Mike Wallace (1918-2012)
In a feature at the top of today's Face the Nation broadcast, Morley Safer remembers his longtime 60 Minutes colleague Mike Wallace. (Sorry about the commercial, but it should be only 15 seconds.)
"Mike took to heart the old reporter's pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
-- Morley Safer
Like everyone else remembering Mike Wallace, I suspect, Morley Safer refers early on to "the four dreaded words" that preceded his "visits" to an unsuspecting subject of one of his surprise interviews: "Mike Wallace is here." I wonder, though, how many eulogists are also remembering that "old reporter's pledge" Morley tells us Mike "took to heart": "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." (Least of all, one suspects, his son Chris, who has made a successful career dragging the family name through the muck of Fox Noise as a thuggish right-wing liar-apologist-propagandist.)
Those of us who are old enough to remember way-back-when remember Mike Wallace as a not especially high-toned TV jack-of-all-trades, whose best-known role may have been that of cigarette pitchman. It was hardly the profile of a future crusading investigative journalist. Indeed he was hardly an obvious fit for CBS News when he signed on in 1963, as Adam Bernstein recalls in his Washington Post obit:
At the time, the so-called "Tiffany network" that had once been home to newsman Edward R. Murrow had the most prestigious pedigree. [Of course this is itself forgetting Murrow's rather various CBS broadcast career, including the celebrity gushfest Person to Person. -- Ed.] Mr. Wallace had a hard time getting anyone to take him seriously.
He later recalled: “The people at CBS said, ‘You mean to say that we’re going to have the fellow who’s measuring the quarter-inch filtered tip of the Parliament cigarettes? That's the same guy who's going to be measuring the missile gap? Not on CBS.' "
But Mr. Wallace said he was determined to change his image as a lightweight. He said he was motivated in large part by the accidental death, in 1962, of his teenage son Peter while hiking through Greece. The elder Wallace took a series of demanding assignments to prove his worth: a tour in Vietnam, on-air reporter for the "CBS Evening News" and questioner on the public-affairs show "Face the Nation."
Viewers who know CBS News only from its Village-friendly outlook of recent decades may wonder what standards Wallace could have been aspiring to when he joined the organization. It sure ain't what it once was, and 60 Minutes in particular ain't. It wouldn't be far off to suggest that the goal became to comfort the comfortable and further afflict the already-afflicted. The "scandals" it uncovers these days generally turn out to be affronts to the well-heeled and high-positioned, pillars of the Village elites and the status quo.