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Daniel Schorr remembers Edward R. Murrow

NPR senior news analyst still tries to envision what the newsman would do
/ Source: The Associated Press

He’s had a storied career in his own right, but journalist Daniel Schorr still mentions Edward R. Murrow in the first paragraph of his biography.

Once a Murrow’s boy, always a Murrow’s boy.

Schorr, 89, is the last of the legendary newsman’s colleagues who’s still a working journalist. He’s a senior news analyst for National Public Radio who contributes to “All Things Considered” and “Weekend Edition” and coverage of breaking news events.

In a career that took him from CBS to CNN to NPR, Schorr has won his industry’s most prestigious awards: three Emmys, a Peabody and a duPont-Columbia University Golden Baton for his contributions to reporting.

In a case that echoes New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s recent jailing for not revealing a source, Schorr was brought before Congress and threatened with jail in 1976 if he did not disclose the source of an intelligence committee report he had obtained exclusively. He refused, and a House committee narrowly decided not to cite him with contempt.

He talked about Murrow and journalism in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

AP: Since you’re almost a quarter-century past retirement age, I take it that retirement isn’t an option?

Schorr: If I didn’t keep working, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Whenever I read that someone has retired, I say to myself, how do you retire? I wouldn’t know how to do it ... My ability to function is largely based on the fact that I continue working.

AP: We’re rapidly losing people that have any memories of Murrow’s work. Why is it important to keep that alive?

Schorr: Murrow remains a symbol of the greatest in journalism, a dedication to the truth. Every once in a while you see a [Jayson Blair], something that has happened in journalism and it has to do with the final effect of a generation of people raised on television who are not really sure anymore what a fact is and what truth is. It is some kind of virtual reality.

AP: Does George Clooney’s new movie about Murrow capture those times well?

Schorr: I think Clooney did a wonderful job. You have an actor playing Murrow pretty well, and you have archive films of McCarthy and the hearings. The way they marry that footage with the docudrama of the guy playing Murrow is very skillfully done. It took guts in those days to say we’re going to do an hour exploring what McCarthy was like, using his own actions in order to show it. That’s what made Murrow such an inspiration to us. He took a chance. He dealt with [then-CBS chief] Bill Paley, who was really uncomfortable with all of this and at one point told Murrow, ‘Why did you give me a stomachache?’ ... If you ask what does Murrow mean to me, I’ll tell you. Whenever I’m not sure about something, the ethics of something, the question I ask myself is what would Murrow have done? What would Murrow say? It seems strange after all these years that I still have him as a kind of symbol and an emblem to live by, but I do.

AP: What does journalism today lack that it had in the Murrow years, and in what ways is it better?

Schorr: Things are better today in one respect — the technology, the ability to take a very small camera and go into chaotic situations. The journalism today is really just, to a large part, turning a camera on a situation. It’s really a strange kind of journalism because you really don’t have to do anything but get the camera there and describe what you’re seeing. Other than that, everything is worse.