Friday, July 23, 2010

Daniel Schorr: A loss the media can ill-afford today

THE DEATH OF DANIEL SCHORR has left a terrible vacuum in the national media, where wisdom, depth and civil discourse now fall under the widely divergent realms of indifference or unrestrained hype.

The 93-year-old journalist, who finished his work at NPR with some of the most lucid commentary to be found anywhere from the ivory towers and antennae, was a breed apart from the pretentious hucksters who command the airwaves simply with circus acts presented with fictional news.

The way things are going with the media, the nation can ill-afford to lose Schorr's voice - one with which you could disagree at times without being outraged. For his efforts, he was proud to admit that he had been honored by his appearance on President Nixon's enemies list for his reporting of some of the CIA's bad habits. Richard Helms, the CIA director, angrily referred to Schorr as a "son of a bitch" and a "killer."

In the uproar over of his leak of a report by the (Rep. Otis) Pike Committee on illegal CIA activities, he resigned from CBS as the nework was preparing to fire him. And later fired by CNN. As his colleague Roger Mudd said at the time, "CBS found that, like other big corporations, it did not like to offend the Congress."

In the wonderful collection of his commentaries , Come to Think of It, Schorr's keen perception of the ills of government and politics are always persuasive. In describing the long delay in calling the winner in the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential race whose outcome landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, he concluded with a lashing of Justice Scalia:
"Not every justice would say, as he did on Saturday, that the issuance of the voting stay suggested that Bush had a substantial probability of success. Not every justice would own up to partisanship by saying the recounted votes threatened irreparable harm to petitioner Governor Bush and to the country. "
For the most part, the national media covered the travesty as though it was the final two minutes of the Super Bowl rather than one of a presidential election's darkest moments. And still do.

In today's world, we have a scam by ESPN to suspensefully entertain us with The Decision, Team LeBron's sequel to Alice in Wonderland, where the young heroine rises and shrinks before our very eyes. But even scams work in TVland, and ESPN walked away with a huge audience. ( ESPN was probably conditioned by the memorable line from the movie The Freshman that was uttered by benevolent mobster Carmine Sabatini. Replying to a skeptic about his work rules, he declared with bruised feelings:
"Scam?...Scam? This is an ugly word - this scam. This is business. If you want to be in business, this is what you do."
And how about the stupid firing of Shirley Sherrod from the Agriculture Department after her boss told her that she would be scorned as a racist (she's African-American) by madman Glenn Beck without checking the validity of the charge. The phony issue was raised by a reckless blogger who seems to enjoy his reign of corruption. To paraphrase the Tea Partyers: I want my country back - from Glenn Beck. Sorry, Mr. President. Isn't it time that you and your aides stand your ground and name names and dare them to outright fistfights? An apology will hardly cover this mess.

Daniel Schorr, who was honored with many coveted journalistic awards, knew a lot about his profession. He distinguished himself as a probing reporter by never tip-toeing from the scene of the crime. As Donald Ritchie, the Senate historian, said of him: "What passes for commentary today is almost all opinion. But Schorr was part of that breed of commentators who dug up information before they pontificated about it."

That's the vacuum that I was talking about.

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