Danny Schechter was a prince of the American Left, someone who always showed up, who kept pace with the beat of change and could be counted on to see that the values of social justice were represented in the media, whether at WBCN-FM in Boston where as “Danny Schechter the News Dissector” he got his start, or at CNN where he was a pioneering producer, or at ABC where as a producer for 20/20 he won two National News Emmys. His greatest journalistic achievement was South Africa Now, a weekly television news magazine about South Africa at a critical moment in its history, which ran on public television in the US and in more than thirty foreign countries from 1988-91. When Nelson Mandela toured the US after his release from prison, Danny was the only American documentary filmmaker Mandela trusted to travel with him and to film the tour.
Danny wasn’t always easy to work with, but as demanding geniuses go, he was generous, and tender, and genuinely saw you, not just what you could do for him. The two books we did together, The More You Watch, The More You Know and Madiba A-Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela could be harrowing experiences as we hammered out the chapters, but when we were done they were his two best books, and they are two of our best books too. Danny gave every bit as much as he demanded, and more.
As he struggled with his awful illness this past year, he kept the pain to himself, only talked about the positives in his battle to beat pancreatic cancer, and he cracked more jokes and puns than usual, a joke a minute it seemed. Last October we went to see the movie Kill the Messenger, based on Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance. He loved the film so much he was talking back to the screen, to the dismay of some of the people sitting in our row. We’d both known and worked with Gary, and felt Jeremy Renner’s depiction of our friend was on the mark, something to be excited about.
Last August, when Danny visited us in the country, a seven hour highway drive that beat the shit out of his little Smart Car, he had us rolling in the aisles telling the story of how years earlier he had gotten Mercedes Benz to provide a free car to GlobalVision, the production company he ran with Rory O’Connor.
To Danny not only was nothing impossible, doing the impossible was actually part of the master plan, which is why people like Nelson Mandela felt so comfortable with Danny. My uncle Barney Simon, a South African theater director, loved Danny. I was fortunate to be able to continue their friendship into the next generation. And I never got over my surprise at the way Danny could find the words to describe our vision at Seven Stories so much better than I could.
He was part saint, part St. Bernard. We loved him and he loved so many of us back.