NATION

Mike Wallace dies at age 93

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It was the show that first brought Wallace fame as a hard-boiled interviewer, a "Mike Malice" who rarely gave his subjects any slack. Wrote Coronet magazine in 1957: "Wallace's interrogation had the intensity of a third degree, often the candor of a psychoanalytic session. Nothing like it had ever been known on TV. ... To Wallace, no guest is sacred, and he frankly dotes on controversy."

(Photo: Associated Press)

Sample "Night Beat" exchange, with colorful restaurateur Toots Shor. Wallace: "Toots, why do people call you a slob?" Shor: "Me? Jiminy crickets, they 'musta' been talking about Jackie Gleason."

After holding a variety of other news and entertainment jobs, including serving as advertising pitchman for a cigarette brand, Wallace became a full-time newsman for CBS in 1963.

He said it was the death of his 19-year-old son, Peter, in an accident in 1962 that made him decide to stick to serious journalism from then on. (Another son, Chris, followed his father and became a broadcast journalist, most recently as a Fox News Channel anchor.)

Wallace had a short stint reporting from Vietnam, and took a sock in the jaw while covering the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. But he didn't fit the stereotype of the Eastern liberal journalist.

He was a close friend of the Reagans and was once offered the job of Richard Nixon's press secretary. He called his politics moderate. One "Night Beat" interview resulted in a libel suit, filed by a police official angry over remarks about him by mobster Mickey Cohen.

Wallace said ABC settled the lawsuit for $44,000, and called it the only time money had been paid to a plaintiff in a suit in which he was involved. The most publicized lawsuit against him was by retired Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who sought $120 million for a 1982 "CBS Reports" documentary, "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception." Westmoreland dropped the libel suit in February 1985 after a long trial. Lawyers for each side later said legal costs of the suit totaled $12 million, of which $9 million was paid by CBS.

Wallace once said the case brought on depression that put him in the hospital for more than a week. "Imagine sitting day after day in the courtroom hearing yourself called every vile name imaginable," he said.

In 1996, he appeared before the Senate's Special Committee on Aging to urge more federal funds for depression research, saying that he had felt "lower, lower, lower than a snake's belly" but had recovered through psychiatry and antidepressant drugs.

He later disclosed that he once tried to commit suicide during that dark period. Wallace, columnist Art Buchwald and author William Styron were friends who commiserated often enough about depression to call themselves "The Blues Brothers," according to a 2011 memoir by Styron's daughter, Alexandra.

Wallace called his 1984 book, written with Gary Paul Gates, "Close Encounters." He described it as "one mostly lucky man's encounters with growing up professionally." In 2005, he brought out his memoir, "Between You and Me."

Among those interviewing him about the book was son Chris, for "Fox News Sunday." His son asked: Does he understand why people feel a disaffection from the mainstream media? "They think they're wide-eyed commies. Liberals," the elder Wallace replied, a notion he dismissed as "damned foolishness."

 

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