1950s and Germany in the early 1960s. He discusses his work on the acclaimed nonfiction series CBS Reports and The Twentieth Century. Other topics covered in the interview include the Nixon administration and its Watergate scandal (where he found himself on the Nixon "enemies" list), the beginnings of CNN, and his commentaries for NPR. Don Carleton conducted the interview on May 22, 2001.
DANIEL SCHORR. Born in New York City, U.S.A., 31 August 1916. Died July 23, 2010. Educated at the College of the City of New York, B.S., 1939. Married: Lisbeth Bamberger, 1967; children: Jonathan and Lisa. Served in U.S. Army, stationed at Camp Polk, Louisiana and at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, 1943-45. Worked as a stringer for the Bronx Home News, the Jewish Daily Bulletin, and several metropolitan dailies, 1930s; assistant editor, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 1939; worked for the New York Journal-American, 1940; New York news editor, ANETA (Dutch news agency), 1941-43, 1945-48; freelance journalist, 1948-53; Washington correspondent and special assignments, CBS News, Latin America and Europe, 1953-55; reopened CBS Moscow Bureau, 1955; roving assignments, United States and Europe, 1958-60; chief, CBS News Bureau, Germany, Central Europe, 1960-66; CBS News Washington correspondent, 1966-76; Regents professor, University of California at Berkeley, 1977; columnist, Des Moines Register-Tribune Syndicate, 1977-80; senior Washington correspondent, CNN, 1980-85; senior analyst, National Public Radio since 1985. Member: American Federation of Radio-TV Artists; New York City Council on Foreign Relations. Recipient: Emmy Awards, 1972-74; Peabody award for lifetime of uncompromising reporting of highest integrity, 1992; inducted into the Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame, 1991.
National Public Radio shows, from 1985
Don't Get Sick In America! Nashville: Aurora Publishers, 1977.
Clearing the Air. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
"Introduction." Taking the Stand: The Testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North. New York: Pocket, 1987.
Daniel Schorr is an American television newsman whose aggressive investigative style of reporting made him, at various times in his career, the bane of the KGB, presidents from Dwight D.Eisenhower to Gerald Ford, CIA chiefs, television executives, and his fellow TV newsmen and women. In l976 he, himself, became "the story" when he published a previously suppressed congressional report on CIA assassinations.
Schorr was born and brought up in New York City and did his apprenticeship in print journalism on his high school, and college newspapers. During his college years he also worked on a number of small New York City papers, among them, the New York Journal-American. Drafted in World War II he served in Army Intelligence. Following the war he became a stringer for a number of U.S. newspapers and the Dutch News agency ANETA. His radio reports on the floods in Holland brought him to the attention of Edward R. Murrow, who hired him for CBS News in l953.
In l955 Schorr was assigned to open the first CBS bureau in Moscow since l947. His refusal to cooperate with Soviet censors soon earned him their disapproval, and when he returned home for a brief period at the end of l957 the Soviets refused to permit him to return. For the next few years Schorr was a roving diplomatic correspondent. In l959 his reporting provoked the first in a long series of incidents that aroused the ire of various presidents. Schorr's report of the impending resignation of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles so irked President Eisenhower that he denied the report, only to have it confirmed by his press secretary a week later.
During the Kennedy administration the President asked CBS to transfer Schorr, then CBS's correspondent in West Germany, because he felt Schorr's interpretations of American policy were pro-German. During the l964 election, Schorr's report that the Republican nominee Senator Barry Goldwater had formed an alliance with certain right-wing German politicians and was thinking of spending some time at Adolf Hitler's famous Berchtesgaden retreat caused a furor, and Schorr was ordered to make a "clarification."
In l966 Schorr returned to the United States without a formal assignment. He created his own beat, however, by investigating the promise and the reality of the "Great Society" for the CBS Evening News. In this role he turned in excellent reports on poverty, education, pollution, and health care. His interest in health care led to a provocative l970 contribution to the documentary series,CBS Reports. The program, "Don't Get Sick in America," appeared as a book that same year from Aurora Publishers.
Schorr's muckraking reporting during the Nixon administration earned him a prominent place on Nixon's so-called "enemies list." In addition, his subsequent reporting on the "Watergate scandal" garnered him Emmy's for outstanding achievement within a regularly scheduled news program in l972, 1973 and 1974.
Following Nixon's resignation Schorr was assigned to cover stories involving possible criminal CIA activities at home and abroad. Schorr soon achieved a scoop based upon on a tip he received about an admission by President Ford regarding CIA assassination attempts. The comment had come in an off-the-record conversation with the editors of the New York Times. Schorr's report forced the Rockefeller commission investigating the CIA to broaden its inquiry, and prompted an exclamation from former CIA chief Richard Helms referring to him as "Killer Schorr."
Commenting on his journalistic method, more akin to print journalism than conventional television journalism, Schorr has said, "My typical way of operating is not to stick a camera and a microphone in somebody's face and let him say whatever self-serving thing he wants to say, but to spend a certain amount of time getting the basic information, as though I was going to write a newspaper story.... [I] may end up putting a mike in somebody's face, but it is usually for the final and hopefully embarassing question."
Soon after making these remarks, Schorr found himself at the center of a huge controversy involving both journalistic ethics and constitutional issues. Schorr came into possession of the Pike Congressional Committee's report on illegal CIA and FBI activities. Congress, however, had voted not to make the report public. In hopes of being able to publish the report Schorr contacted Clay Felker of the Village Voice, who agreed to pay him for it and to publish it. To Schorr's suprise, instead of supporting him, many of his colleagues and editorialists around the country excoriated him for selling the document. Making matters worse was Schorr's initial reaction, which was to shift suspicion from himself as the person who leaked the documents to his CBS colleague Leslie Stahl.
Schorr managed to turn opinion around when, after being subpoened to appear before a House Ethics committee, he eloquently defended himself on the grounds that he would not reveal a source. While this put off the congressional bloodhounds it certainly didn't satisfy some of the wolves at CBS, among whom was Chairman William S.Paley, who wanted Schorr fired. Schorr and CBS News executives resisted until the story of the internal dissension over Schorr's conduct broke during an interview he did with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. As a result Schorr resigned from CBS News in September of l976. A year later he wrote about it all in his autobiographical account, Clearing the Air.
Subsequently Schorr toured on the lecture circuit, taught journalism courses, and wrote a syndicated newspaper column. In l979 hoping to give his new Cable News Network instant journalistic credibility, Ted Turner hired Schorr as a commentator. However, in l985 CNN refused to renew his contract. Schorr commented at the time that he had been "forced out" because, "They wanted to be a rid of what they considered a loose cannon." Since l985 Schorr has been a Senior News Analyst for National Public Radio. His reporting and commentary are heard on All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.
Schorr represents the traditions of investigative print journalism transfered to the world of TV reporting. His work, though it has sometimes over-stepped boundries, is in vivid contrast to the often image-conscious attitudes of contemporary TV news.
Boyer, Peter J. Who Killed CBS? The Undoing of America's Number One News Network. New York: Random House. 1988.
Carter, Bill. "Daniel Schorr Wins Top duPont-Columbia Journalism Award." The New York Times, 26 January 1996.
Smith, Sally Bedell. In All His Glory: William S. Paley the Legendary Tycoon and His Brilliant Circle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.