He never shed his New York accent but he always spoke in a soft voice - a voice that belied his toughness, his quest for truth and his fierce belief in Freedom of the Press. He had a profound knowledge of how "government institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from decades of watching history upfront." (Alan Greenblatt, NPR)
Schorr began writing for the Christian Science Monitor as a foreign correspondent in 1946 and later for The New York Times.
Schorr joined CBS News in 1953 as one of "Murrow's boys," the celebrated news team put together by Edward R. Murrow. He reopened the network's Moscow bureau, which had been shuttered by Joseph Stalin in 1947. Ten years later, Schorr scored an exclusive broadcast interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the U.S.S.R. Communist Party chief — the first-ever with a Soviet leader. Schorr was barred from the U.S.S.R. later that year after repeatedly defying Soviet censors.. . . snip . . .
He was reassigned to Washington in 1966. Other reporters in the bureau were already covering major institutions such as Congress or the State Department, so Schorr assigned himself to cover the implementation of President Johnson's Great Society programs.
"No one had such a beat," recalled his bureau colleague Roger Mudd. "He was everywhere. He had almost carte blanche to cover Washington."Unlike the bland, spineless and superficial reporters of today, Schorr counted his inclusion on Richard Nixon's Enemies List as one of his greatist achievements. "The list — naming hundreds of political opponents, entertainers and publications considered hostile to the administration — became the basis for one of the charges of impeachment against Nixon."
Watergate Press Table
In 1975, Schorr reported on assassinations that had been carried out by the CIA. "The anger of the administration can be gauged from Richard Helms' denunciation of Schorr," historian Garry Wills recounts in his 2010 book, Bomb Power.In 1976, Schorr reported on the findings of the Pike Commission, which had investigated illegal CIA and FBI activities. Acting counter to the committee's vote to keep the final report secret, Schorr leaked it to the Village Voice.
Helms, then the CIA director, confronted Schorr in the presence of other reporters at the White House, calling him names such as "son of a bitch" and "killer."
"Killer Schorr: That's what they ought to call you," Helms said.
Schorr was threatened with a $100,000 fine and jail time for contempt of Congress. But during congressional testimony, Schorr refused to identify his source, citing First Amendment protections. The House ethics committee voted 6 to 5 against a contempt citation.
But CBS had already taken Schorr off the air. He ultimately resigned from the network that year.
"CBS found that, like other big corporations, it did not like to offend the Congress," Mudd said. "He broke his ties to CBS and before they could fire him, he resigned."
CBS's account is slightly different:
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.In 1979, Schorr was hired to provide commentary for the fledgling CNN. The network inaugurated its programming the following year with his interview with President Jimmy Carter. But in 1985, his contract was not renewed, which Schorr counted as his second "firing."
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.
Schorr joined NPR where he had already been doing occasional commentaries. He became a senior news analyst and continued writing a column for the Christian Science Monitor, which he had been doing for years.
Senate Historian Donald A. Ritchie said "Schorr was part of that breed of commentators who dug up information before they pontificated about it."
"It really is true that I would sometimes stand up for principle at the risk of my job," he told his son Jonathan for an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition last year. "It is also true that when I lose my job I get terribly nervous."