Living history book Daniel Schorr dies at 93

Daniel Schorr, a longtime senior news analyst for NPR and a veteran Washington journalist who broke major stories at home and abroad during the Cold War and Watergate, has died. He was 93.

Schorr, who once described himself as a “living history book,” passed away Friday morning at a Washington hospital. His family did not provide a cause of death.

As a journalist, Schorr was able to bring to contemporary news commentary a deep sense of how governmental institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from decades of watching history upfront.

“He could compare presidents from Eisenhower on through, and that gave him historical context for things,” said Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian and author of a book about the Washington press corps. “He had lived it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his broadcasting that was hard for somebody his junior to match.”

Schorr’s 20-year career as a foreign correspondent began in 1946. After serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II, he began writing from Western Europe for the Christian ScienceMonitor and later The New York Times, witnessing postwar reconstruction, the Marshall Plan and the creation of the NATO alliance.

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.

He covered the building of the Berlin Wall as CBS bureau chief for Germany and Western Europe. In 1962, he aired a celebrated portrait of citizens living under Communist rule in East Germany.

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.” David Broder, a longtime political reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, added: “I think he’s unique in the sense that he’s been at the center of so many different stories, both here in Washington and overseas, for so long. He kept his perspective so well and does not ever exaggerate what’s taking place, but really let you know why it’s important.”

Schorr was born in the Bronx in 1916, the son of Belorussian immigrants. He got his first scoop at age 12, when he saw the body of a woman who had jumped or fallen from the roof of his apartment building. He called the police — and the Bronx Home News, which paid him $5 for the information.

“It was the first time I’d ever seen a dead person in my life,” he told NPR’s Robert Siegel in a 2006 interview on All Things Considered marking Schorr’s 90th birthday.

“Why didn’t I react more emotionally to that? It was the essential journalist who manages to absent himself from the situation and simply report it without feeling it,” Schorr said.

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