In the early days of television news, when announcers often read wire stories on the air and reporting was largely left to the newspapers, Mr. Pressman did his own reporting, writing and reading his own scripts, and was one of the first television journalists to take a camera crew into the streets for stand-up reports from the scenes of fires, murders and other spot news events.
With remarkable endurance, he covered many of New York’s major stories: the 1956 sinking of the Andrea Doria off Nantucket; the arrival of the Beatles in 1964; the 1969 Woodstock festival; regional power blackouts in 1965 and 1977; and a host of elections, protests, plane crashes, subway accidents, political scandals, transit strikes and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and 2001.
He interviewed Fidel Castro, Golda Meir, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Casey Stengel, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Bella Abzug and every mayor and governor of New York in the last half of the 20th century, as well as every president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.
Politicians and other newsmakers were his guests on WNBC’s “News Forum” on Sundays. And he made award-winning documentaries on homelessness, the mentally ill, racial conflicts and other subjects. He moderated political debates and town hall meetings, and occasionally reported from Israel and other parts of the Middle East.
Gabriel Pressman was born in the Bronx on Feb. 14, 1924, the son of Dr. Benjamin and Lena Rifkin Pressman. His father, a dentist, bought him a hectograph, an early duplicating device, to produce a family newspaper, and he wrote pieces about his grandmother’s sponge cake and a cousin’s first tooth. He started a newspaper at P.S. 35 in the Bronx, and at Morris High School was editor of the student newspaper and class president.
He attended New York University, majoring in history, and in the summers of 1941 and 1942 was a reporter for The Peekskill Evening Star. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and was a communications officer in the South Pacific. Back at N.Y.U., he earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in 1946 before receiving a master’s degree in 1947 from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism
After a stint as a reporter for The Newark Evening News in 1947, he won a fellowship to travel in Europe in 1948 and 1949 and wrote articles for the Overseas News Agency and The Times. In Budapest, he covered the 1949 show trial of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, who was convicted of treason for opposing Stalinist repression in Hungary.
From 1949 to 1954 he was a World-Telegram reporter, covering City Hall during the administrations of Mayors William O’Dwyer, Vincent R. Impellitteri and Robert F. Wagner. He began broadcasting in 1954 at WRCA radio, becoming the station’s first roving reporter, and two years later moved to WRCA-TV in the same capacity.
In 1953, he married Emma Mae Kracht. The couple had three children, Mark, Elizabeth and Margaret, and were divorced in 1967. In 1972, Mr. Pressman, who lived in Manhattan, married Vera Elisabeth Olsen. They had one son, Michael.
Over the decades Mr. Pressman became the best-known television reporter in the city, a schmoozy journalist who colleagues said was earnestly passionate about news and public affairs. They teased him about his trench coats and corduroy suits, and critics said his questions were sometimes amateurish — he would ask how it felt to be snared in a scandal or hurt in an accident.
But supporters defended his tenacity, and he won many honors, including 11 Emmys, a Peabody and a George Polk Award. As president of the New York Press Club, he pushed Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for greater access to public records and to crime scenes, where the news media was typically penned up far from the action. The Giuliani administration, he said, had “some characteristics of a police state.”
And colleagues said he tried to rise above the limits of his medium. While television newscasts usually emphasized celebrities and disasters for their striking visuals, Mr. Pressman often covered news for its significance — housing violations or workers fighting for pensions — regardless of visual possibilities.
In 1982, when a homeless old woman froze to death in a cardboard box in Manhattan, he examined her life as well as her death. Tony Schwartz, in a review for The Times, called his reporting “a genuine piece of enterprise,” adding: “In contrast to the police-blotter approach that so often characterizes local television news, Mr. Pressman tried to explore a more basic question about a death: Why did it happen?”
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