Danny Schechter, an unabashed advocacy journalist and media critic who moved in and out of mainstream television and wore his legend as “Danny Schechter, the News Dissector” like an escutcheon, died on March 19 of pancreatic cancer in Manhattan, the New York Times reports. The phrase dated from his early work in the 1970s as a pundit on WBCN, a Boston prog-rock radio station where his sign-off was, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”
Schechter was a news producer for the nascent CNN and later moved to ABC News’ 20/20 magazine program, where his work won two Emmy awards. In 1988 he co-founded Globalvision with Rory O’Connor. The company produced two groundbreaking programs: Rights & Wrongs: Human Rights Television, which was anchored by Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and South Africa Now, which won a 1990 George Polk Award for its coverage of the ruinous impact of apartheid. The public television stations that carried Globalvision programs were often attacked by conservative media groups for crossing the line into advocacy, a position Schechter defended as a born gadfly with a quick wit that softened the edges of a fierce passion for shining a light on human rights abuses wherever they occurred, His heroes were George Seldes and I.F. Stone, the like-minded dragon-slayers of an earlier era.
As director and producer, his work included WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception (2004), In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts (2006) and Beyond ‘JFK’: The Question of Conspiracy (1992).
“How many PBS stations may have decided not to air our programs because they don’t want the controversy generated by the self-styled media police?” he wrote in a letter to the Times in 1991. “Self-censorship is always the hardest to detect. The public television system needs to be more open to programming that challenges the conventional wisdom, that lets the voices of the world in.”
A prolific media critic, Schechter wrote many books, the best-known of which is The More You Watch the Less You Know: News Wars/(sub)Merged Hopes/Media Adventures.
Schechter was a founder of the New York Media Forum, a loose-knit group of progressive journalists who couldn’t agree on much of anything except their commitment to improving coverage of the most important issues of the day and prodding editors to raise the level of reporting on serious issues. Schechter himself, rotund and hirsute and always up for a party, was garrulous, self-deprecating and, when necessary, lethal in his criticism of idiots.
The Times obituary ends with this quote, blogged by Schechter last year: “All I seem to have these days is this keyboard to crank out more condemnations and calls to action, knowing full well, as I do it, that I don’t know what else to do. I am compelled to make media, compelled to do what I can, thinking modestly that perhaps somewhere, in hearts I don’t know, words or images can still stir souls to rise.”