Ted Turner and Daniel Schorr: Doesn’t sound like a likely match, does it?
The Mouth of the South, as Ted Turner was called, and Murrow Boy Dan Schorr — one was on President Nixon’s Enemies List when he covered the Watergate investigations for CBS. The other made some of his own worst enemies with, well, intemperate remarks.
Yet the first major editorial hire CNN founder Ted Turner made before the network signed on, just about 40 years ago on June 1, 1980 … was Daniel Schorr. Who of course went on to feature on Weekend Edition and other NPR programs when he was this network’s Senior News Analyst.
“Just imagine Dan Schorr in Las Vegas, walking into a hotel suite in which Ted Turner sat with a lady friend. Dan said to him, ‘Look, I will not do something I don’t want to do. I need it written into my contract that I don’t have to do any promotions, that I don’t have to say anything I don’t want to say,’” says Lisa Napoli. She writes about this moment — and many others — in her new book, Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News. Schorr, she says, “had this contentious problem with CBS. So he didn’t want to repeat it, and he didn’t trust Ted. So he went downstairs and wrote out by hand his contract and it said, ‘I will not have to say anything I don’t want to.’ And Ted said, ‘no problem,’ and signed it, and the rest is history. He was the first employee.”
On CNN’s rocky debut
There were so many obstacles. A satellite went missing. [Avid sailor] Ted went missing at sea. He couldn’t necessarily raise the money that was necessary. And people just didn’t believe that he could pull it off. But Dan gave him a legitimate leg in the game, so to speak, at a time when people just didn’t believe, Scott, that anybody would want to watch 24-hour news.
On Schorr’s career before Turner hired him
Dan had had an amazing career up until that point … in fact, [Edward R.] Murrow had personally asked Dan Schorr to join his team. And Dan really wanted to go work for The New York Times. But The New York Times wouldn’t hire him because he was Jewish. He found out years later.
And Ted was Ted. He changed broadcasting. He flipped the switch on 24-hour television before he did on 24-hour news and [had a] storied and crazy business career after that. So, yeah, that worked out for both of them.
On their eventual rift
Well, basically, that document that Dan ginned up by hand in the Las Vegas hotel had guided their relationship for several years. And then as management changed, they resented the idea that Dan would be able to refuse assignments. And at one point — and this is very interesting, considering our landscape now — they tried to sit Dan next to a former politician as a news analyst. And Dan was so disgusted by the concept that a politician would be considered a news analyst that he refused to do it. And there were rumblings, and as I say, management changes. And so when Dan’s contract came up, they basically just said, you know, this isn’t acceptable to us anymore. So the thing that got him in the door in the first place — as is often the case with startups — vanished as time went on.
This story was produced for radio by Ned Wharton and Ed McNulty, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.