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CBS News, NPR Veteran Daniel Schorr Dies at 93

Journalist Daniel Schorr talks about his book 'Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism' May 6, 2001 on 'Meet the Press' during a taping at the NBC studios in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Newsmakers)
Alex Wong/Newsmakers
Veteran reporter and commentator Daniel Schorr, whose hard-hitting reporting for CBS News got him on President Richard Nixon's notorious "enemies list" in the 1970s, has died. He was 93.

Schorr died Friday at Washington's Georgetown University Hospital after a brief illness, said his son, Jonathan Schorr.

Daniel Schorr's career of more than six decades spanned the spectrum of journalism - beginning in print, then moving to television where he spent 23 years with CBS News and ending with National Public Radio, where he worked until he died. He also wrote several books, including his memoir, "Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism."

The famed political reporter nearly became a music reviewer instead. Beyond the dogged reporting, though, Jonathan Schorr, 42, said his father was a warm, caring and someone who taught by example.

Photo Essay: Daniel Schorr (NPR)

"We're incredibly sad, but at the same time, my dad had 93 amazing years," he said. "I think all he could have wished for is a terrific, long life, where he accomplished amazing things and died peacefully in the arms of his entire family."

Schorr reported from Moscow; Havana; Bonn, Germany; and many other cities as a foreign correspondent. While at CBS, he brought Americans the first-ever exclusive television interview with a Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1957.

"Daniel Schorr had a long and storied career covering many of the biggest and most important events of our time," said Sean McManus, President CBS News and Sports. "We extend our condolences to his family."

During the Nixon years, Schorr not only covered the news as CBS' chief Watergate correspondent, but he also became part of the story. Hoping to beat the competition, he rushed to the air with Nixon's famous "enemies list" and began reading the list of 20 to viewers before previewing it. As he got to No. 17, he discovered his name.

CBS News' Howard Arenstein said that because Schorr was not afraid to report information the White House wanted buried, President Lyndon B. Johnson called Schorr an "S.O.B," while Nixon called on the FBI to watch him.

Daniel Shore Interviewed by Howard Arenstein in 2002

"I remember that my first thought was that I must go on reading without any pause, or gasp or look of wild surmise," he wrote in his book "Clearing the Air."

"I do not know how well I carried off my effort to appear oblivious to the discovery of my name on an ominous-looking list, but I count this one of the most trying experiences in my television career."

Schorr's stories pointing out weaknesses of the administration's programs so angered Nixon that he ordered an FBI investigation of the reporter - saying he was being considered for a top federal job. That investigation was later mentioned in one of the three articles of impeachment - "abuse of a federal agency" - adopted by the House Judiciary Committee against Nixon.

He said he figured he became such a thorn in Nixon's side because his newspaper background gave him a bluntness rare on television.

Later in life, Schorr cherished his coverage of Nixon, his son said.

"He had nothing more than the truth to go up against the president of the United States," the younger Schorr said.

Still, he and Nixon were "extremely cordial" by the end of Nixon's life, Jonathan Schorr said, "and my dad loved that."

Schorr became part of the story once again in 1976, when he arranged for the publication of an advance copy of a suppressed House Intelligence Committee report on illegal CIA and FBI findings.

At the time, Schorr called it "an inescapable decision of journalistic conscience" to see that the report ended up in print. To his surprise, reaction from his own colleagues in the media was negative, because Schorr had handed the report over in exchange for a donation to a group that aids journalists in First Amendment issues.

Many reporters also found Schorr's silence troubling when another CBS correspondent, Lesley Stahl, was wrongly accused of leaking the report.

Schorr was suspended by the network and the House opened an investigation, though it later dropped the case. He resigned from CBS soon after.

Well into his 90s, he was still giving commentaries on NPR. Pondering the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, he cited the online contacts between the suspect, Maj. Nidal Hasan, and a radical cleric. He asked, "does the Internet merit some of the responsibility for helping the violence-prone to fester there in communion with the machine?"

He was last heard on the air waves July 10, on NPR's "Weekend Edition" with Scott Simon in a discussion of the U.S.-Russia spy swap, the Justice Department's lawsuit against Arizona and other news of the week.

Simon called working with Schorr "one of the great blessings of my life."

"He had no boss but the First Amendment," Simon said. "He felt his duty was to the news."

Schorr spoke in a thick New York accent he never lost, a voice that contrasted sharply with the drama-school quality of many newscasters of the 1950s and '60s. It made his delivery all the more compelling.

Schorr was very good at developing sources surrounding the Cold War, in the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union, former CBS colleague Dan Rather said.

"In Washington, he prided himself on being an outsider, not an insider," Rather said. "He didn't work the social circuit. He worked his shoe leather and his telephones."

Born in New York City to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Schorr began his career in journalism while he was still in high school. When he wasn't working on the student newspaper, he spent his free time as a stringer for the Bronx Home News and the Jewish Daily Bulletin. During college, Schorr also worked part-time for several metropolitan dailies.

Schorr first caught the eye of famed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow during his vivid reports on devastating flooding in the Netherlands in 1953. Murrow persuaded him to join the network, where he started out covering Capitol Hill and the State Department.

After CBS, Schorr taught journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, and then in 1979 he joined Ted Turner's newly created CNN as its senior correspondent in Washington.

Soon after leaving the cable station in 1985 over differences with Turner, Schorr found a home at National Public Radio as a senior news analyst. He contributed regularly to "All Things Considered," and other NPR programs.

He received three Emmy Awards, among other honors that include a Peabody in 1992 for "a lifetime of uncompromising reporting of the highest integrity." He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists in 1991.

In addition to his three Emmys, Schorr received a Peabody Award and the duPont-Columbia Golden Baton, and was honored by civil liberties groups and professional organizations for his defense of the First Amendment. In 2002 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Arenstein said that Schorr earned his Peabody (for "uncompromising reporting of the highest integrity") because the veteran did not mince words or pull punches.

"How can you be a journalist if you want to have everybody love you all the time?" Schorr asked.

Schorr is survived by his wife, Lisbeth, his son, Jonathan Schorr, daughter, Lisa Kaplan, and one grandchild. Memorial plans have not been set.