Every summer there is a story that blows my mind. This summer the big news is that my friend Mike Wallace was arrested in New York, handcuffed and taken to the slammer.

Let's get the facts straight. Mike drove to a takeout restaurant on Third Avenue for meatloaf. The traffic police said his driver was double-parked. (Mike does not drive in New York because he can never find a place to park without paying $20 an hour.)

Mike, who was hungry, went into the takeout place. When he came out, he saw that the traffic police were saying unkind things to his driver. Mike intervened and was told to get back in his limo. When he refused, Mike exchanged unkind words with the police. They say he lunged at them. Mike says he has never lunged at anyone in his life, including Barbra Streisand.

The next thing you know, he was handcuffed and taken to the station house. The media went crazy and, as far as I can tell, they are still in a shark frenzy.

Mike has given his side of the story to every newscaster on the air.

Now those are the facts.

I have known Mike Wallace for years, and although he cheats at tennis, I have never known him to double-park in New York. The only time he committed "disorderly conduct" was when he tried a junk shot on the court.

Why the public's interest? Mike is an American icon. He has interviewed China's leaders and Saudi Arabian sheiks, and exposed health-care scams in Florida. Every Sunday, millions of people sit in their living rooms waiting for their "60 Minutes" fix.

Mike speaks for the little people. If someone is in jail, Mike tries to get him out, and if a crook is not in jail, he tries to send him there.

So the reason there was such a stir when Mike got arrested was because he was handcuffed. People who have double-parked were on his side. Those who admire him for his looks considered him a role model. Those who love takeout food said they would do the same thing.

I know Mike Wallace from Martha's Vineyard. I have been in his home, played gin rummy with him and eaten lobster with him.

But he did break the law.

The question everyone must answer is one of loyalty. Do you stand with the person who double-parked and says he will never do it again -- or do you let the wheels of justice turn?

I have chosen to stand by Mike. If he needs it, I will even start a "Free Mike Wallace" fund. I am planning a parade down Third Avenue if I can get a permit and a parking place.

Mike is now back on the Vineyard, awaiting his trial in October. They didn't make him put up any bail or give up his passport. (Brazil is the only country that does not consider double-parking an extraditable offense.) CBS guaranteed he would not skip the country.

Now you know the whole story. Some good things came out of it. Mayor Bloomberg declared meatloaf the official New York comfort food. Mike now wears a sweat shirt that says, "Double-Parkers Need Love Too," and he has been nominated for the Parking Hall of Fame.

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services