As the last fully active journalist on Edward R. Murrow’s legendary CBS news team, 92-year-old Daniel Schorr is a walking, talking archive of the 20th century.
So it’s only fitting that Schorr recently met with Allen Weinstein, the archivest of the United States and a fellow alumnus of DeWitt Clinton High School in the West Bronx. The two caught up at the National Archives at the close of the year to discuss Schorr’s nine decades of reporting and analysis.
Despite a slight loss of hearing and the use of a walker, Schorr’s mind moves with the grace of a gazelle and his memory is as solid as an elephant’s.
From dining with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during his 20 years as a foreign correspondent to delivering relentlessly scathing coverage of the Nixon administration in the days leading up to and after the Watergate scandal, Schorr has crossed paths with some of the most notable players of the 20th century.
He has worked at CBS, The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor, among other organizations. Though he has received three Emmys, numerous decorations from heads of state and countless journalism awards, there is one honor above all that makes Schorr beam with pride.
The distinction came during the 1973 Senate Watergate committee investigation into Nixon and his administration. In his testimony to the committee, John Dean, Nixon’s former White House counsel, mentioned that the president had kept an “Enemies List” — for those for whom the president “mean[t] some harm” and whom he did not like.
After waiting throughout the day, Schorr, who was covering the event, got his hands on the list of 20 people and began to read it live on-air.
“I got to No. 17, and I said, ‘No. 17, Daniel Schorr, a real media enemy,’ ” Schorr recalled.
“I almost collapsed on the air. I had never read it before, never seen it before, never expected it. But I continued and said, ‘No. 18, Paul Newman. No. 19, Mary McGrory [the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post].’ It was such a distinguished list,” he said, joking that the notoriety of the list made him more popular. “My lecture fees went up.”
Schorr continued to infuriate Nixon with his critical coverage and was no stranger to the president’s wrath. He is listed in the three articles of impeachment brought against Nixon. It is a badge Schorr wears with honor.
“That’s a big deal,” Schorr said. “Here I am right in the articles of impeachment.”
An irritated Nixon had instructed the FBI to get Schorr’s “background” in hopes of finding a tarnished past that he could use to blackmail or defame the journalist. But to the FBI, “background” meant scouring someone’s past for the purpose of considering him as a potential appointee or White House employee.
Schorr, after weeks of FBI questioning of his family and employers, surmised that Nixon was using the FBI to gather information without just cause, which is illegal. When Nixon realized Schorr knew the truth, he publicly announced that he was considering Schorr for a White House post — a blatant fabrication, but one that cleared the administration of any wrongdoing.
Fifteen years after the Watergate hearings, Schorr spoke with Nixon about the matter. He attended a dinner where Nixon was speaking and decided to speak to the former president.
“I was trying to figure out if he remembered after all these years and all the people he had met, whether he remembered who I was,” Schorr said. “And I couldn’t resist going up to him at the end of the dinner and I said, ‘Mr. Nixon, I’m not sure you remember me but ...’
“And [Nixon] turned and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Sure, Dan Schorr. Damn near hired you once.’ ”
These days, Schorr provides National Public Radio with analysis of current trends and events.
“Having spent most of my life trying to tell people what’s going on, I wanted to devote the rest of my professional life to trying to tell them what it means,” he said.