Saturday, July 24, 2010

Daniel Schorr's Legacy: Speaking Truth To Power

Daniel Schorr's Legacy: Speaking Truth To Power
by David Folkenflik
July 24, 2010

He wasn't the most handsome, nor the most famous, of the dashing "Murrow Boys" of CBS News, the ones who defined ambitious broadcast journalism in the middle of the last century.

Nor was Daniel Schorr among the first. It took years of freelancing abroad, and even a brief try-out at The New York Times, before Schorr caught the attention of Edward R. Murrow and was hired by CBS in 1953.

But Schorr, who died Friday at 93, left two unquestionable journalistic legacies all his own.

First, he exemplified the mission of bearing active witness to history, in his case, the decades that chronicled America's rise after World War II. His reporting and interpretation of developments provided important insights for generations of readers, viewers and listeners.

He covered the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954; a few years later, as Moscow bureau chief for CBS, Schorr won the first sit-down television interview with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev — the first by a television news outlet from any country, including the U.S.S.R. He covered the Cold War from West Germany, too; and the Johnson administration's anti-poverty efforts when he returned to the U.S.; and, perhaps most famously, Watergate and the ensuing revelation of CIA abuses.

Schorr took a pride in his name's appearance on President Nixon's infamous "enemies list" that could not be underestimated. It served as a verbal talisman during his later appearances on NPR, particularly as he observed some parallels between the pushes for secrecy in the Nixon years and in the administration of President George W. Bush (especially as embodied by then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney).
Dan Schorr Memorial Special

Then, there is his second legacy: He uncompromisingly stood up to power.

Murrow famously tangled with network executives — all the way up to CBS chairman William S. Paley himself. But to the outward observer, Schorr seemed as fearless as his mentor...

Monday, July 05, 2010

Truly independent American journalists don't work for big organizations

Jul 4, 2010
America's good, subservient press
On Independence Day, noting that the truly independent American journalists don't work for big organizations
By Dan Gillmor

Journalists tend to take themselves too seriously, and their craft not seriously enough. So it is apt that some famous and obscure quotations and aphorisms about the value and function of a free press adorn the tiled walls of the restrooms at Rhodes University's African Media Matrix -- the building that houses what is widely considered the continent's top journalism school.

One of those quotes is from Nelson Mandela, spoken in 2002, and it feels dismayingly correct today:

“A bad free press is preferable to a technically good subservient press."

In the wake of a major journalistic scandal in the United States, broken open in the last week, I have to say that America's establishment press has never been technically better, but never more pathetically subservient. My hopes increasingly ride on an often bad free press that is getting better all the time.

Let me also say, upfront, that there are honorable exceptions in the top ranks of America's major media organizations. But in what may well be seen someday as a seminal event in U.S. media history, senior people at the two newspapers widely considered to offer the most comprenensive political coverage have admitted -- and, God help us, defended -- their technically good subservience to the American government.

Salon colleague Glenn Greenwald has discussed in detail the truly disheartening response to a Harvard study showing that the Washington Post and New York Times skewed their coverage of America's post-9/11 torture policy, using the Bush administration's newspeak language -- "harsh interrogation techniques" was a favorite -- instead of plain old "torture," the word they'd previously used to describe the same acts.

And then, when asked why, top editors and spokespeople at both papers effectively said that once the Bush administration and Republican allies had pushed for the new language, the news organizations were duty-bound to use it, too, or else be seen as slanting the news.

That the news organizations had changed their language was itself disgraceful. That they then compounded the damage, with a defense that was almost the definition of a subservient press, was heartbreaking.

But George Orwell was rolling in his grave -- perhaps with joy that he's been proved so right, but also pure despair...

The New York Times and Washington Post have done wonderful work through their modern existence. But their failures are so profound in recent years that it's hard to maintain any confidence in them.

So for all of the excellence they've fostered, the editors at these famous institutions who refused to call torture what it was -- bowing to the bogus and odious idea that channeling partisan propaganda was serving their readers -- harmed their organizations with those cowardly word games.

And when they defended their acts of cowardice and dismissed criticism as tendentious, they went beyond harm. Their pride in subservience was a disgrace.