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Daniel Schorr’s Big Lie


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            The passing last month of veteran journalist Daniel Schorr brought forth all the expected media testimonials, but to the Monitor Schorr essentially was a liberal pamphleteer who attempted to hide his biases under an unconvincing facade of “objective journalist.”
The late Barry Goldwater certainly knew what Schorr was all about. The longtime Arizona senator was victimized by a story Schorr basically invented out of whole cloth right around the time Goldwater was getting ready to accept the 1964 Republican presidential nomination.
Bear in mind that Goldwater was being demonized as few other major-party presidential candidates before or since. “In a period of ten months,” wrote Lionel Lokos in his book Hysteria 1964, “Barry Goldwater was accused of being another Adolf Hitler, fomenting a racial holocaust, advocating a nuclear policy that would destroy half the world, seeking to destroy Social Security, being a lunatic paving the way for totalitarian government.”
Schorr, at the time a CBS News correspondent, decided to inject some of his own fear-mongering into the campaign. On July 12, he reported that “it looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany’s right wing” – which, Schorr provocatively added, was “Hitler’s one-time stomping ground.”
Schorr also claimed that Goldwater, in an interview with Der Spiegel, had “appeal[ed] to right-wing elements in Germany,” and had agreed to speak to a meeting of “right-wing Germans.”
“Thus,” Schorr ominously concluded, “there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up.”
Goldwater called the story “the damnedest lie I ever heard” and told the late conservative writer Victor Lasky that it “made me sick to my stomach . My Jewish forebears were probably turning over in their graves.”
Wrote The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson in a 2001 review of Schorr’s memoirs: “Though easily checkable, [Schorr's report] was false in all its particulars. Goldwater had spoken vaguely of vacationing in Europe but had made no plans to visit Germany . Goldwater’s interview in Der Spiegel was a reprint of an interview that had appeared elsewhere, and he had not even considered addressing the group Schorr mentioned. More important, the story was false in its obvious implication of an Anschluss between German neo-Nazis and U.S. Republicans.”
(Years later, the liberal political historian Rick Perlstein, in his acclaimed book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the American Consensus, flatly described the story as “false” while Goldwater’s liberal biographer Robert Alan Goldberg characterized it as a “smear.”)
CBS president William Paley directed Schorr to correct himself on the air. Several days after his little experiment in fictionalized news, Schorr delivered the following “clarifying statement,” in itself a study in obfuscation and prevarication (italics added for emphasis):
“In speaking the other day of a move by Senator Goldwater to link up with [German rightists], I did not mean to suggest a conscious effort on his part of which there is no proof here, but rather a process of gravitation which is visible here.”
The story, though, did not end there. The vilification of Goldwater continued unabated. (Martin Luther King Jr. discerned “dangerous signs of Hitlerism in the Goldwater campaign”; Reform rabbi Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, warned that “a Jewish vote for Goldwater is a vote for Jewish suicide.”)
As for the thoroughly discredited story about Goldwater’s supposed neo-Nazi ties, it was given new life in a number of obituaries that appeared in the days following Schorr’s death.
The Washington Post’s Patricia Sullivan, for example, wrote: “Amid the 1964 presidential campaign, Mr. Schorr enraged Republican nominee Barry Goldwater when he reported that Goldwater had formed an alliance with some right-wing Germans and planned to spend time at one of Adolf Hitler’s retreats.”
And Robert Hershey Jr. put it this way in The New York Times: “Goldwater had held a grudge [against Schorr] since 1964, when Mr. Schorr, while at CBS, reported on the enthusiasm of right-wing Germans for Goldwater as he secured the presidential nomination that year. Mr. Schorr noted that a planned post convention Goldwater trip mainly involved time at an American military recreation center in Berchtesgaden, site of a favored Hitler retreat.”
Note how both writers matter-of-factly mentioned Schorr’s report without a word about how its veracity had immediately been called into question, or about Schorr’s forced public clarification, or about the widespread agreement among even liberal historians that the account was “false” and a “smear.”

In an ironic and certainly unintended sense, such glaring omissions were somehow fitting in send-offs for someone who, by his own admission, had broadcast a major story on a major network about a major political figure “of which there is no proof here.”

 

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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