Dan Schorr’s distinguished journalistic career spanned over six decades, right up until his death last week at the age of 93. My undistinguished journalistic career lasted about three years. But my brief span I intersected Dan’s a couple of occasions. He had long been a hero of mine when the head of production at KPBS-TV/FM phoned me one evening and said he wanted me to do a phone interview with Dan the following morning on the coming down of the Berlin Wall.
Me? I protested that I was the station’s urban affairs guy and that international affairs was not something he should trust me with, especially with someone I admired so much for his mastery of the subject. After all, Schorr had established CBS’s Moscow Bureau, until he got bounced by Nikita Kruschev. He knew both sides of the Wall; my experiences in those countries were drive-bys by comparison. I was also aware that Schorr could be prickly and crumdgeonly; I certainly didn’t want a dressing down on our own air.
As things turned out I didn’t do all that badly,* judging by the fact that, not long after, Dan consented to let me interview him on the occasion of the first Bush Iraq War. The first was a phone interview, but the second gave me a chance to interview the journalist icon in person.**
The passing of Dan Schorr is the last of the old news media. Schorr is from the old media, the media of names like Murrow, Cronkite, Chancellor, Burdette, and others for whom getting and reporting as objectively as possible the facts of news stories now seems like ancient history. If there is any doubt of that there is the irony that the news of Dan’s passing was coincident with the story of the “journalistic” assassination of Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official.
I can be argued that the decline of journalism, and certainly it’s darkest moments such as the lamentable Shirley Sherrod, Van Jones, and ACORN affairs, might not be possible without the enabling, if not complicit, behavior of political power. The Internet has introduced a new era in media, one I which political blogs and websites have no governing, or self-governing, requirements for proper journalistic procedure, and most don’t seem to give a damn about such things. The same phenomenon has seriously weakened the role of traditional journalistic media—the big three networks, the major metropolitan daily newspapers and the major weekly newsmags—such that these media have dumbed down and whored themselves out to power, ratings, and commercial interests, such that they are almost as unrecognizable as they are unreliable. Most of these media are now owed by an oligarchy of media conglomerates (brought into being with the complicity of government) who are not only “too big to fail” but too big to regulate, or even too big to punish if they break the laws of media or even the state.
It is also notable that the rise of ideologically-b(i)ased (right wing) media organizations has been achieved with methods that would make Josef Goebbles drool on is swastika. It began with the purposeful conflation of any reporting, however objective, critical of conservative politicians or policies as “evidence” of a “liberal bias” in the media. That tactic not only sufficiently intimidated legitimate media into distorting their own reporting in their attempt to conform to some alleged standard of being ”fair and balanced” while, at the same time, Fox news adopted the slogan in an ironic perversion of it. Now, despite the overwhelming evidence that much of journalistic media have fallen in thrall or corporate control of the political right, journalists are routinely charged with and/or slapped down for “liberal bias” should they dare to report facts that contravene the fanciful ideological creations of right-wing media. One need only review the samples provided by Charles Kaiser in the wake of the Sherrod affair.
The ineptitude and seemingly sheer cowardice of the Obama administration in the face of right wing media onslaughts is not only disgusting in its own right—these are not the sort of people you would want to have “your back” in a bar fight—but tossing its own people under the bus on the basis of scams, false allegations and doctored videotape because you are afraid of appearance of being the socialists and racists they accuse you of being, is the height of cowering to bullies. Empowering a dirtbag like Teabagger Andrew Breitbart, or whackjob like Glenn Beck is precisely what political cowardice does. The more the right-wing media accuse Obama of being a leftist and socialist, the more he turns rightward to appease them and, duly enabled, the more they step up their accusations.
The most egregious examples of agit-propaganda masquerading as journalism is Fox News and the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Artfully-designed for those who prefer the intellectual slothfulness of belief over reason, they openly call their listeners “dittoheads” and provide heavily distorted video loops to drum falsehoods into the empty heads of those who get their “news” and weltanschauung from Rush and Rupert.
The countervailing of the right wing noise and assassination machine comes not from the formerly venerable, New York Times, Washington Post, or CBS, but from Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, PRI’s On the Media and Olbermann,*** Maddow, Colbert and Stewart. But their rigorous reporting, deconstructions and satire do not seem to find the ear of an administration that is already too influenced by big money Wall Street and Big Media.
And nobody knew better than the guy who best knew what happens when the “fourth estate” sells itself out and retained his integrity despite its crashing down all around him. Rest in peace, Dan
© 2010, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 7.30.2010)
*That interview also resulted in my article, “And the Wall Came Tumbling Down,” (Interview with journalist Daniel Schorr), ON AIR MAGAZINE, Vol. 21, Issue 4, February 1990, p. 17.
** “The Persian Gulf Crisis,” 25-minute interview with National Public Radio Correspondent, Daniel Schorr, aired on KPBS-FM, September 22, 1990 (21.5 minutes)
***It is worth repeating here Olbermann’s eloquent dressing down of the President over the Sherrod debacle:
Mr. President, please stop trying to act, every minute, like some noble, neutral figure, chairing a government of equal and dispassionate minds, and contemplative scholars. It is a freaking war out here, and the imagined consensus you seek is years in the future, if ever it is to be re-discovered.
This false consensus has gotten us only the crucifixion of Van Jones, and a racist gold-shilling buffoon speaking from the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th Anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, and now it has gotten us Shirley Sherrod. And your answer is to note a ‘disservice’ and an ‘injustice.’
Sir, get a copy of the Michael Douglas movie ‘The American President.’ When you get to the line where he says ‘I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job’ – hit the rewind button. Twenty times.”