Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning CBS News producer who was Tel Aviv bureau chief during the first Palestinian intifada and produced stories for all of the News division’s broadcasts over a 27-year career with CBS, has died. He was 64 and died at home in Manhattan last night of a brain tumor diagnosed last September.
“Michael was a great friend to so many of us at CBS News. He was a real newsman who was naturally curious and skeptical of almost everything. He was also fun to be around, a caring friend, and a beloved member of our family at CBS News,” said CBS News Chairman and 60 MINUTES Executive Producer Jeff Fager, who worked with Rosenbaum for many years. “He died way too young. We will miss him and everything about him very much.”
Rosenbaum was best known for his collaborations with correspondents Bob Simon and Dan Rather on breaking stories in the Middle East while he was bureau chief in Tel Aviv from 1989 to 1995. His field producing was a critical part of the CBS News coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, which won the Peabody award and two Emmy awards.
“He was one of the very few people I've known who didn't have a single illusion about himself; not a trace of egotism or narcissism,” said Simon “What I don't think he knew and what I hope he realized over the last six months, is how many friends he had, how many of us loved him. Michael tried to conceal his loving, compassionate nature beneath a crusty exterior. He never quite succeeded.”
His skills and experience eventually earned him a role as a news magazine producer for 60 MINUTES and “60 Minutes II,” where he produced for Simon, Rather and each of the correspondents on the two broadcasts for 13 years. During this period, Rosenbaum also spent a year at the CBS EVENING NEWS as a senior producer.
He broke news in 2001 with a “60 Minutes II” interview of the brother of convicted Cold War spy Ethel Rosenberg, who said he lied in testimony that helped send his sister to the electric chair. The story won Rosenbaum his fourth Emmy.
He won his first Emmy for a SUNDAY MORNING story he produced with Simon in Saudi Arabia in late 1989. In the region to set up a temporary bureau to cover the imminent Persian Gulf War, Rosenbaum and Simon produced a thoughtful feature about green U.S. troops and their Vietnam-veteran trainers on the eve of war. The story won the Emmy for Outstanding General Coverage of a Breaking News Story.
Rosenbaum served as Tel Aviv bureau chief when hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians were at a peak, a year after the start of the five-year-long Palestinian uprising known as “The First Intifada.” In November 1989, he and Simon decided to get a story from inside the intifada. They risked their lives to enter the Nablus casbah, the ancient center of the town of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, a hotbed of the uprising. After several days and close calls, they emerged with the first-hand account of the “trial” and subsequent dumping of the body of a man accused by the PLO of collaborating with the Israelis.
At the same time as the Intifada was playing out, another huge story was breaking in Eastern Europe: the failure of Communism. The next month Rosenbaum and Simon found themselves in the streets of Bucharest, Romania, covering the fall of Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The team had another close call on that story when armed men restrained them at gunpoint and held them overnight.
After his work covering the Rabin assassination in 1995, Rosenbaum returned to New York as a senior producer for the CBS News Productions unit and produced a “quick turnaround” episode on Rabin’s life and assassination for client A&E Biography.
This led to a position at 60 MINUTES, which was experimenting with a “crash unit” tasked with producing fast, timely pieces. Rosenbaum joined the broadcast in that unit as producer in early 1996. Among the stories he produced was the first television interview of the family of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, broadcast on 60 MINUTES in September 1996.
He then went to the CBS EVENING NEWS and a year later was picked for the launch of “60 Minutes II” in January 1999, where he served as a producer for the next six years. He moved over to 60 MINUTES for three seasons until he retired from CBS News in 2008 after 27 years. Afterwards, he continued to pitch in as a freelance. Until his diagnosis, he produced stories for CBS News Productions and CBS News’ 48 HOURS. He also did some work for the cable-TV news program “Dan Rather Reports.”
Michael Seth Rosenbaum was born in Rochester, N.Y., on April 29, 1948. After graduating from Cornell University in 1969 with a bachelor of science degree in Industrial and Labor Relations, he joined the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Soon after, he moved to New York City to take a job as a reporter for the civil service newspaper The Chief.
Rosenbaum then moved over to the Municipal Employees Union newspaper. He was the editor there from 1973 to 1976, when he left to become a reporter for The New York Post. After two years at the Post, he became assistant to New York’s deputy mayor for labor relations for a year, before re-entering journalism in 1979 as City Hall reporter for New York public station WNET. He left journalism again briefly in 1980, becoming press secretary for independent presidential candidate John Anderson.
Rosenbaum began his career at CBS in 1981 as a news writer at WCBS-TV, the CBS-owned station in New York. He rose to executive producer of the station’s flagship “6 O’Clock News” and, in 1986 was asked to join the CBS EVENING NEWS. He was posted to the CBS News bureau in Chicago as a field producer to cover national news. He shifted over to covering politics in 1988 when he was assigned to cover the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis. After the election, Rosenbaum went to Tel Aviv as bureau chief in February 1989.
He is survived by his brother, David, of Los Angeles, his sister, Judy Witt of Evanston, Ill., nephews Adam and Daniel Rosenbaum and niece Abby Witt. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.
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