Legendary CBS journalist Mike Wallace, the “60 Minutes” correspondent whose probing interviews were a veritable right of passage for newsmakers the world over, has died at 93.
Wallace, who won his 21st and final Emmy Award at 89, died Saturday in the New Canaan, Conn., care facility where he had lived the last few years of his life.
The veteran newsman built a reputation as a fearless interviewer, known for asking skeptical follow-up questions and researching his subjects in and out.
“It almost didn’t matter what stories he was covering, you just wanted to hear what he would ask next,” Jeff Fager, CBSNews chairman and executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said in a statement.
The “60 Minutes” journalist’s reputation as a pitiless inquisitor was so fearsome that it was often said that the words “Mike Wallace is here to see you” were the most dreaded in the English language.
Wallace didn’t just interview people. He interrogated them. He cross-examined them. Sometimes he eviscerated them. His weapons were many: thorough research, a cocked eyebrow, a skeptical “Come on” and a question so direct sometimes it took your breath away.
I’m going to stop the article right there because it omitted some things about Wallace’s character and methods.
From a previous post, The Media at War:
From the 1980s PBS series “Ethics in America”:
The show consisted of a panel of military, media, and academic representatives who debated ethical dilemmas posed by a moderator. One installment, held at Montclair State College in the fall of 1987, was entitled “Under Orders, Under Fire”. Some of the participants were former military personnel relating the harsh aspects of their duties.
Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, the moderator for the program, posed a question regarding the interactions between the American media and the American military in a fictitious (and thinly veiled) combat zone in the country of “North Kosan”. Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace were two of the media panelists.
The military side included former Army General William Westmorland, and former Army Lieutenant Frederick Downs, who lost an arm to a mine in Vietnam. Jennings was asked to take on the role of an “embedded” journalist….with the enemy forces. During the course of the scenario, Jennings was told that the “North Kosan” forces were planning an ambush of American troops in the vicinity. Faced with the decision to either tell the Americans or not, Jennings (a native Canadian) first responded: “I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans.” Wallace turned on Jennings with an indignant hissy fit: “You’re a reporter. I’m a little bit at a loss to understand why…you would not have covered that story.” When Ogletree suggested that Jennings may have a moral (and patriotic) duty to warn the American troops, Wallace shrieked: “You don’t have a higher duty. No. No. You’re a reporter!” At that point, Jennings tucked his tail between his legs like a whipped puppy and recanted: “I chickened out.”
Not surprisingly, the military contingent dealt the two craven “reporters” a verbal (and self-restrained) counter-attack. One let them know that he felt nothing but “utter contempt” and pointed out that though it might not be worth the lives of American troops to rescue journalists, it would be done because of a sense of duty.
Another said to Wallace: “What’s it worth?” “It’s worth thirty seconds on the evening news, as opposed to saving a platoon.”
What Jennings and Wallace really deserved was what we call “wall to-wall” counseling.
I admire his son, Chris Wallace, who is a commentator for Fox News. He’s a tough, straightforward journalist with none of the arrogant prickish nature of his father.
Mike Wallace used the power he wielded through CBS to intimidate and bully those he interviewed. Steve Kroft, another CBS reporter once turned the tables on him:
On the CBS salute, correspondent Steve Kroft turned the tables on Wallace, pointedly saying that some people considered him a “grandstander” who could be “egotistical, cruel.”
Wallace paused to lick his lips, stammered a little, and said, “Well, I gotta plead guilty, I suppose.”
Perhaps the most infamous stunt pulled by Wallace was his accusation that Army General William Westmoreland deliberately underestimated enemy strength in Vietnam . Wallace interviewed Westmoreland for a CBS special that aired in 1982, titled: The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The General filed a $120 million libel suit against CBS. The whole controversy was a public relations disaster for Wallace, and he and CBS decided to settle the case out of court.
Wallace was one of those malevolent media hacks who used his influence as a scare tactic rather than ferreting out the truth from public officials. Maybe his conscience kicked in during his suicide attempt. Who knows.
Mike Wallace was a pretentious ass and a liar. His “pitiless inquisitor” persona took on a bloated sense of self-importance. On that note, he was in plenty of similar company with the assclowns on NBC and MSNBC.
Buh bye, Mike. I won’t miss you.