Only a matter of weeks ago he was presenting “America’s Surveillance State” on Russia Today which explored the questions of privacy and sovereignly, of information security and of relationship between the government and technology firms. He seemed as alert and incisive as ever and I was flabbergasted to hear from an activist friend in Florida that Danny was no more.
I first became acquainted with Danny in 2001 when I bought a copy of his book about the US media `The More You Watch the Less You Know` in a large book store in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. The title intrigued me and the content of the book even more so. The book which he dedicated to his daughter Sarah Debs covers Danny’s career from 1970 to the late nineteen nineties when the book was first published. It is an excellent and devastating critique of the failure of the mass media in general and in the US in particular to inform and educate the public. This highly readable and indeed entertaining book ought to be required reading for all prospective journalists.
I recall one anecdote with great fondness; when he attended the 40th anniversary of the Nieman program in 1977 at Boston’s Museum of Science. Henry Kissinger, who had just departed as President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State thanks to the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, was the guest of honour in what was to be his Harvard homecoming after all those years `playing America’s Machiavelli ` as Danny puts it . His talk was billed as off the record.
The fascinating scene is when he confronts Kissinger with a question on behalf of some students as to how Kissinger can justify himself to his own children after his policies caused the deaths of six million people in South East Asia.
Dr K was not amused and snarled: “Meest-er... Schechter, it is easy to challenge people who must make tough decisions, I vill not stand here and be lectured by you or any-vun! I have no apologies to make.” He then stormed off in a huff. Amazingly it was Danny who got the boos from the well-heeled audience and not the mass murderer Kissinger. In fact, Henry got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 (and in 1995 a knighthood from Britain) causing one commentator Tom Lehrer to opine that satire was now obsolete.
I remember Danny being very generous with his time in showing me around his Broadway office in New York City in February 2002 at the time of the World Economic Forum. Unfortunately, with rents being so high and income being so low he had to work from home in later years.
He was the author of many books including "Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception: How the Media Failed to Cover the Iraq War" (Prometheus Books, October 2003); "Media Wars: News At A Time of Terror (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); "The More You Watch, The Less You Know" (Seven Stories Press) and "News Dissector: Passions, Pieces and Polemics" (Akashic) Books and Electron Press). He was also the executive editor of MediaChannel.org, the world's largest online media issues network, and recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists' 2001 Award for Excellence in Documentary Journalism.
He produced and directed many TV specials and documentary films, including "Counting on Democracy" about the electoral fiasco in Florida narrated by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; the post 9-11 film We Are Family" (2002) shown at the Sundance Film Festival; "Nkosi: A Voice of Africa's AIDS Orphans" (2001) narrated by Danny Glover; "A Hero for All: Nelson Mandela's Farewell" (l999); "Beyond Life: Timothy Leary Lives" (1997); "Sowing Seeds/Reaping Peace: The World of Seeds of Peace" (1996); "Prisoners of Hope: Reunion on Robben Island" (1995, co-directed by Barbara Kopple); "Countdown to Freedom: Ten Days that Changed South Africa" (1994), narrated by James Earl Jones and Alfre Woodard; "Sarajevo Ground Zero" (1993); "The Living Canvas" (1992), narrated by Billy Dee Williams; "Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy" (1992, co-directed by Marc Levin and Barbara Kopple); "Give Peace a Chance" (1991); "Mandela in America" (1990); "The Making of Sun City" (1987); and "Student Power" (1968)
Danny went to the London School of Economics, where he met South African activist Ruth First and this was the beginning of a lifelong interest in the country. Always having a particular fascination for South Africa his last book was `Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela`. He asked my help to get a publisher for him in Britain and we were both disappointed when Pluto books declined it. Newshound Media formed by South African journalist Paula Slier did express some sympathetic interest but Paula was extremely busy at the time reporting from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. Happily Danny did find a publisher for his work in Seven Stories Press in his native New York City.
In his 2001 book `News Dissector; passions, pieces and polemics ` Danny devotes the final chapter on how to change the media. He suggests more monitoring of the media, tougher anti-monopoly laws and enhanced regulation in the public interest by a revamped FCC and for citizen groups to demand media accountability. For all this to happen people have to be aware, for democracy to thrive the electorate has to be informed. Trouble is, who is going to inform them? Not the mainstream as it isn’t in their interests, so the burden will have to be borne by the alternative media. Can it ever be built up or will people like Danny Schechter, Mike Wolff, Ramsey Clark, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky etc. always just be `voices in the wilderness` or as John Pilger puts it `distant voices. `
I reviewed Danny’s 2004 film `WMD Weapons of Mass Deception` and helped organise a showing of it at the Mono activist’s café in Glasgow, Scotland which was attended by around 100 including many American students. They lapped it up and many wrote appreciatively to Danny which he valued. You can read the (rather lengthy) review here:
He came to Scotland in 2005 when the G8 was being held in the five star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. Not receiving an invitation to dine with the masters of the universe he went instead to Edinburgh for the G8 alternatives and showed his film `WMD Weapons of Mass Deception` to an enthusiastic audience.
He always laughed at my impersonation of Henry Kissinger who he called the `Odious Dr K`.
I felt an aching void on hearing of his passing. His legacy will live on though and I’m sure his books and documentaries will be an inspiration to aspiring young journalists everywhere. He was such a good man and achieved so much on his limited means. His spirit and humanity remain; for me Danny will never die.
I enclose a number of photos of Danny taken in his native New York and on his visit to Edinburgh for the G8 which was held in Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005.