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Looking Back at Schorr's Goldwater-Nazi Axis CBS Evening News Hit Piece

Daniel Schorr's passing on Friday, at age 93, reminded me of the kind of assaults CBS News unleashed on conservatives before there were any countervailing forums available. A 2001 Weekly Standard article (nine years in my "pending" file!) detailed a particularly vicious left-wing hit piece he narrated in 1964 which linked Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater with neo-Nazis in Germany, a CBS Evening News story notorious enough to earn a mention - if without any censure - in the New York Times and Washington Post obituaries.

In a June of 2001 Weekly Standard review of a memoir by Schorr about his years with CBS, CNN and NPR, Andrew Ferguson recited the piece which aired during the GOP's convention:

"It looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany's right wing" also known, Schorr added helpfully, as "Hitler's one-time stomping ground." Goldwater, he went on, had given an interview to Der Spiegel, "appealing to right-wing elements in Germany," and had agreed to speak to a conclave of, yes, "right-wing Germans." "Thus," Schorr concluded, "there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up." Now back to you, Walter, and have a nice day!

Ferguson pointed out what eluded the Washington Post and New York Times: "Though easily checkable, it was false in all its particulars" and "was false in its obvious implication of an Anschluss between German neo-Nazis and U.S. Republicans." Nonetheless, "if Schorr was embarrassed by the Goldwater episode, his memoir shows no signs of it."

In the Saturday New York Times obituary, Robert D. Hershey Jr. portrayed an honorable scoop by Schorr:

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 favorite Hitler retreat.

Patricia Sullivan, in Saturday's Washington Post obituary, recalled, without judgment about his accuracy nor bothering to mention "Hitler's retreat" had become a U.S. military facility:

Amid the 1964 election, Mr. Schorr enraged Republican presidential 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.

An excerpt from Ferguson's review of Schorr's memoir, Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism, in the June 4, 2001 Weekly Standard (link for subscribers):

...On the eve of the Republican convention in San Francisco, Schorr was asked to prepare a report on German reaction to Goldwater's impending nomination. Why German reaction? In the nation's news rooms, if nowhere else, the relationship seemed obvious: Goldwater means right-wing, right-wing means fascist, fascist means Germany. Schorr did not disappoint. The morning after his report aired, Goldwater's political enemies placed a transcript under the hotel room door of every delegate in San Francisco. Goldwater denounced CBS at a press conference and barred its reporters from his campaign. Even some executives at the network, notably its founder William Paley, grumbled privately about Schorr's reporting. (Like many great media honchos - from Henry Luce to Harold Ross to David Sarnoff - Paley was a Republican who hired only Democrats.)

What happened? The untutored reader of Staying Tuned can only wonder what the fuss was all about. Schorr's account here is, to put it kindly, incomplete. When CBS asked him for a story, he writes in his memoir, he learned from his reporting "that Goldwater had plans, as yet unannounced, to leave directly after the convention for a vacation in Germany as guest of...Lt. Gen. William Quinn. They would spend their time mainly at an American army recreation center in Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. Berchtesgaden was famous as Hitler's favorite retreat. This, along with the obvious enthusiasm of right-wing Germans for Goldwater, I reported from Munich in my analysis."

In his own autobiography, Goldwater gives a fuller account, quoting at length from Schorr's actual report. Schorr opened the report like so: "It looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany's right wing" also known, Schorr added helpfully, as "Hitler's one-time stomping ground." Goldwater, he went on, had given an interview to Der Spiegel, "appealing to right-wing elements in Germany," and had agreed to speak to a conclave of, yes, "right-wing Germans." "Thus," Schorr concluded, "there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up." Now back to you, Walter, and have a nice day!

Today Schorr's story, with its hints of paranoia, seems merely quaint, an almost comical artifact of the era that gave us The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May - except that this was broadcast as a genuine bit of news, in the middle of a real campaign. Though easily checkable, it was false in all its particulars. Goldwater had spoken vaguely of vacationing in Europe but had made no plans to visit Germany, and he hadn't spoken to Quinn, an old friend, in more than a year. 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.

If Schorr was embarrassed by the Goldwater episode, his memoir shows no signs of it...

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.