During the past week there was extensive news coverage of two powerful insiders in Washington – Congressman Charles Rangel (Dem-NY) and Daniel Schorr, longtime broadcast journalist. These two gentlemen were connected together in the news because of their approach to power and principle. One of the men – Charles Rangel – was accused of the lack of principle in the use of the power of his position for personal gain. The other man – Daniel Schorr – was lauded for his high principle in the use of the power of his position to expose abuse of power.
Charles Rangel was indicted by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (seems like an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) on a wide variety of ethics charges and will face trial by his peers in Congress. No matter what the outcome of the ethics trial, Rangel will exit a long Congressional career of power and prominence in disgrace. Daniel Schorr passed away at 93, recognized as a person who kept his principle intact in the face of overwhelming political power and the mandates of his employers.
Which one of these men do you think is most comfortable with the life they have lived?
Many readers may be too young to know of Daniel Schorr or to have seen much of his work on television, but his career is a wonderful example and model for those who will face the conflict of personal principles and the power of authority in their careers. It often comes down to a simple paradox. Will our success be defined by our adherence to principle or will our principles be sacrificed on the altar of success?
Charles Rangel represents the many (most) who are willing to trade principle for power. Daniel Schorr represents the few who are willing to forgo power and success in order to maintain personal principle. The irony (and good news) is that as these two men exit the stage, one is disgraced and one is lauded. It is Schorr who is recognized as the most powerful and successful.
A brief review of Schorr’s career will provide good lessons for anyone who will ever be faced with the pressures to conform and avoid rocking the corporate boat at the expense of personal principles.
As Patricia Sullivan reported in the Washington Post (July 24, 2010) “Schorr was as fearless in exposing government misdeeds as he was in taking on his employers.”
Schorr’s national career began in 1953 when he was hired by Edward R. Morrow of CBS, to be an international correspondent for the network. But Schorr made his mark by exposing the abuses of the most powerful. So much so that Richard Nixon had him added to his notorious “enemies list.” The New York Times (July 24, 2010) reported, “Nixon was so angered by Mr. Schorr’s reporting that he was said to have ordered the FBI to investigate him.” When, in 1976, Schorr became aware of and began to expose the abuses of the CIA and FBI he was confronted with death threats and investigations by the FBI and Congress. Not willing to reveal his sources, Schorr was threatened with and almost convicted of “contempt of Congress.” (That’s Schorr on the right testifying in 1976 before a meeting of the House Ethics Committee in Washington.)
And it was not just the powerful in government that Schorr challenged. He held his employers to the same high level of principles that he lived by. Fearful of a negative reaction from its affiliates and regulators CBS decided not to publish the information on the abuses of the FBI and CIA unless Schorr would expose his source. Instead, he gave the information to The Village Voice. For this CBS relieved him of his reporting duties and his 23- year career with the network was over. His defense was, “To betray a source would be to betray myself, my career and my life. I cannot do it.”
According to The Times, when Schorr was later hired by Ted Turner to be the first reporter for CNN, he demanded a clause in his contract making clear “no demand will be made upon him that would compromise his professional ethics and responsibilities.” When Schorr refused to take an assignment that he felt violated the agreement, CNN took him off the air and allowed his contract to expire.
And yet as time went by, Daniel Schorr came to be sought out, recognized and respected for his unwavering adherence to principle. Despite his success and power in Congress, it is doubtful anyone will ever say the same about Charles Rangel.
And the Moral of the Story …
The ultimate question for all of us is this: If we are ever confronted with a conflict between our principles – what we feel is the right thing to do – and what those with power over us want us to do, how will we react?
Daniel Schorr had a clear answer. Advising a group of young journalists he once said, “At least once in your lifetime take a risk for a principle you believe in, even if it brings you up against your bosses.”
If you follow the path of Daniel Schorr and do the right thing at the right time, you will not only feel better about yourself, but others will think better of you as well and you will achieve a success that is real and lasting.