The Life of an Armenian Icon, Through His Own Words

An Interview with Armen Keteyian

It may have been hard to convince this second-generation Armenian American growing up that he would one day be in charge of a major network’s investigating unit and have eight Emmy Awards that praise his integrity, interviewing skills, and versatility. Add to that his position as a shortstop in a professional baseball franchise, and he would think it wasn’t possible. But that is exactly what happened to him, Armen Keteyian, the chief investigating correspondent of CBS News.

Born in Detroit, Mich., on March 6, 1953, Keteyian spent most of his young life playing basketball, football, and baseball. While at Lahser High School in Bloomfield, he lettered in all three sports and ended up going to Central Michigan University on a partial sports scholarship, and later transferred to San Diego State University to continue his collegiate career.

“Playing shortstop, starting shortstop, first at Central Michigan and then at San Diego State…I had opportunities to pursuit it, I had a chance to sign with the Detroit Tigers and try playing pro, but I felt I couldn’t hit [the ball] well enough. I thought I couldn’t make it. I was good, but wasn’t good enough… At some point and time you don’t quit sports—sports quits you. I learned the most from failure and baseball, which is my biggest failure. I learned from that point on that you can’t throw away opportunities,” Keteyian told the Armenian Weekly.

Though he loved sports, he was an avid reader, and his interest in writing soon sparked. He wrote for his high school and college newspapers, and majored in journalism at both Central Michigan and San Diego State.

Yet, after his transfer to San Diego State, he found himself three units shy of graduation, so he took an internship helping Frank Church, the Senator from Idaho, attempt to win the 1976 presidential campaign.

“I went from an internship volunteer to one of the Senator’s top advance people—advancing the political events. He won in his first primary in Nebraska, which I was heavily involved in, then won his second in Oregon… Then we ran into Jimmy Carter in Ohio and that was the end of Church’s campaign, but it was a tremendous experience being around him and the people,” said Keteyian, who as a result of the internship graduated that year, cum laude with a BA in journalism and a minor in political science.

Once in the real world, he found himself, 23, out of school and in need of a job. “I started at the bottom at a weekly newspaper in La Mesa, Calif., a suburb of San Diego. Then I worked my way up through a suburban daily, to writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune, which was followed by my big break—being hired by Sports Illustrated in New York. That really catapulted me from being a “beachy” guy in San Diego, who had established a pretty good reputation as a writer, to a completely different culture” on the national stage, said Keteyian.

But the progression was not so cut, dry, and easy.

“I was writing sports for a daily paper in Escondido, Calif., but left the business in 1980 because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I took a job at a sports-marketing, public relations firm in San Diego, while writing freelance for the San Diego Union-Tribune, where I was writing about virtually everything but sports. I was writing about finance, art auctions, and business-related stories for the culture section, which I loved. It was great to get away from sports, which at that point I was beginning to get tired of. But, I did a sports-related story on a tri-athlete, Julie Moss, which won a national sports writing award. That convinced Sports Illustrated to finally hire me in May 1982, after a year of trying to get the job, sending the head of research in New York clip after clip. I arrived in June. The family, which at that time was my wife Dede and our first born Kristen, they came later,” he said, adding, “I didn’t just drop into this job or profession, I worked for every ounce.”

From Sports Illustrated, Keteyian was presented with another chance to advance and learn. “In 1988, NBC wanted me for the Seoul Korea Olympics,” he said. “I took a leave of absence from the magazine, where at that point I had done many investigative pieces and had a big-time reputation as an investigative reporter, having worked on college point shaving [betting against the favored team, after a bookie bribes the team to lose], steroids, and pay-to-play [bribing a college player to go to a certain school with money, jewelry, or cars].”

“I had also recently been promoted. I left that to become the on-air reporter for NBC’s coverage of the swimming venue. I had an interest in TV work, I did a good job in Seoul, and some more opportunities presented themselves, so I left the magazine and went to work for NBC,” Keteyian said.

He spent little time at NBC, however. The next year, he left to write his first of eight books, Big Red Confidential: Inside Nebraska Football, about Nebraska’s football program under Tom Osborne.

“It was the first book to raise any kind of questions about wrongdoing within the program. To this day, I don’t think I am the most welcomed man in Nebraska,” said a grinning Keteyian.

From the book, ABC was his next stop. “ABC was looking for a high-level sports reporter who they could turn into a TV correspondent. I auditioned for the position by sending in my audition tape, an original story on Major League Baseball umpire Dave Pallone, who at the time was leaving his job in order to write a book Behind the Mask, about being in professional baseball and being gay. Thanks to my friend, who worked at the bar in New York where he often visited, I was able to sit down with him. It caught people’s attention and I was given the job where, until I left in 1997, I got basically a PhD in TV,” he said.

His transition to CBS came when he was hired to be on HBO’s “Real Sports” with Bryant Gumbel. Then CBS hired him as a special features reporter and, after buying the rights to the National Football League, gave Keteyian the position of sideline reporter.

“It gave me a whole-other level of exposure,” reflected Keteyian, who stayed at CBS Sports as their sideline and special features reporter, winning three Emmy’s for CBS’s coverage of the Tour de France.

In 2005, on his way back from an Indianapolis Colts’ practice, a call from CBS Sports/News president Sean McManus opened a brand new door to him.

“When his assistant told me ‘Hold for Sean,’ those words, you never know what will happen after that. But he offered me the position of chief investigating correspondent of CBS News. I also had the task of starting an investigating unit from the ground-up,” said Keteyian.

Despite his high level of success, Keteyian never forgot his roots. “I was an altar boy at St. Sarkis Church where I also went to Saturday Armenian School until the 8th grade, until I moved to Bloomfield Hills. Though my Armenian has stayed in Detroit, I still know a few words. I host events, like when the Catholicos came, and other events that help raise money or awareness for the Armenian community. I feel, purposely, I have kept my fingers, toes, and heart in the Armenian communities in Detroit, Watertown, and California. I cook pilaf, my wife, Dede, who is not Armenian, cooks like one. My kids, Kristen and Kelly, also cook some Armenian dishes.
Whenever they see their cousins in Detroit and are able to see the culture, they are surprised how good it makes them feel and how connected they feel… It affects them in a positive way. So, my Armenian roots are still not only in my blood, but my family’s blood as well,” explained Keteyian.

He started his career in 1976, and in 30 years reached the summit of his profession. How does it feel to have worked so hard for so long?

“It hardly ever felt like work to me,” he said, smiling. “My wife and my kids deserve a lot of credit for sticking by me after all this time. I am a very fortunate guy.”

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Antranig Dereyan

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antranig Dereyan graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s in journalism. He contributes frequently to the Armenian Weekly with sports pieces. He also freelances for other online sites and newspapers.

2 Comments

  1. Mr. Keteyian, we look to you and your colleagues to investigate the Sibel Edmonds case and Turkish/Israeli-Jewish collusion re: Armenian Genocide denial for CBS News. When may we hear from you?

  2. Ah, yet another “famous” Armenian American journalist who has “made it” but who will not cover Armenian issues because …  why? 

    Because the media they work for won’t allow it?  Because the journalist  himself/herself has no interest?   Who are those media, and who controls them?  

    Armenia is a pivot country in the Caucasus.  That is why the US and Russia are so interested in it.  This is not worthy of coverage?

    The Anti-Defamation League tells us that the Holocaust must be memorialized, and yet it sits down with Turkish leaders to figure out ways to deny the Armenian genocide and defeat the Congressional Armenian Genocide resolution.  This sort of hypocrisy is not worthy of coverage by Mr. Keteyian’s network?

    My guess is that Mr. Keteyian’s “investigative” unit  only investigates “safe” subjects.

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