By LEANNE KEARNS
Veteran reporter and award-winning commentator Daniel Schorr, talking about his new book at the Library on June 7, recalled a one-word prescription for success as a broadcast journalist: Sincerity.
Mr. Schorr said a young producer gave him one piece of advice 48 years ago, when he first started in the television business: "Sincerity is the key. If you can fake that. …" His Library audience responded with laughter, as it did throughout his speech, as Mr. Schorr recalled moments from a life in journalism.
Mr. Schorr's memoir, Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism, was the subject of a Books & Beyond lecture sponsored by the Library's Center for the Book. Published by Pocket Books, Mr. Schorr's book was described recently by Kirkus Reviews as "a marvelous memoir of an enviable life, written with style and real wit."
John Cole, director of the Center for the Book, introduced Mr. Schorr with a quote from Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who wrote, "God gave Daniel Schorr the chance to be present at almost all of the important moments in history during the last 60 years, gave him the guts to challenge and probe the participants and the genius to describe them with clarity and utterance."
Mr. Schorr opened with a summation of his career: "I have devoted a very, very long career to trying to make out the world, trying to find out what happens in the world and then, if I can, trying to explain it to those people who need to know."
Mr. Schorr began his career in journalism before television was invented. "I first saw a prototype demonstrated at the 1939 World's Fair in New York," he recalled.
Few could have guessed the impact the new device would have on the news. It gave rise to the field of broadcast journalism and, in Mr. Schorr's opinion, began the process of blurring the line between news and entertainment. After a while, he began to worry about this new medium.
He prefaced his remarks by noting the presence of Librarian Emeritus Daniel J. Boorstin, who, Mr. Schorr noted, "wrote several books on the subject of what he calls the 'pseudo event.'"
Mr. Schorr said he is disturbed by television's practice of simulating situations without notifying the audience that what they are seeing is staged. "For people in this field, simulation and reality become merged to the point that they no longer realize that what they are doing is a lie," he observed.
He cited the industrywide practice of inserting reporters' "reaction shots" into on-the-air stories. "There are three basic reactions," said Mr. Schorr. "Agree, disagree, neutral." He treated the audience to a humorous demonstration of all three.
He gave a firsthand example. After a particularly grueling on-air interview with an East German official who walked off the stage in the middle of Mr. Schorr's report, former CBS Chairman William Paley praised Mr. Schorr for the "quiet, serene way" he reacted. When Mr. Schorr explained about prerecorded reaction shots spliced into the broadcast, Paley asked, "Is that honest?" Mr. Schorr replied, "No, but it's what I learned at your network."
The enormous amount of information now available through books, television, magazines, radio and the Internet have led Mr. Schorr to change his mission within the field.
"The more I find that we are flooding Americans with information, the less I find that they are understanding that information," he said. "Now I no longer devote my time to finding out what people don't want to tell you, but rather take what people have already told us and try to invest it with some meaning."
Toward this end, Mr. Schorr joined a fledgling cable news network called CNN. He is currently a senior news analyst for National Public Radio. His work has earned him numerous awards for excellence and integrity in journalism, including three Grammy Awards.
Throughout his career, Mr. Schorr has had the opportunity to interview many heads of state, including former president Richard Nixon and former Soviet prime minister Nikita Khrushchev. He enjoyed a more cordial relationship with the dictator than the president. "Khrushchev was a peasant type, very open, with a great sense of humor," recalled Mr. Schorr.
During his stay in the Soviet Union, Mr. Schorr was planning to take some time off for vacation but feared he would miss an emergency energy meeting to be convened by Khrushchev, who, in 1957, was the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He attempted to learn from Khrushchev when he planned to call the meeting. "If absolutely necessary, we will have the meeting without you," Khrushchev joked.
Mr. Schorr found Richard Nixon to be less friendly. In fact, Mr. Schorr appeared on Nixon's infamous "Enemies List." "That's the term he used," said Mr. Schorr. "Not adversaries or opponents, but enemies."
When Mr. Schorr was outside a federal courthouse during the Senate Watergate hearing in 1973, someone handed him the first page of Nixon's Enemies List, which consisted of 20 names. Not bothering to scan the list first, he read the names before the camera in a live broadcast. When he came to number 17, he saw "Daniel Schorr, a real media enemy."
"It was the most electrifying moment in my career," recalled Mr. Schorr. "Suddenly I had become the news." He quickly read the remaining names on Nixon's list and concluded his report: "And now back to you. …"
When asked by someone in the audience about broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow, Mr. Schorr said, "In our business there are few real heroes—a lot of stars and celebrities—but few real heroes. Edward R. Murrow was one of the very few true heroes."
Ms. Kearns is an intern in the Public Affairs Office.