Ike Pappas, 75; Newsman Covered Vietnam, Kent State

Ike Pappas, in the light raincoat, broadcast live the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, accused presidential assassin. Pappas later worked for CBS and was a Pentagon correspondent.
Ike Pappas, in the light raincoat, broadcast live the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, accused presidential assassin. Pappas later worked for CBS and was a Pentagon correspondent. (By Jack Beers -- Associated Press)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ike Pappas, 75, a former CBS newsman who covered the Vietnam War, was on the scene of the Kent State University shootings and broadcast live the shooting of accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, died Aug. 31 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County of congestive heart failure. He lived in McLean.

Mr. Pappas, then working for New York radio station WNEW, was in Dallas after John F. Kennedy's Nov. 22, 1963, assassination, and was in the crowd in the police station basement as Oswald was being escorted to jail.

Mr. Pappas, clearly visible in photos of the event because he was wearing a white raincoat, had just jumped forward to ask, "You have anything to say in your defense?" when nightclub owner Jack Ruby shoved Mr. Pappas aside, fired a gun and Oswald crumpled, fatally wounded.

"There's a shot! Oswald has been shot! Oswald has been shot!" Mr. Pappas said on the air. "A shot rang out. Mass confusion here; all the doors have been locked. Holy mackerel! A shot rang out as he was led into his car. Mass confusion . . . rolling, fighting."

"One of the wildest scenes I've ever seen," he said seconds later. Mr. Pappas later testified at Ruby's trial and before the Warren Commission that investigated the Kennedy assassination.

During his subsequent 23-year career with CBS, Mr. Pappas was a consummate field reporter, covering the Vietnam War, Apollo moon shots, antiwar protests, the civil rights movement, the June 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, and the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He was on the Kent State University campus with a CBS News film crew -- the only network crew present -- when the Ohio National Guard shot four students during an antiwar protest in May 1970.

"I had a lot of respect for him," 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney said in an interview yesterday. "He was never a star, just a good, solid reporter. He could do anything. He was what a reporter ought to be."

He was in New York in March 1987 to receive an award from the Greek Orthodox Church when he learned that he was one of 200 CBS News employees who had been laid off. The massive downsizing, engineered by the network's new chief executive Laurence A. Tisch, shocked the industry.

Mr. Pappas picketed CBS headquarters several days later with the Writer's Guild to protest the network's decline in quality. "Because of Mr. Pappas' visibility and outspokenness, he became something of a symbol for what many journalists felt was a sacrifice of news standards to profit-making concerns," the Encyclopedia of Television News said.

Born Icarus Nestor Papademetriou on April 16, 1933, in Flushing, N.Y., he graduated from Long Island University and served in the Army in Germany from 1954 to 1956. He worked as a reporter for the old United Press wire service before joining the New York radio station. He joined CBS Radio News in 1964 and became a full-time TV correspondent in 1967, based in Chicago.

Mr. Pappas became CBS Pentagon correspondent in 1975, then in 1982 moved to the Labor Department beat. Three years later, he became the network's congressional correspondent.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Carolyn Hoffman Pappas of McLean; three children, Theodore Pappas of Newport Beach, Calif., Alexander Pappas of Sugar Land, Texas, and Sarah Thomason of Greenville, S.C.; and two grandchildren.

After the network layoff, Mr. Pappas started his own production company, creating documentaries and working for nonprofit and corporate clients.

A staunch Democrat, he created and ran the Convention Satellite News Service in 1988 for the party. Washington Post television critic Tom Shales said at the time that a couple of congressmen objected to his network-style reporting, assuming his work would be "gentle and mild." But Mr. Pappas scored a newsmaking interview on the first day of the convention with former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Kirk; CNN picked it up and ran it.

Roaming the convention floor, he ran into his former boss, Tisch, bracketed by bodyguards.

"He said something to me like, 'You don't look too bad for all this,' " Mr. Pappas recalled to Shales. "And [he] asked me what I was doing. I said, 'Well, I've got my own company -- just like you.' I'm glad I ran into him because the message was clearly, 'We live on' even after CBS."

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