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As a Writer, Always A Reporter

Clearing The Air By Daniel Schorr Houghton-Mifflin, 301 pp., $11.95


Daniel Schorr oriented his entire life around reporting. For him, reporting was "not only a livelihood, but a frame of mind" used to approach every situation he encountered. Always skeptical, he looked for a hidden story behind every conversation. Always objective, he sought detachment from the events he covered.

It is hardly surprising, then that in his new book Clearing the Air, Schorr strives for objectivity and attempts to uncover the subtler story behind the various incidents that have punctuated his stormy career as a correspondent for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).

Objectivity does not come easily, particularly when one is attempting a form of autobiography. The tempation to draw conclusions, to defend one's position, to criticize one's enemies, often proves irresistible.

Schorr does an admirable job of resisting this temptation, but at times the inevitable bias seeps through his journalistic veneer. Perhaps justifiably, he cannot avoid occasional criticisms of certain CBS superiors and colleagues, most notably of board chairman William S. Paley. His analysis of some of their actions, while often supported by evidence in the book, reveals his continued contempt for the role they played in his life.

Nevertheless, Schorr goes to elaborate pains to present a thorough, objective account of his years at CBS, his confrontation with the House Ethics Committee, the pressures put both on him and on the networks by the Nixon administration, and various other highlights of his career. Applying the same aggressive legwork that the distinguished him from most other television journalists, Schorr interviewed nearly all the characters who played a prominent role in "the story." These interviews revealed information previously unknown to Schorr, helping him better understand why certain decisions were made and certain events occurred.

Schorr's decision to approach the book as a journalist was instinctive, but it was also wise. The attempt at objectivity enhances the book, providing the reader with a fuller story and a clearer perspective than mere reminiscence.

He could have avoided the extra effort needed to produce an objective work and written a purely subjective account, but that would not have been reporting. That would not have been Schorr.

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