CBS newsman Mike Wallace, the dogged, merciless reporter and interviewer who took on politicians, celebrities and other public figures in a 60-year career highlighted by the on-air confrontations that helped make 60 Minutes the most successful prime-time television news program ever, has died. He was 93.
No question was too pointed during Mike Wallace’s storied and notorious television career. The ambush interview. The gotcha. That trademark inflection conveying disbelief. Was there ever a more entertaining American television interviewer than Mike Wallace?
Myron Leon Wallace’s influence in broadcast journalism was felt well before anyone ever heard a ticking clock on CBS. He was born in Brookline, Mass, a suburb of Boston, in 1918. His first brush with radio came during his days at the University of Michigan. A job soon beckoned in Grand Rapids as a radio announcer.
He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and bounced around the radio dial, playing roles in nighttime dramas and interviewing newsmakers for several broadcasters, including CBS.
Wallace credited the death of his son, Peter, in 1962, for a turn to harder news. He reported for Westinghouse radio from Vietnam, India and Africa and then joined CBS for good. He filed reports from the front lines of war and of politics — and was forcibly ejected from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
A few weeks later, the legendary CBS producer Don Hewitt launched 60 Minutes with Wallace and Harry Reasoner as its leading men. It was a news magazine that mixed high and low – with celebrity culture and crusading investigations all in the same hour.
Wallace’s journalism also inspired critics who said he was — forgive me, Mike, their words not mine — irresponsible — even libelous. CBS and Wallace were sued by Gen. William Westmoreland in a $120-million libel suit case that triggered a clinical depression in Wallace that he battled for the rest of his life. The suit was ultimately settled with a simple apology.
Yet Wallace’s legacy remains enduring. Together, Wallace and Hewitt proved the news could be fun. And edgy. Entertaining. Illuminating. And very very profitable.