After earning his master’s degree from Columbia in 1947, Gabe Pressman worked for a short period as a journalist for the Newark Evening News. Columbia then awarded him a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship, and he spent the next 15 months in Europe as a freelance journalist, contributing feature stories for various outlets, including the Overseas News Agency (a subsidiary of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency). In 1948, he was briefly arrested in Berlin while in the Soviet sector of the city, in what was reported to be a sign of increasing hostilities from the Soviet government toward the west. He was headed to the Polish Consulate Berlin when he was detained, but was released two hours later. Among the events he covered in Europe was the 1949 show trial of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who opposed the communist regime of the new Hungarian People’s Republic, which Pressman covered for The New York Times and for Edward R. Murrow’s radio program. Gabe Pressman worked for various New York City newspapers after his return from Europe before becoming a reporter in 1954 for what then was NBC’s radio station WNBC, and moved over to television in 1956. Pressman spent the bulk of his broadcast career with NBC, except for a period from 1972 through 1979, when he reported for what was then the Metromedia station, WNEW-TV, Channel 5 (now WNYW). Since 1945, Pressman covered the lives of 10 New York City mayors, 10 New York State governors, 15 Senators from New York, and 13 United States Presidents.
Gabe Pressman, who described himself as “just a little Jewish guy from the Bronx,” became a fixture of New York City. Journalist Robert D. McFadden wrote of Pressman, “A profound, matinee-idol anchorman he was not. But to generations of mayors, governors and ordinary New Yorkers, he was Gabe: the short, rumpled, pushy guy from Channel 4 who seemed always on the scene, elbowing his way to the front and jabbing his microphone in the face of a witness or a big shot.” Pressman pioneered street reporting as the first television journalist to do live and on-scene coverage of events. After President Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963, Pressman went out on the street to interview New Yorkers for their reactions; he was live among a crowd of people listening to a radio update when the news came that Kennedy had died. Gabe Pressman was co-anchor (with Bill Ryan) of New York’s first early-evening half-hour newscast, the Pressman-Ryan Report, born out of a devastating 1963 New York City-area newspaper strike. He covered the New York region for NBC News, WNBC-TV and WNBC-AM radio. He was sent by the network to report on many historic events, including the 1956 sinking of the Andrea Doria, Elvis Presley’s Army stint which went through Brooklyn, one-on-one interviews with Marilyn Monroe, Harry S. Truman and Fidel Castro, the 1964 arrival of the Beatles at Kennedy Airport, the assassination of Malcolm X, chasing after newly inaugurated New York mayor John Lindsay in the streets during the 1966 transit strike, the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where he reported on the clashes between demonstrators and police, and the aftermath of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
Gabe Pressman was a reporter for NBC News at the Woodstock festival in upstate New York in 1969. He is seen in the motion picture that came out of the festival. Pressman has been credited with helping create the New York City institution known as the “perp walk,” which was born in the 1970s when he clashed with famed District Attorney Robert Morgenthau over access to filming notable suspects after they had been arrested. Morgenthau recalled, “Gabe said, ‘We need pictures to report your cases,’ and I said, ‘You’re breaking my heart.'” In Pressman’s later WNBC-TV years, he was sent to Israel quite often to cover Middle Eastern crises and conflicts, and often dealt with Israeli, Palestinian and other Mideast politicians and diplomats back in his home base of New York. It was always joked among New York television insiders that Pressman had covered Middle Eastern politics since the time of Moses – Robert Moses – but on a serious note Pressman’s reporting on Israel pre-dated the state’s official 1948 establishment. His reputation as an intrepid reporter is the subject of a gentle lampoon on a recording of Bob and Ray (“The Two and Only,” Columbia Records, ca. 1970). A reporter billed as “Gabe Pressman” was played by actor J.D. Cullum in Billy Crystal’s HBO film 61*, reporting unfavorably on the baseball exploits of Roger Maris (played by Barry Pepper).
He was a past president of the New York Press Club, and as head of that organization fought for the rights of New York’s journalists, both print and electronic. Up until the time of his death in June 2017, Pressman still worked part-time at WNBC, mostly as a blog writer about New York City news on the station’s website, and he was active on Twitter. In 2014, he stated that it was an arthritic knee that kept him from chasing stories like he used to. A few months before his death, he covered the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. Gabe Pressman died in his sleep at his home in Manhattan on June 23, 2017. He was 93 years old.
- February, 14, 1924
- Bronx, New York
- June, 23, 2017
- Manhattan, New York