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May 18, 2011

Joseph Wershba, Renowned CBS News Producer, Passes

Wershba was best known for his influential work with CBS News icon Edward R. Murrow.

Joseph Wershba, a longtime producer and reporter for CBS News who is best known for his work with Edward R. Murrow, died May 14, 2011, in Long Island, New York. He was 90.

According to news reports, the cause was complications of pneumonia.

Wershba and Murrow’s 1954 expose on Senator Joseph McCarthy, which was part of the CBS series See It Now, was the subject of the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck. In the film, Wershba was portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., Murrow by David Strathairn.

The McCarthy segment on See It Now is credited with hastening the end the so-called communist “witch hunt.”

Later, Wershba became one of the original producers of 60 Minutes.

He was born in New York City on August 19, 1920, and grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He attended Brooklyn College, and during World War II he served in the U.S. Army. In 1944, after his discharge from the military, he went to work at CBS News as a radio news writer.

Four years later, he moved to the network’s Washington bureau as a radio correspondent. There, he worked with Murrow and Fred Friendly on Hear it Now series, the influential radio precursor to See It Now. He also worked on-air with Walter Cronkite in early television news at the network’s local Washington station.

In 1953, Wershba was the on-camera reporter and field producer for The Milo Radulovich Story, which exposed the U.S. Air Force’s effort to discharge a reserve officer because of his family’s indirect association with communism.

From 1958 to 1964, Wershba was a columnist and feature writer for The New York Post.

Then he returned to CBS News, where he produced documentaries for CBS Reports and was selected to help launch 60 Minutes, which premiered in 1968.

For his work on 60 Minutes, Wershba won two Emmy awards. One of them, for What Happened in Tonkin Gulf, recognized his 1971 investigation with correspondent Morley Safer into the 1964 naval encounter off the coast of Vietnam.

Wershba retired from CBS News in 1988 and, with his journalist wife, Shirley, ran a documentary production company. Together they worked on documentaries for Walter Cronkite’s production company, Cronkite-Ward, and for the Walt Disney Company. They also contributed research to Cronkite’s memoirs, A Reporter’s Life.

He is survived by his wife, a brother, a daughter, a son and two granddaughters.

On October 14, 1997, Joseph Wershba had the distinction of being interviewed for the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. Durong the six-hour interview, conducted in Manhasset Hills, New York, by Jeff Kisseloff, Wershba spoke about working with Fred Friendly and Edward R. Murrow on See It Now (including the famous program on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy), producing for CBS Reports and segment-producing 60 Minutes for over 20 years.

The entire interview is available online here.

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