Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Unintentionally the subject of the story (Daniel Schorr reads Nixon's "enemies list" on live TV)

When someone writes about a topic, the person must decide whether to write in the third person or in the first person. Edward R. Murrow, for example, would tend to write in the third person. Hunter S. Thompson would write in the first person. The point of reference is very important, since it affects how the story is presented.

One cannot say that one way is universally right, and another way is universally wrong. I'll grant, however, that certain organizations have a preference of one way over the other.

During the 1950s through the 1970s (and beyond), CBS News would clearly fall into the "third person" camp. CBS reporters such as Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Dan Rather came from a tradition of reporting the story and refraining from editorial comment.

But occasionally, a CBS News reporter from that period would find that he had become the story. One notable incident involved CBS reporter Daniel Schorr, who became embroiled in a story without even knowing.

As Schorr recalls, Schorr was covering the Watergate hearings in which John Dean was being questioned. During the questioning, Dean revealed that the Nixon Administration had kept an "enemies list" of twenty people who were perceived as opponents of the Nixon Administration, and who were therefore targeted for government harrassment - special IRS audits and the like. The correspondents covering the hearing, including Schorr, obviously wanted a copy of that enemies list so that they could read the names on the air.

And so we ran outside the Senate caucus room and waited for a copy to be given to us. And I was handed a copy live on the air, had never seen it before, read it, and there it was from John Dean to H.R. Halderman. "Subject: On Screwing Our Political Enemies." This is a priority list of 20. And I read down a list.

As he continued reading the text that he had never seen, Schorr got a little surprise.

At 17 came to my own name with the notation next to it "a real media enemy." I think I tried not to gulp. I tried not to the gasp.

However, his CBS training shone through.

I read it without a comment. I just tossed it right back. I wanted to collapse.

You can see the episode about a minute in to this 2010 CBS News obituary of Schorr.

blog comments powered by Disqus