Mike Wallace, the man who has caused despots to blanch, left four-star generals apoplectic and brought CEOs to tears, yesterday played the "I'm just an old man, what could I possibly do?" card over his arrest Tuesday night on a charge of disorderly conduct.
It all started when the "60 Minutes" correspondent pulled up in a hired car at Luke's Restaurant on New York's Upper East Side to pick up the order of meatloaf he'd called ahead for.
While he was inside, two Taxi and Limousine Commission inspectors began to interview his driver, who was illegally double parked.
According to various interviews Wallace gave, when he came out of the restaurant he asked what was going on, nice as you please, and the officers kept yelling at him to "get back in the car."
"And suddenly, I found myself up against the car with this arm and that arm being hammered, and cuffed. Hard," Wallace told CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley for a story that ran on "CBS Evening News" last night.
Wallace insisted to Pelley that throughout the fracas he was "as polite and respectful as a reporter trying to get a question answered." Which, when you think about it, coming from the man who turned ambush journalism into an art form, isn't saying much.
The two inspectors say Wallace became "overly assertive and disrespectful," interfering with their ability to perform their duties, the Associated Press reported. They said they asked Wallace to step away from the car but he refused and lunged at one of them, according to the New York Post.
"I'm an 86-year-old man," Wallace reminded a bunch of times yesterday. Besides, he told various news organizations, he's so old that these days he has trouble lunging into bed, lunging in the kitchen -- he apparently has trouble lunging.
Anyway, the inspectors took him to the 19th Precinct station, Wallace reports. He was released after being issued a summons for disorderly conduct and told to appear in court in October. Maximum penalty: 15 days in the slammer.
According to Wallace, the police at the station, unlike the two Taxi and Limo inspectors, knew who he was and treated him with proper deference.
"I sat there for an hour or so and [the police] said, 'Okay, we know who you are, we know what you do, we have no problems with you,' " Wallace told "Entertainment Tonight."
Yesterday afternoon, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got into the act during his daily news briefing.
"Why a man in his eighties was so threatening that they had to arrest him, when they normally don't arrest anybody, certainly gives you cause to ask the question," Bloomberg said, from which we gather he doesn't watch "60 Minutes." The mayor added, "You can rest assured we will be looking into it."
Arrived at the office in a black and soured mood after teeth-and-savings-account cleaning by dentist, steeled for another of those dreary, slow-news August days that do so much to darken a daily TV columnist's outlook.
Instead, found the following zingy announcement from CBS:
CBS Unilaterally Declares: The Summer Is Over! And We Win!
Aug. 12 Deemed by #1 Network to Be the Official End to the Summer Because the Olympics Begin on Friday.
Hello -- this was good stuff.
"We're doing it because we can," CBS said in a moment of candor so rare among the television networks these days. "And because it makes us look incredibly good."
The network noted, with understandable pride, that it has clocked the most viewers this summer -- "a time that was supposed to be a big deal for everybody else."
"Everybody else" is a smug reference to ABC, NBC and Fox; all of them announced with much hoopla last spring that they would treat viewers to summer prime-time lineups packed to the gills with original episodes of new scripted series like "Method & Red" and "Quintuplets," and new reality series including "Trading Spouses," "The Ultimate Love Test" and "Next Action Star."
The Reporters Who Cover Television lapped it up, and nobody paid much mind to CBS, which said it would stick with the tried-and-true formula of mostly series reruns, zipped up with fifth editions of its two lesser reality series, "Big Brother" and "Amazing Race."
Fast forward: CBS has won almost every week of the summer in the ratings, with eight of the top nine programs. Six are reruns, starting with No. 1-ranked "CSI" repeats.
For the summer, CBS is first among viewers, and trails NBC in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic group that is all NBC targets by just 26,000 viewers -- the population of Helena, Mont. This is CBS's closest competitive position in that key demo during the summer since the advent of people-meter technology in fall '87.
"Thursday, Aug. 12 is henceforth the official end of the summer, at least this year," CBS continued in yesterday's pronouncement.
"We are sure that this unilateral but fair decision on our part will be greeted with as much respect and serious discussion as was another network's contention earlier this year that the new television season would begin immediately after the 2004 Olympics."
That is, of course, a reference to NBC, whose leader, Jeff Zucker -- "Zippy" to his detractors in Hollywood -- is the archrival of CBS chief Leslie Moonves -- "Mr. Moonves, sir, and please, don't hurt me" to his detractors.
NBC coughed up nearly $800 million for the rights to telecast the Summer Games. It announced some time ago that it planned to start rolling out its new shows early this year to take advantage of the enormous audiences it expects will watch the Olympics. According to Nielsen, the 2004-05 TV season officially starts on Sept. 20.
In a thinly veiled threat to NBC, CBS warned that "anyone attempting to salvage a flagging summer performance by two weeks of special-events programming was simply talking through their hats."
Talking through their hats -- don't you wonder where that expression came from? I mean, why would you talk through a hat?
"We certainly don't think anybody who knows anything about anything will be fooled by those kinds of shenanigans, even if they are being carried out on an Olympic scale," concluded Moonves.
Contacted for comment, NBC jumped into the fray late yesterday with its own acidic news release:
NBC Announces Support for CBS Proposal to Declare Aug. 13 Start of New Season
In it, Zucker congratulated CBS for finishing "a strong No. 2 for the summer among 18-49 year olds."
"Looking at these results, it's easy to see why advertisers made CBS a solid #2 at the upfront this year," Zucker said. (Note to non-pros: This is intended to score off Moonves; it's a reference to NBC bagging more money than CBS did last spring, when advertisers committed billions of dollars to the new TV season "upfront.")
Zucker went on to say he supported "CBS's position that including ratings for such anomalous events as the Super Bowl, NCAA Basketball Tournament and NFL football overruns [note to non-pros: all of these air on CBS] amounts to 'shenanigans' when those results are used to compare the performance of each network's entertainment lineup."
Contacted for comment on NBC's comment, a CBS exec noted dryly that "clearly NBC is No. 2 in humor."
Wow -- has this been a great day or what?