Daniel Schorr, a longtime senior news analyst for NPR and a veteran Washington journalist who broke major stories at home and abroad during the Cold War and Watergate, has died. He was 93.
Schorr, who once described himself as a "living history book," passed away Friday morning at a Washington hospital. He was able to bring to contemporary news commentary a deep sense of how governmental institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from decades of watching history upfront.
"He could compare presidents from Eisenhower on through, and that gave him historical context for things," said Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian and author of a book about the Washington press corps. "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."
Schorr's 20-year career as a foreign correspondent began in 1946. After serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II, he began writing from Western Europe for the Christian Science Monitor and later The New York Times, witnessing postwar reconstruction, the Marshall Plan and the creation of the NATO alliance.
Schorr joined CBS News in 1953 as one of "Murrow's boys," the celebrated news team put together by Edward R. Murrow. He reopened the network's Moscow bureau, which had been shuttered by Joseph Stalin in 1947. Ten years later, Schorr scored an exclusive broadcast interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the U.S.S.R. Communist Party chief — the first-ever with a Soviet leader. Schorr was barred from the U.S.S.R. later that year after repeatedly defying Soviet censors.
He covered the building of the Berlin Wall as CBS bureau chief for Germany and Western Europe. In 1962, he aired a celebrated portrait of citizens living under Communist rule in East Germany.
He was reassigned to Washington in 1966. Other reporters in the bureau were already covering major institutions such as Congress or the State Department, so Schorr assigned himself to cover the implementation of President Johnson's Great Society programs.
"No one had such a beat," recalled his bureau colleague Roger Mudd. "He was everywhere. He had almost carte blanche to cover Washington."
David Broder, a longtime political reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, added: "I think he's unique in the sense that he's been at the center of so many different stories, both here in Washington and overseas, for so long. He kept his perspective so well and does not ever exaggerate what's taking place, but really let you know why it's important."
Becoming Part Of The Story
Schorr was surprised to find himself on the so-called Enemies List that had been drawn up by Richard Nixon's White House when he read it on the air. The list — naming hundreds of political opponents, entertainers and publications considered hostile to the administration — became the basis for one of the charges of impeachment against Nixon.
Schorr, along with some other members of the list, counted his inclusion on it as his greatest achievement.
Schorr won Emmys in each of the Watergate years of 1972, 1973 and 1974. Over the course of his long career, he was honored with numerous other decorations and awards, including a Peabody for "a lifetime of uncompromising reporting of the highest integrity." Schorr was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists.
"He was sophisticated about the government and how it works," Mudd said. "He was a damned vacuum cleaner, is what he was."
In 1975, Schorr reported on assassinations that had been carried out by the CIA. "The anger of the administration can be gauged from Richard Helms' denunciation of Schorr," historian Garry Wills recounts in his 2010 book, Bomb Power.
Helms, then the CIA director, confronted Schorr in the presence of other reporters at the White House, calling him names such as "son of a bitch" and "killer."
"Killer Schorr: That's what they ought to call you," Helms said.
Schorr At NPR
Schorr was threatened with a $100,000 fine and jail time for contempt of Congress. But during congressional testimony, Schorr refused to identify his source, citing First Amendment protections. The House ethics committee voted 6 to 5 against a contempt citation.
But CBS had already taken Schorr off the air. He ultimately resigned from the network that year.
"CBS found that, like other big corporations, it did not like to offend the Congress," Mudd said. "He broke his ties to CBS and before they could fire him, he resigned."
An Enduring Career
In 1979, Schorr was hired to provide commentary for the fledgling CNN. The network inaugurated its programming the following year with his interview with President Jimmy Carter. But in 1985, his contract was not renewed, which Schorr counted as his second "firing."
"Schorr was always a person to challenge what the government was saying and being skeptical and contrary," said Ritchie, the Senate historian.
"It really is true that I would sometimes stand up for principle at the risk of my job," he told his son Jonathan for an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition last year. "It is also true that when I lose my job I get terribly nervous."
Upon leaving CNN, Schorr joined NPR, where he had been doing occasional commentaries for several years. He had been a senior news analyst for NPR ever since. He also wrote a column for the Christian Science Monitor for decades.
"What passes for commentary today is almost all opinion," Ritchie said, "but Schorr was part of that breed of commentators who dug up information before they pontificated about it."
Schorr was born in the Bronx in 1916, the son of Belorussian immigrants. He got his first scoop at age 12, when he saw the body of a woman who had jumped or fallen from the roof of his apartment building. He called the police — and the Bronx Home News, which paid him $5 for the information.
"It was the first time I'd ever seen a dead person in my life," he told NPR's Robert Siegel in a 2006 interview on All Things Considered marking Schorr's 90th birthday.
"Why didn't I react more emotionally to that? It was the essential journalist who manages to absent himself from the situation and simply report it without feeling it," Schorr said.