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Friday, September 15, 2006 | return to: arts


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NPR’s Daniel Schorr still musing on news at 90

by paula amann, washington jewish week

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The resonant baritone with hints of irony sounds so ageless that it may shock some news mavens that Daniel Schorr turned 90 on Aug. 31.

National Public Radio marked the event in advance at a July 19 party for its senior news analyst, naming a public affairs studio in his honor.

Schorr still works seven days a week at NPR, pounding out commentaries for "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition."

In seven decades of dogging the news, he has garnered three Emmy awards for television work, the 1996 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Golden Baton, a George Foster Peabody personal award and induction into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists, among other prizes.

What sets Schorr apart from his peers is a bent for delving under the headlines to mine the import of breaking news. As the last hire of CBS broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow still working in journalism, he is, arguably, carrying on that legacy of smart, literate and down-to-earth reporting.

"I've had the sense that my mission as a journalist was to help people understand what the news meant," Schorr said. "People did not have trouble learning the facts, but what the facts meant."

The drive to grasp the larger meaning of world events has Jewish roots, Schorr suggests in the 2004 anthology "I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl."

"We Jews are searchers for truth, sometimes called investigative reporting," Schorr writes in his personal essay for the book.

As detailed in his 2001 memoir, "Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism," Schorr was born in the Bronx, N.Y., to immigrant parents from a shtetl in what is now Belarus. The family name was shortened at Ellis Island from Tchornemoretz.

His father died of a kidney infection when the future journalist was 6 and his brother Alvin, later a social work scholar, was just 16 months old.

An acquaintance recalls Alvin Schorr saying that their widowed mother, Tillie, used her welfare payments to buy books for her sons — an illicit investment that, if true, paid lifetime dividends for both.

As he relates in his memoir, Daniel Schorr began earning money as a boy delivering newspapers and doing other odd jobs — like singing at High Holy Days and weddings — while his brother, Alvin, struggled with a series of childhood illnesses, including polio.

As a young man, Schorr honed his reporting skills at the short-lived Jewish Daily Bulletin, a New York-based newspaper, and later during seven years at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

He left, he says, because he wanted to become more than a Jewish journalist.

After a World War II homefront stint in Army intelligence, Schorr's dream of becoming a foreign correspondent found its wings — when he became the European stringer for such high-profile clients as the New York Times, Time magazine and CBS.

His work drew the notice of Murrow, who in 1953 hired him for CBS News.

Two years later, Schorr reopened the CBS bureau in Moscow before authorities barred him from the country. Meanwhile, he managed to coax Kremlin leader Nikita Krushchev into a 1957 appearance on "Face the Nation."

He would go on to report from Bonn for CBS on the Berlin crisis.

Respite from travel, with a Washington assignment for CBS in 1966, allowed Schorr to settle down and marry Lisbeth Bamberger, a child welfare advocate. The couple have two grown children, Jonathan, a teacher turned education writer, and Lisa, who has worked as a nonprofit executive.

Professionally, Schorr leapt from the Cold War to domestic controversy, provoking the displeasure of one White House administration after another. He famously landed on Nixon's enemies list, reading off his own name on-air.

From the 1953 McCarthy hearings and the 1970s Watergate scandal, to the Clinton impeachment hearings and last year's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, he has seen his share of scandals.

His reporting on CIA and FBI wrongdoing led to a subpoena by the House Ethics Committee, before which he declined to name a source. He won that battle, but resigned under pressure from CBS in 1976.

Three years later, Ted Turner enlisted Schorr for the launch of the first all-news network, CNN. There, the veteran reporter lent the cable giant his talents until a conflict over a nonreporter partner in his news slot led to nonrenewal of Schorr's contract in 1985.

For the past 21 years, he has been senior news analyst with NPR. And, at 90, still going strong.


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