Veteran CBS newsman Joseph Wershba dies at 90

CBS News producer/reporter Joe Wershba, who career spanned more than 50 years in broadcast and print journalism, died Saturday, May 14, 2011 at age 90. CBS News

Veteran TV producer and reporter Joseph Wershba, whose resume includes Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" broadcasts exposing Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunt in the 1950s, and who was one of the original producers of "60 Minutes," died Saturday at age 90.

Wershba, who resided in Floral Park, N.Y., succumbed to complications from pneumonia in North Shore Hospital on Long Island, with his wife Shirley at his side.

Wershba's career spanned more than half a century in broadcast and print journalism. A two-time Emmy Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee, Wershba joined CBS News in 1944 as a radio news writer, rising to news director of WCBS Radio in New York. He became a correspondent for Murrow and Fred Friendly's "Hear it Now" radio series, and was named a field producer when the show transferred to television.

Wershba was the on-camera reporter and field producer for Murrow's 1953 expose on the U.S. Air Force's attempts to discharge Lt. Milo Radulovich owing to his family's alleged associations with the Communist Party.

Murrow sent Wershba to Radulovich's home in Michigan to be interviewed. "He was just the type of fellow who would say, 'What in the hell is happening to this country that we love?'" Wershba later recalled.

The broadcast helped expose and discredit the "Red Scare" tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Wershba also worked on the 1954 report on McCarthy that - using the crusading senator's own words - dealt a mortal blow to him and his movement.

Video: "See It Now," April 6, 1954 (Complete broadcast)

The episode was dramatized in the 2005 film, "Good Night, and Good Luck," with Robert Downey, Jr., playing Wershba.

"Joe Wershba was a wonderful man who was a pioneer of broadcast journalism, without the notoriety of his more celebrated colleagues Murrow and Don Hewitt," said Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of "60 Minutes." "He loved this organization, and almost everything he touched became part of the foundation for CBS News, including '60 Minutes.'"

Overtime: Morley Safer pays tribute to Joe Wershba

In the late Fifties Wershba pursued freelance documentary, and joined the New York Post, where he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for an investigation into assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's early days in New York City. In 1964 Wershba returned to CBS News, producing award-winning documentaries, including "Gideon's Trumpet: The Poor Man and the Law."

He was chosen as one of six original producers for "60 Minutes," which debuted in 1968. Wershba worked on the program for 20 years, and won two Emmys: for "What Happened in Tonkin Gulf," a 1971 investigation with Morley Safer into the incident that began the Vietnam War; and a 1978 profile by Safer of the mayor of Jerusalem, "Teddy Kolleck's Jerusalem," Among Wershba's other memorable segments were profiles of ball player Pete Rose, photographer Yousef Karsh, and Western author Louis L'Amour. (Watch the Pete Rose report at left.)

"Joe was an old school reporter and a wonderful traveling companion," said Safer. "His only hobby was collecting. He collected books and people, especially people. In all the years we worked together I never heard him utter a single cynical phrase. He was also a great patriot, in the best sense of that much abused word."

After retiring from CBS News in 1988, he and his wife, journalist Shirley Wershba, produced documentaries for Walter Cronkite's production company, Cronkite-Ward, and for the Walt Disney Company, and helped research Cronkite's bestselling memoirs, "A Reporter's Life."

Born in Manhattan on August 19, 1920, Wershba pursued journalism at his Brooklyn high school, and edited the newspaper Brooklyn College. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and discharged as a First Lieutenant.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Shirley, whom he met on the overnight shift at CBS. (Their subsequent secret marriage was also depicted in "Good Night, and Good Luck.") He is also survived by a brother, Charles; a daughter, Randi; a son, Donald; and two granddaughters.

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