NEW YORK — Joseph Wershba, a CBS News producer and reporter whose work on a pivotal 1954 expose on Sen. Joseph McCarthy was the centerpiece of the film “Good Night, and Good Luck” has died. He was 90.
Wershba, who became one of the six original “60 Minutes” producers, died Saturday of complications from pneumonia on Long Island, N.Y., where he lived, CBS announced in a statement.
“Joe Wershba was a wonderful man who was a pioneer of broadcast journalism, without the notoriety of his more celebrated colleagues for Ed Murrow and Don Hewitt,” said Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes.” ”Almost everything he touched became part of the foundation for CBS News, including ’60 Minutes.'”
His work for Edward R. Murrow on the “See it Now” segment about McCarthy helped end the 1950s communist witch hunt. Robert Downey Jr. played the role of Wershba in 2005’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” the Oscar-nominated film about Murrow and his CBS News team’s joust with the powerful Wisconsin senator.
Wershba was born in Manhattan on August 19, 1920, and, after attending Brooklyn College and serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he joined CBS News in 1944 as a radio news writer.
Four years later, he was sent to CBS’ Washington bureau as a radio correspondent, where he worked on the groundbreaking Murrow-Fred Friendly “Hear it Now” series, the radio precursor to “See it Now.” While in Washington, he also worked on-air with Walter Cronkite in early television news at the network’s local station.
Wershba was also the on-camera reporter and field producer for Murrow on the 1953 “The Milo Radulovich Story,” which exposed the U.S. Air Force’s move 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 chosen to be one of the original group of producers for “60 Minutes,” which premiered in 1968.
He won two Emmy awards at “60 Minutes.” 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.
“Joe was an old-school reporter and a wonderful travelling companion,” Safer said. “His only hobby was collecting. He collected books and people, especially people.”
Wershba retired from CBS News in 1988 and, with his journalist wife, Shirley, ran a documentary production company.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, whom he met on the overnight shift at CBS. Their subsequent marriage is depicted in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” with Patricia Clarkson playing her character in the film.
He is also survived by a brother, Charles; a daughter, Randi; a son, Donald; and two granddaughters.
The family will hold a graveside service on Tuesday at Pinelawn Memorial Park and Gardens in Farmingdale, N.Y. CBS News said it will announce a memorial at a later date.