Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ike Pappas

Few journalists were as driven to get the story as Ike Pappas. Ike died yesterday at the age of 75 near Washington DC. He was a respected and well-known correspondent for CBS News from the early 60's until he was laid off in 1987 in a major corporate cutback.

Ike didn't just walk into a room. "Okay, what's going on?" he would thunder. Intensely wound, he would insist on answers, he needed to know now! He was blunt, honest and impatient. He was a serious and committed journalist who pursued his profession with great energy and integrity.

In 1963, Ike Pappas became broadcast history. Following the assassination of President John Kennedy, Ike waited with other reporters in the basement of Dallas police headquarters as Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred to a cell.

"Do you have anything to say in your defense?" he shouted to Oswald. Just then Jack Ruby brushed by Ike and fatally shot Oswald. "There's a shot!" Ike shouted. "Oswald has been shot. Oswald has been shot. A shot rang out, mass confusion here. All the doors have been locked." He paused, "Holy mackerel." His report on WNEW radio is still amazing today.

Ike went on to CBS News where he covered the Viet Nam war. He then served as a CBS News bureau correspondent in Chicago. He was already a legend when I arrived in 1976. He frequently covered the auto industry in Detroit. I actually saw a sign at the Ford world headquarters communications office, "Answerable only to God and Ike Pappas." His impatience would occasionally get the best of him. He covered many disasters and plane crashes. There was a story, maybe apocryphal, that while interviewing a tearful relative who had lost a loved one, he suddenly stopped the interview. "10 seconds, 10 seconds, your answer has to be 10 seconds. It's for the Evening News!"

He was transferred to the CBS News Washington bureau and was assigned to the Pentagon. He was highly regarded by the Pentagon staff and became an almost daily contributor to the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. His presentation was always no-nonsense and to the point. You could trust him. The nation got to know Ike as part of the elite CBS News Washington bureau team. His name even frequently appeared in the New York Times crossword puzzle; "Pentagon correspondent."

He had made it. He was the son of Greek immigrants who owned a delicatessen in the Flushing section of Queens, New York. He worked his way through Long Island University and spent two years in the Army. He found his way into journalism literally by accident. After he wrecked three trucks the Army assigned him to "Stars and Stripes."

While I have many great memories of my time working with Ike, I remember how he enjoyed life. When he was based in Chicago, he would frequently take us to dinner in that city's booming Greek town on Halsted Street. When he walked the streets or entered a restaurant, the people would shout his name. He was a hero, and everyone seemed to know and love him. These people were his extended family.

In 1981, I was assigned to cover the war in Beirut. When I first arrived I received my orientation in a French restaurant overlooking Beirut from the Chouf Mountains. Ike greeted me, "what's going on?" He was there holding court and in his element: a great story and a wonderful restaurant. We posed together for a picture outside the restaurant. He gave me a big bear hug and said, "Hey, Joe, let's go get'em!"

Thanks for the memories Ike.

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