This may be something for the Guiness Book of Records. A colleague of long-ago is still chasing the news at 90. I’m sure there are a dwindling few who are still at it at 90 or older but probably not at Gabe’s pace.
I knew the indefatigable Gabe Pressman, New York’s premier street reporter. He, along with Mike Wallace, and some others when the medium was young, more or less invented the “gotcha” or surprise interview. With cameras rolling they barged in on key figures, asking questions; fearlessly sometimes but often boorishly and foolishly.
A dark, short, frenetic man with darting, coal-black eyes he was one of the first to venture forth with a camera crew and a microphone to interview the man/woman on the street concerning the latest natural disaster, or crime wave, or political heist. Street reporters like Gabe had to press fast to keep up with the competition from rival stations. All day, if not every hour, bulletins or flashes gave people something new to worry about. Journalists like Gabe had need to keep up with every twist and turn of the story.
For a few years I produced his late night news show at WNBC in New York. It’s hard to know when Gabe slept. If the story were big enough he was up at all hours. He must have slept with his clothes on, another way of saying this newsman had only to spring out of bed, jump in his car (the station hired a car and driver for him) and raced off into the night to get the story.
During those years my phone at home would start ringing at 7 ayem. My wife and I knew only one early caller. It was always Gabe, wanting to be reassured. Did he get the story? Was he too tough or not tough enough? Honestly, how did he come across? I always said that his was a bravo performance. And so would began another day in local news.
Thanks to an e-mail from a New York friend, I caught a reference to Gabe in a story about New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio. Gabe’s name was in the first sentence: “For a moment, the newsman Gabe Pressman caught Mayor Bill de Blasio’s eye on Fifth Avenue during the Columbus Day parade this week. Mr. Pressman, 90, has about 60 years of experience flagging down politicians during parades and public events. ‘I thought I saw an invitation in his eyes to ask a question,’ said Mr. Pressman, who reports for WNBC-TV. ‘But then there was a scrum, a lot of pushing and shoving.’”
The mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, “were swept along by security and for the next 25 blocks, reporters – not including Mr. Pressman – pursued, but were kept away.” Gabe knew better than to waste his time in vain.
The first time I met Gabe I was a journalism student at Columbia. It was
November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot. “How do you feel?” he said, importuning homeward bound commuters. “You’ve heard the news. The president’s been assassinated. How do you feel?’
How do you feel?
I was appalled, thinking that’s not digging for a story, that’s child’s stuff.
Looking back fifty years later I can see where Gabe’s approach made sense. He instinctively knew that TV, at its core, was theatre, an ideal conduit for conveying emotions, as well as information.
It was good to know that Gabe was still going strong.
This article originally appeared in the San Leandro Times.