Mike Wallace was a feared interviewer — so much that it was often joked that the four most dreaded words in the English language for anyone hiding a secret were “Mike Wallace is here.” The “60 Minutes” correspondent who pioneered magazine-style television journalism died at age 93 on April 7. In his obituary, Adam Bernstein recalled some of Wallace’s interview conquests:
Among Mr. Wallace’s memorable exchanges was a 1979 interview with Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini shortly after his followers seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.
“Imam,” Mr. Wallace began, “President Sadat of Egypt . . . says that what you are doing now is, quote, ‘a disgrace to Islam.’ And he calls you, imam, forgive me, his words, not mine, ‘a lunatic.’ “
The moment was riveting, in part because the interpreter initially refused to translate what Mr. Wallace had said. Mr. Wallace said the statement was crucial to make, to get around Khomeini’s “almost robotic” responses on questions that had been approved in advance by Iranian officials.
Khomeini called for Sadat’s “overthrow”; Sadat was killed by gunmen in 1981.
In other interviews, Mr. Wallace caused a long chill in his friendship with the Reagans when he appeared to criticize first lady Nancy Reagan for not being able to say how many blacks were on her husband’s top campaign staff.
Mr. Wallace once got a Chicago business executive keeping two sets of tax records to admit to fraud on camera. As the reporter described the story to USA Today: “I said, ‘Look, between you and me, Chicagoans do this all the time, right?’ And he says, ‘Between you and me, you’re right.’
“Between you and me and the whole middle of America! What a moment!”
Journalists and interview subjects mourned Wallace’s death, complimenting his integrity, verve and contributions to the field. The Associated Press solicited remarks from his peers:
“Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” — “60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer, in an essay about Wallace.
“I don’t recall anybody ever saying to me, ‘He took a cheap shot’ or ‘he did the obvious,’ or that he was, you know, was playing some kind of game. He actually was trying to serve the audience and that’s what made him great.” — Fox News Channel Chairman Roger Ailes.
Before his father’s death, Chris Wallace also made some pointed remarks about his father’s legacy, as noted by the Reliable Source:
As the hard-driving “60 Minutes” star experienced the fog of dementia, he only spoke of his family, not his storied career. A very poignant lesson for all of us, Chris noted in an interview with Playboy: “This is a man. . . for whom work always came first,” he said. “Now he can’t even remember it.”
Last month, Chris spoke about his shifting feelings about his father’s influence. “It’s funny,” he told a Washington media banquet. “I spent so much of my early life trying to get out from under his shadow. Now as my father nears his 94th birthday and is slipping away, I don’t want you to forget him.”
CBS is planning a tribute to Wallace on Sunday.
The day after Mike Wallace died at age 93, CBS News shows paid tribute to the legendary “60 Minutes” broadcaster.
“For more than six decades — four of them on this broadcast — he was a kind of one-man truth squad, a man with a remarkable gift for getting to the very core of a story,” veteran CBS News correspondent Morley Safer said at the top of “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.
“Face the Nation” also aired a memorial segment Sunday morning. On Monday, “CBS This Morning” co-hosts Charlie Rose and Gayle King, joined by Steve Kroft and Safer, discussed the news of Wallace’s death.
Soon after, CBS sent out an announcement saying that a special broadcast dedicated to Wallace will air on “60 Minutes” next Sunday.