Herbert Kaplow, veteran TV correspondent, dies at 86

July 31, 2013

Herbert Kaplow, a longtime Washington-based television correspondent for NBC News and ABC News who covered the White House, the space program, civil rights and the Cuban revolution, died July 27 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County. He was 86.

He had complications from a stroke, his son Larry Kaplow said.

Mr. Kaplow spent more than 40 years as a network TV correspondent, working with such renowned broadcasters as Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Howard K. Smith and Peter Jennings.

Mr. Kaplow filed reports from all 50 states and more than 50 foreign countries throughout his career, and he was part of teams that won Emmy and Peabody awards. He was at the microphone to announce many turning points in history, including the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, outlawing school segregation; Fidel Castro’s seizure of power in Cuba on New Year’s Day 1959; and major civil rights marches of the 1960s.

In 1975, Mr. Kaplow compiled a special report for ABC about the beleaguered nation of Haiti, long under the repressive control of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

“Without repudiating Papa Doc’s policies, Baby Doc promised reforms,” Mr. Kaplow said in his report, which combined gravity with sensitivity. “One of those reforms [was] a claim that he dissolved the dreaded Tonton Macoute, the murderous roving bands whose only loyalty was to the president. But the Tonton Macoute still exists, less openly, but perhaps as pervasively. Tontons are in the army. Most of the cabdrivers are members. This man, one of our drivers, was a Tonton. Our other driver, frightened of prison, refused to take our camera crew to several locations.”

Mr. Kaplow covered every presidential election from 1956 to 1992, and he may have spent more time reporting on Richard M. Nixon than any other journalist. He first met Nixon in 1956, when he was vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower.

When Nixon was the Republican candidate for president in 1960, Mr. Kaplow covered his fateful television debate with Democrat John F. Kennedy. Nixon, who refused to wear makeup to hide his five o’clock shadow, sweated profusely on camera and ended up losing to his younger, more telegenic opponent.

“In the first 10 minutes of the first Nixon-Kennedy debate in Chicago,” Mr. Kaplow said in a 1996 interview with the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, “Kennedy demonstrated in dramatic fashion that he could play in the big leagues, too, and that probably more than any other single factor influenced the final results.”

Mr. Kaplow covered Nixon throughout his victorious 1968 presidential campaign and then spent four years as NBC’s White House correspondent.

Early in the 1968 campaign, Nixon suggested to reporters that there should be a moratorium on any discussion of the Vietnam War. Mr. Kaplow reportedly replied to Nixon, “You ought to hold your next rally in a huge moratorium.”

Herbert Elias Kaplow was born Feb. 2, 1927, in New York City. While still in his teens, he served in an Army broadcast unit in 1945 and 1946, and he helped cover the Nazi war-crime trials in Nuremberg after World War II.

He graduated in 1948 from Queens College in New York with a bachelor’s degree in history and then worked at a radio station in New Brunswick, N.J. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in 1951, he came to Washington to work for WRC-TV.

Mr. Kaplow soon joined NBC’s network news operation, where he remained for more than 20 years before moving to ABC’s Washington bureau in 1972. He retired in 1994 but continued to work on special reports for ABC television and radio for several more years. He volunteered with a hospice facility in Northern Virginia.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, the former Betty Rae Koplow of Falls Church; three sons, Steven Kaplow of Falls Church, Bobby Kaplow of Arlington and Larry Kaplow of Washington; a sister; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Kaplow was among the first television reporters to develop an expertise in space exploration. In the early days of the space program, he said in the 1992 book “Unsilent Revolution: Television News and American Public Life,” by Robert J. Donovan and Raymond L. Scherer, unmanned launches often took place without public notice.

He and other reporters were left to gauge for themselves when a rocket was ready to lift off and how to document the moment.

“The way we could tell when they were near a launch was by watching the vapor that oozed from the top of the rockets,” Mr. Kaplow said. “It could go on for weeks. When the venting stopped, you knew they were within minutes of a launch. . . . Then all of a sudden the steam would stop, and everybody would jump into action and turn on the cameras.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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