daniel schorr, city college and a brilliant concept we should revive

Daniel Schorr, esteemed journalist, died last Friday at the age of 93. Schorr built his career on truth-telling and risk-taking. When the institutions that he worked for no longer employed real journalists, he traded in the mainstream for NPR, where he worked for the last 25 years of his career.

There are two excellent pieces about Schorr at NPR, which I'll link to below. But I first want to acknowledge something I noticed in Schorr's obituary in the New York Times: that Schorr was a graduate of City College.

City College - technically the City College of the City University of New York, sometimes called CCNY - was the first free public institution of higher learning in the US. In the days when Ivy League schools were the gated playgrounds of wealthy white Protestants, thousands of New Yorkers whose heritages excluded them from those institutions attended City College. This includes people you may now think of as white: Jewish Americans, Italian Americans, Irish Americans. In truth, they had no other option, but they turned City College into "Harvard on the Hudson". They also turned it into a locus of radical political thought and debate. The list of New Yorkers who attended City College and went on to become notable in their fields is eye-popping. Many of the political figures are familiar only to New Yorkers, but keep scrolling through entertainment, arts and sciences.

Free quality higher education. Think of the investment. Think of the rewards. Thousands of intelligent, hard-working young people earning a university degree unburdened by debt - and so, able to seek meaningful work or create their own niches without being driven by finances.

We could afford it, too. If the banks and big corporations paid their fair share. And if our government wasn't spending our money on useless military toys.

Daniel Schorr, from NPR:
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).

Then, there is his second legacy: He uncompromisingly stood up to power. [More here.]

There's also a lovely tribute from Scott Simon. If you don't know the connection between Daniel Schorr and Frank Zappa, take a look.

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