Robert Pierpoint, a CBS Newsman whose coverage of six presidents made him one of the longest-serving White House correspondents and whose reports from the front lines in Korea were among the first for television to focus on the individual soldier, died Saturday after complications related to hip surgery. He was 86 and lived in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Pierpoint worked in Washington when the biggest stories of the day were making history in the nation's capital. He covered Watergate, the Pentagon Papers and the resignation of Richard Nixon, as part of a "Murder's Row" of reporting talent out of the CBS News Washington Bureau that included Lesley Stahl, Roger Mudd, Bob Schieffer and Ed Bradley.
"Bob was one of the best of the best," his colleague Bob Schieffer said today.
Pierpoint won two Emmy Awards, and also earned the Drew Pearson Foundation Award for Investigative Reporting.
He made history early in his 40-year career at CBS News when one of his reports from Korea was featured on the first "See it Now" broadcast on Nov. 18, 1951. Pierpoint's report was among the very first on television to focus on the soldier in a more personal style, as opposed to the newsreel film style that featured battles and materiel over the story of the individual trooper.
Pierpoint also appeared on that program's famous "Christmas in Korea" edition on Dec. 29, 1953, playing a lead role in interviewing U.S. troops and covering the story of Ethiopian soldiers involved in the war.
Pierpoint reported throughout the conflict, occasionally on television but mostly on CBS Radio for "World News Roundup." He continued to cover the region after the war, serving as Far East bureau chief until 1957.
Pierpoint's pioneering Korean War reports led to his voice playing a central role in the most-watched television show in the history of the medium. In the final episode of "MASH" in 1983, it is Pierpoint's voice on the radio reporting the cease fire that would mark the end of the fighting - and the iconic CBS program. Nielsen estimated the audience at 125 million viewers - still the single most-watched television episode in history.
Pierpoint made his biggest mark at CBS News covering political wars. As a White House correspondent from Dwight Eisenhower's administration beginning in 1957, through Jimmy Carter's in 1980, few have trailed as many presidents as Pierpoint.
His favorite was John F. Kennedy. Riding the press bus in Dallas the day Kennedy was assassinated, the former war correspondent recognized the distinct sound of rifle shots. He made his way to Parkland Hospital where he found a nurse who showed him to a phone. He reported to CBS News in New York everything he saw in the hospital for three hours, except for one important fact: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy emerged from her husband's room with blood on her pink jacket. He regretted not reporting the sight, telling the Santa Barbara News Press in an article only a few weeks ago, "I was in shock."
His 1981 book, "At the White House," described his 23 years covering presidential politics.
"One Saturday, he came directly from the court to film a report on the White House lawn," Schieffer recalled. "Viewers saw him only from the waist up, but those who saw him full frame figured out quickly where he got the story" - as evidenced by his tennis shorts.
"When that picture was published, some of the brass thought it 'undignified,'" Schieffer said. "But Bob noted he got a pretty good story that day!"
He moved over to the State Department in 1980, just in time to cover the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. In 1983, he joined Charles Kuralt on "Sunday Morning," where he enjoyed reporting stories of much longer length than those he filed for "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." He retired from CBS News in 1990.
Robert Charles Pierpoint was born May 16, 1925 in Redondo Beach, Calif. He joined the Navy upon his high school graduation in 1943, training stateside until his discharge in 1945. He attended California Institute of Technology on the G.I. Bill and graduated from California's University of Redlands in 1948. He then went overseas for graduate study at the University of Stockholm.
Pierpoint joined CBS shortly after in 1949. He had gone to Finland on a school break when a Communist uprising broke out, and was asked to report on the news as a stringer. He was then invited to continue on as a stringer in Stockholm, where he had a chance encounter with Edward R. Murrow that led to his role at CBS. After covering the Nobel prizes, Pierpoint was contacted by Murrow from New York who asked for copy of William Faulkner's speech accepting the prize in literature. This contact led to an offer of a correspondent job, which he took in 1951.
Murrow then sent him to Tokyo, where he was when the conflict in Korea broke out.
Pierpoint is survived by his wife of 52 years, Patricia; a sister, Ruth Hogg; four children (Marta, Kim, Stanley and Eric, a film and television actor); and five grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Charles and Emma Pierpoint Scholarship Fund at the University of Redlands, 1200 E. Colton Ave., P.O. Box 3080, Redlands, Calif. 92373.