Monday, April 9, 2012
60 Minutes or Less About Mike Wallace
By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco
I think about Mike Wallace every time I pick up my local newspaper and read somebody that calls themselves an investigative reporter.
More times than not, the reporter is basically taking copy from a local city or agency spokesperson and re-wording it and slapping their name on it. At the very least they fail to interview or if they do an interview they fail to ask the tough questions.
They fail to ask the right questions.
Mike Wallace wouldn't do that. Mike Wallace would ask the tough questions. He would get the truth. And he didn't care who you were or if it was politically correct or if it hurt his news show financially.
You knew it was truly a bad day if Mike Wallace and the 60 Minute film crew entourage came to your office.
Wallace, who passed away on Saturday night at the age of 93, combined a combative interview style with show-man ship, and his death nearly marks the end of the era of the tough news reporter.
They are still around, as I was reminded when Morley Safer went in front of the camera to announce his colleague's death last night as 60 Minutes opened or as I listened to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation yesterday morning. But they are growing older and getting fewer and farther between.
In his seven decade career, Wallace evolved from a entertainer during the Golden Age of Radio in the 1940s when he announced for among other shows, The Green Hornet and Television game-show host in the 1950s to the no-nonsense reporter on CBS' number one news magazine, 60 Minutes. He was there when the show debuted in 1968.
He applied his trademark reporting technique — questioning, skeptical debating and ambush assaults on the unsuspecting — well into his 80s.
Wallace died at a care facility in New Canaan, CT on Saturday night. No cause of death was reported, but he had been in failing health following triple bypass heart surgery in 2008.
Despite his acerbic approach, which fused the confrontational with showmanship, the famous and infamous lined up to be interviewed.
The list of subjects that were interviewed over the years included Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, Manuel Noriega, Yasser Arafat, Menachem Begin and Moammar Gadhafi.
He had on air conversations with seven United States Presidents: George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy.
He once made Barbra Streisand cry.
Morley Safer announced before last night's 60 Minutes show, a program dedicated to Wallace will be broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sunday April 15. Link and Listen to the show live beginning at 7 PM PT via Bosco Radio: News and Information Channel in our sidebar.
By the time he retired in 2006, Wallace had appeared on 60 Minutes for 38 consecutive seasons, helping make the news magazine a top ten show for 23 seasons.
Fellow 60 Minutes star Morley Safer said that Wallace took to heart the old reporter's pledge "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." He characterized himself as "nosy and insistent," Safer told Bob Shieffer Sunday on Face the Nation.
Even after his official departure, Wallace continued as "correspondent emeritus," scoring an exclusive interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That interview won Wallace his 21st Emmy. As recently as January 2008, interviewed baseball legend Roger Clemens over allegations of steroid abuse. Later that month, Wallace underwent triple-bypass heart surgery.
Memorable moments included Wallace getting a Chicago businessman to admit on camera that he kept two sets of books: one for himself and one for the taxman. "I said, 'Look, between you and me, Chicagoans do this all the time, right?' And he says, 'Between you and me, you're right.'
During the 1980 hostage crisis in Iran, Wallace asked Ayatollah Khomeini, quoting Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's appraisal, said, "He calls you, forgive me, his words, not mine — a lunatic."
His 1998 60 Minutes interview with Jack Kevorkian, the "Doctor of Death," along with a clip showing Kevorkian administering a lethal injection to a terminal patient, led to a murder conviction, despite the physician's argument that assisted suicide and euthanasia should be legal. Wallace later got the first interview with Kevorkian after his release from prison.
There were also low moments. The first involved a report on enemy strength during the Vietnam War that led to a $120 million libel case against Wallace and CBS by the subject of that report, Gen. William Westmoreland.
Westmoreland and CBS ultimately settled the 1982 suit just before the case was set to go to a jury.
The second involved a 1995 exposé on the tobacco industry in which the network, fearing litigation, backed away from running Wallace's story with Jeffrey Wigand. The interview with the Brown & Williamson tobacco company researcher had been delayed for months for fear of lawsuits before it eventually aired in February 1996.
Wallace was born Myron Leon Wallace on May 9, 1918. His father, an immigrant, was an insurance broker. His family had hoped he would become a doctor, but Wallace discovered a love for journalism while working at the University of Michigan's college radio station.
By 1941, he was the announcer for the popular radio program The Green Hornet before serving as a Naval communications officer during World War II. Following the war, he worked as a news reporter at Chicago's WMAQ.
In the early 1950s, Wallace joined the CBS network in New York. He eventually left CBS and made his name as a tough interviewer with the programs Night Beat and The Mike Wallace Interview. He also hosted games shows and entertainment programs.
Wallace hosted the CBS News series Biography, later becoming a correspondent in Vietnam before becoming the first hire at 60 Minutes. There, his arguments with his close friend, the late producer Don Hewitt, were legendary.