NBC 4 New York senior correspondent Gabe Pressman, a New York icon and pioneering reporter whose local broadcast career spanned more than six decades, died Friday at the age of 93.
Credited with being the first television reporter in New York, Pressman called NBC 4 New York home for more than half a century. He is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren and his great grandson.
"This is an incredibly sad day for the WNBC family. Gabe Pressman was a television icon who served our viewers for more than 50 years," Eric Lerner, WNBC president and general manager, said in a statement. "He was truly one of a kind and represented the very best in television news reporting. Gabe was still coming to work and thinking about the next story. He was a treasured colleague and friend to all of us and he will be missed. We extend our deepest condolences to the Pressman family during this difficult time."
New Yorkers embraced Pressman over his 60-plus years on television, and the public outpouring of memories and condolences was immediate and heartfelt. Mayor de Blasio tweeted condolences, calling Pressman "a New York City treasure" who mentored "countless reporters."
During his time with NBC 4 New York, Pressman compiled a peerless record of investigative reporting in politics and social issues. Having invented the craft of street reporting, Pressman is recognized by the viewing audience, political and community leaders, and his NBC colleagues, as one of New York's most respected journalists.
Steve Scott, president of the New York Press Club, issued a statement calling Pressman "a tenacious seeker of truth" who fought "ferociously for journalists' rights" and tirelessly defended the First Amendment of the Constitution.
"Gabe's contributions to the field of journalism extended far beyond what his viewers saw on television. It was his hard work behind the scenes that kept the cameras rolling when some would have preferred they be turn off; he kept public meetings open, when some would have preferred they be closed," Scott said. "When he delivered his annual Freedom of the Press message at the Press Club's Journalism Awards dinner on June 5, he was crystal clear: The First Amendment is under attack, and we can't let our guard down. We can't give up. We have to keep fighting for our rights as journalists."
Pressman dedicated his life to it. In 1947, upon graduating from the Columbia School of Journalism, Pressman worked briefly as a reporter for the Newark Evening News. He was then awarded a Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship from Columbia, which enabled him to travel throughout Europe for 15 months and to freelance feature stories for the Overseas News Agency.
While in Hungary, he covered the famous trial of Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty for The New York Times and for Edward R. Murrow's radio news program. The trial marked the first time that a Primate of the Roman Catholic Church had been tried for treason in modern times.
In 1949, Pressman joined the staff of the New York World Telegram and Sun as a City Hall reporter. During his years at the paper, he covered the administrations of William O'Dwyer, Vincent Impellitteri and Robert Wagner.
He covered major stories including the sinking of the Andrea Doria and the Weinberger kidnapping on Long Island. During that year, Pressman also anchored WRCA-TV's "The Shell Oil News," a five-minute local evening newscast in which he provided the metropolitan area's first major television news reporting.
The program subsequently expanded to a 10-minute format when Bill Ryan and Ray Owen were added as reporters. As a reaction to the great newspaper strike of 1963, the station expanded to a full half-hour evening newscast titled "The Pressman-Ryan Report."
Amid the tumult of the late 60s, Pressman covered major stories like the New York City blackout, the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, civil strife in Newark and New York, the mayoral campaigns for Abraham Beame, William F. Buckley, John Lindsay, and the entrance of Robert F. Kennedy into New York politics.
In July 1972, Pressman moved to WNEW-TV (now WNYW-TV) as a general assignment reporter. During his eight years there he wrote and hosted many specials and series, including "The War On Cancer" (an investigation of the activities of the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society focusing on the politics of cancer), and "The Mood of America" (a report on the 1976 presidential election).
Since rejoining NBC 4 New York in 1980, Pressman had been responsible for numerous award-winning programs and multi-part series including: The Homeless: Shame Of A City; The Hungry; Asylum In The Streets; To Bear Witness (a half-hour special on the gathering of holocaust survivors in Jerusalem in the summer of 1981); A Crisis Of Conscience (chronicled the 1982 turmoil within Israel over the massacre in the Lebanese refugee camps); the 1985 Democratic Presidential Primary Debate; Ask The Governors (an open forum with Cuomo, Kean and O'Neill telecast live in July 1983); the New Jersey and Long Island Town Meetings; multiple overseas reports from Israel; and timely coverage of key political issues on "News Forum."
Pressman was a combat naval officer in WWII and served as a communications officer on the submarine chaser "PC 470" in the South Pacific, which participated in two invasions of the Philippines. After the war, he was a public relations officer under Admiral John Towers, Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Pressman won many major awards throughout his career including: 11 Emmy Awards; the 1989 Edward R. Murrow Award; the New York Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences 1986 Governors' Award; a 1985 Olive Award for Excellence in Broadcasting; a Peabody Award in 1984 for “Asylum In The Streets”; a Unity award from Lincoln University in 1981 for "Blacks And The Mayor: How Far Apart?"; the New York Press Club's Feature Award for "The Homeless" in 1982; the UPI New York State Broadcasters' Award for Best Feature News Story "The Homeless" in 1982; the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association Award for Excellence in Individual Reporting in 1982; the New York Chapter Of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi's Deadline Club Award for "The Hungry" in 1983; and two New York area Emmy Awards in 1983 for "The Homeless."
Born in the Bronx, Pressman attended Morris High School, worked as a cub reporter for the Peekskill Evening Star during summer vacations and graduated from New York University with a bachelor's degree in history and government.
In a statement, Gov. Cuomo said Pressman spent his career asking tough questions that New Yorkers wanted answered.
"As people increasingly turned to TV for news, it was Gabe who became the most important and trusted face on New York City airwaves. Gabe was the first TV reporter to bring a film crew into the street to cover news where it was happening," Cuomo said. "I am deeply saddened by Gabe's passing, but know all New Yorkers will continue to benefit from the contributions he made over a lifetime that spoke truth to power."