Esther Kartiganer, who began a distinguished career in television as a temporary assistant at CBS and rose through the ranks to become a senior producer with the network’s flagship “60 Minutes” news show, died on Aug. 1 in Aspen, Colo., apparently of a massive heart attack. Her brother, Joseph Kartiganer, said she suddenly collapsed and “bystanders could detect no pulse.” She was 74.
About 25 years ago, at a time when very few women had managed to crack journalism’s glass ceiling, Ms. Kartiganer was producing major news stories on such topics as shaken baby syndrome, then almost unheard of. She won 13 Emmy Awards altogether over her 40-year career. A groundbreaking piece on the dangers of sulfites, which can bring on a number of medical problems in people who are allergic, led to new federal regulations regarding their use as food preservatives.
In a Brandeis University newsletter eulogizing Ms. Kartiganer, who was a Brandeis graduate, a CBS colleague, Allen Alter, wrote that “in later years, she became the conscience of ‘60 Minutes’ and ensured that what appeared on the air was journalistically sound.” In 2004, however, a segment about President George W. Bush’s military service brought on a storm she could never have anticipated.
The story, reported by Dan Rather and based on documents suggesting that the president had been accepted into the Texas Air National Guard thanks to his father’s influence, thus avoiding service in Vietnam, was broadcast during Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign, and CBS was later forced to retract it on the grounds that the documents could not be verified.
Ms. Kartiganer was taken off “60 Minutes” within a few months. She left the network not long after and later sued for defamation. The suit was settled on a confidential basis, but CBS made a large gift in her honor to Brandeis that same year to help fund a professorship in women’s and gender studies.
For 24 years, Ms. Kartiganer spent summer weekends and all of July, when “60 Minutes” took a monthlong break, in a rented house in Amagansett, where she played tennis at the old Dunes Club and swam off Indian Wells Beach. The house was sold around the time she left CBS; after that she stayed for longer periods in Aspen, where she owned a condominium. She was a good skier and never missed the Aspen Music Festival, “but Amagansett in the summer was her real love,” said a friend, Elaine Abelson.
Ms. Kartiganer was born in Berlin on Jan. 14, 1938, to Harold and Lily Wolkowitz Kartiganer. The family got out of Germany a step ahead of the Nazis when she was 1 year old. She grew up in New York City, where she kept an apartment throughout her life, and attended the Bronx High School of Science, winning a scholarship to Brandeis. She graduated in 1959.
She never married. In addition to her brother, she leaves two nieces, a grand-niece, and a grand-nephew. In accordance with her wishes she was cremated and her ashes spread in Aspen. Mr. Kartiganer said a memorial service will be held in the city in the fall.