CBS Neswman Mike Wallace Dies

Apr 8, 2012
Originally published on April 8, 2012 12:07 pm
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Mike Wallace, the longtime CBS news correspondent has died. He was 93. Wallace had reportedly been ill for some time. In a career that spanned half a century, Mike Wallace built a reputation interviewing the notable and the notorious.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now from New York. David, tell us about Mike Wallace's career arc. I understand he got his start as a radio announcer back in the 1940s.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: That's right. He had quite a career even before he joined most notably "60 Minutes" later on. He had started out as a radio announcer, he had done things like what we call rip-and-read in the business, where you take headlines off the wire and read them to the listeners. He did some reading of radio advertisements on the airs.

And he progressed in both local and national television, as the television industry evolved, into a guy who both did certain kinds of long forms - celebrity interviews - and a guy who acted, actually, in a few nighttime dramas on some networks. Pretty interesting guy.

He then took a turn. The death of his son in 1962, Peter, was an event that he credited with deciding to turn to more serious journalism. He went to Vietnam for Westinghouse, having left CBS to make a mark more seriously. And then, you know, notably, in the late '60s, joined up with Don Hewitt at "60 Minutes" and became the icon we came to know so well.

MARTIN: What made him different from other reporters?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are a couple of elements. I mean, he was a guy who was - no question was too impertinent, and no moment was too, shall we say, serious for him not to inject himself into it in some way. He was a classic showman who was fearless about asking any kind of question. And it made for a compelling, almost mesmerizing moments on a lot of those installments of "60 Minutes" that you think of.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about his interviews. What were some of his most memorable?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are a number. I think anybody who's watched him over the decades on "60 Minutes" probably has their own, but there's some that really come to mind. He interviewed in the early '70s the Secret Service agent who had been on duty, closest to President and Mrs. Kennedy during that fateful day in November of 1963. And there - it's really an emotional and very powerful interview back and forth that he did.

He did some other work with General Westmoreland, who had been one of the military commanders in Vietnam, which landed CBS and Mr. Wallace and the network in court because of the way in which that story had been framed.

But the interviews themselves of him, essentially, journalistically prosecuting him for some of the mistakes, there was at once a sign of Mike at his best and perhaps at his worst.

There's one that I think really stands out. In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, just after the takeover of that country from the Shah, in which he sort of shows himself. I think we have a clip here that we can play to illustrate that.


MARTIN: Just one of Mike Wallace's most memorable interviews. In the couple seconds we have remaining, David, how are his colleagues remembering him?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, he's great fun, he could be quite complicated as a character. You know, he always felt he was underappreciated for the role that he participated in in pushing "60 Minutes" and CBS News to the stance it had. But, you know, he was this giant figure there, and they all - you know, they remember him with fond wistfulness and a sense of the rascalish(ph) character he could be.

MARTIN: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, speaking with us from New York. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.