Fresh Air Remembers Mike Wallace Of '60 Minutes'
Mike Wallace, the CBS News correspondent who became famous for his two-fisted interview style and his hard-hitting conversations with politicians, celebrities and newsmakers, died Saturday. He was 93.
Wallace had been with the weekly CBS News magazine 60 Minutes since its inception in 1968. Working with producer Don Hewitt, Wallace became known for interviews in which he refused to be led away from topics his interview subjects found uncomfortable.
Over the years, those subjects included John F. Kennedy, Deng Xiaoping, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Richard Nixon, Malcolm X, Ayatollah Khomeini and Moammar Gadhafi — in addition to celebrities ranging from Johnny Carson to Rod Sterling to Mikhail Baryshnikov.
In 2005, Wallace joined Terry Gross for a conversation about his memoir Between You and Me, in which he wrote about some of his most dramatic interviews and relayed stories from throughout his career.
Wallace's first job was working in Grand Rapids, Mich., as a radio announcer.
"I read rip-and-read news, but I wasn't a reporter," he said. "I was reading the wire, and the other thing was, I was reading commercials — and I could do a hell of a commercial."
He also moonlit for national radio shows, including The Lone Ranger, and spent time with a variety of shows, including a quiz show, a nighttime drama and interview shows for several broadcast networks, including CBS.
During the Vietnam War, he reported for Westingtonhouse radio from the front lines and then joined CBS, where he covered and then was kicked out of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The same year, he began working on 60 Minutes, where he became famous for chasing after interview subjects and ambushing them with a camera.
"I'm a reporter; you can't subpoena people to talk to you," he said. "If you write to them and try to call them on the phone and they don't answer or so forth, then take them unawares."
But Wallace and Hewitt decided to stop the ambush-style interviews, in part because it became predictable, he said.
"The problem became this: We became a caricature of ourselves," he said. "We were after light, and it began to look as though we were after heat, not to reveal some information or not to find out the story."
Wallace's journalistic style was occasionally criticized by critics. He and CBS were once sued by Gen. William Westmoreland in a $120 million libel suit, which was settled with an apology. But it set off a depressive episode in Wallace that he would battle for the rest of his life. He made his diagnosis public in a conversation with Bob Costas to raise public awareness about clinical depression. He also frequently talked openly about conversations with his psychiatrist, who he said taught him something about the art of interviewing.
"You suddenly realize that if you can persuade somebody, as he persuaded me, to talk candidly," he said, " ... it comes into play because it is useful, because it's part of what you learn as you go. Come on, I'm nearing the end of the road and still learning."
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