June 14, 2017

Schorr Patrol: When CBS Legend Lost His Tunnel Scoop

Daniel Schorr

Daniel Schorr was a constant in my media life, starting in the late-1950s (when I was a mere callow youth) with his CBS reports from Moscow, and  onward as he made his way to Germany, then back to the USA where he made Nixon’s “Enemies List” and responded with some of the most acclaimed Watergate coverage.  In the mid-1970s he got into trouble for reporting on a secret CIA probe, eventually lost his CBS position, but ended up as an influential NPR commentator for many years, steadily moving to the Left, though never by rote.  I met him only once, for a drink, to discuss the Hiroshima book I wrote with Robert Jay Lifton in 1995.

Imagine my delight, when it turned out that he would play a central role in my The Tunnels book.   The book focuses on two crazy tunnels dug under the Berlin Wall by students in West Berlin in 1962, aiming to free friends, family or lovers in the East.   The one funded by NBC has drawn very modest attention  in books until now.   The CBS tunnel, with Dan Schorr at the fore, has barely been mentioned  at all.

So I was happy to find more than two years ago that several dozen State Department and CIA cables and documents (some shared with the JFK White House) had recently been declassified and revealed, for the first time, the shocking maneuvers that brought pressure on CBS and Schorr, leading to the complete suppression of his planned August 13, 1962, special.

Schorr was even summoned by his boss, Blair Clark (later chairman of Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 run for president and then editor of The Nation), who had just received orders from Secretary of State Dean Rusk,  to a secure phone line in Berlin.  Clark was in Rusk’s office at midnight in D.C.; it was 6 a.m. in Berlin,  the morning of the planned tunnel escape at Kiefholz Strasse in East Berlin.   Schorr was told to withdraw his cameraman, and himself.  He protested to no avail.

And he remained bitter about it for the rest of the life.   The tunnel escape would go on, to a mind-boggling climax.