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Mike Wallace

Interview: Mike Wallace
CBS News Correspondent

June 8, 2002
Dublin, Ireland

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What kind of student was young Mike Wallace?

Mike Wallace: Myron Wallace was a good student, you know, not a superb student, but a good student and a devoted, if occasionally difficult in a mischievous kind of way, independent and a bit of a pain in the back, not to his friends, but to his family. You know, I was picked up for shoplifting at the five and ten cent store only a half a dozen times, and things of that nature.

In high school I understand you were something of a B student. Is that true? Were you interested in other things so grades weren't important to you?

Mike Wallace: Grades were important in our family. I was obviously a young, young man of inferior intellect. I really was. I was never an A student. I was a B or a B minus, which was quite comfortable. It didn't keep me from getting into the college that I wanted to get into. I guess I was interested in other things. I used to play the fiddle. I was the concertmaster in the high school orchestra and I was captain of the tennis team, and ran the half-mile. It was a gentleman's B minus.

Tell us about Brookline, Massachusetts, where you grew up.

Mike Wallace: We used to call it an O'Connor and Goldberg town. You were either Jewish or Irish. Today, which is some 80 years or more later, there are probably 30 different languages spoken. It was a wonderful town to grow up in. The school system was superb, it was very close to Boston, bordering right on Boston and it was a very pleasant. Back in 1918 when I was born, and for the next half century, the economics of Brookline were moving to upper middle class. One of my claims to fame is the fact that Jack Kennedy was born five doors away from me, about a year before me, and we went to grammar school together for a very short time before Joe Kennedy made all his money and moved up and on and the Wallaces stayed behind. We weren't friends, really. He may have left in third for fourth grade.

What person or persons inspired you growing up? Were there teachers who meant a lot to you?

Mike Wallace: Yes, Mr. Fleming. I don't know first names because we used to call them Mr. or Miss. Miss Miller, I think it was Etta Mae Miller, and Biddy Mitchell. Biddy Mitchell was a woman who taught me grammar. All of this was in grammar school. Mr. Fleming was an English teacher. He inspired me by insisting that I read and study Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I was drawn to him because of that.

What other books besides Great Expectations meant a lot to you growing up?

Mike Wallace: Well, the Tom Swift series, of course. I was a reader, of course, had to be. But I wasn't inspired all that much by books.

I wanted to be somebody, I guess. I wanted to rise above the run of the mill. Also, in high school I began to develop acne, and that made life difficult for me and that was an emotional difficulty for me growing up. I think that colored my view of life to some degree back then.

Do you think you felt a need to overcome that sort of insecurity?

Mike Wallace: Correct, the insecurity that comes with thinking, "Well, you may not be all that good to look at, so get over it, overcome it."

What was your father doing in those years? Was he a grocer then?

Mike Wallace: Yes, he was a grocer. As a matter of fact, he went bust as a grocer. Frank Wallace and Sons was the name of his company. He was one of the original wholesale grocers. Small chains of grocery stores, he was the originator of one of them. But it was a comparatively modest operation.

There's a story in the family that he and a couple of pals got a hold of the ginger market at the end of the First World War and bought a bunch of ships and went to Jamaica and got a lot of Jamaica ginger and it was being sent over to the British Isles. The ships went down in an Atlantic storm and they were insufficiently insured, and he went broke. But the kind of guy that he was, he absolutely insisted that he would not declare bankruptcy; he would pay off his debts, which eventually he did. He was that kind of fellow.

He switched to insurance, and was happy as an insurance broker after that for years and years until he died at the age of 73, a very simple, lovely man whom I adored. My mother was a very serious individual, upwardly mobile, but that was not on Dad's mind. He was just a lovely man.

He was an immigrant whose name was Friedan Wallick when he came from the old country. When he arrived in Ellis Island, they wrote down "Wallace," and Friedan changed into Frank. He was 16 years old at the time. He had a half sister in Boston who had preceded him to the United States.

Some of this is I know only for the reason that I did a profile of Gordon B. Hinckley, who was the President of the Mormon Church. As you know, the Mormons like to do genealogical histories of people. When I was doing the profile of Gordon Hinckley, he sent his operatives to the Ukraine, and suddenly I had a gift of a loose-leaf notebook with all of the history of my father's family, for three or four generations back, including the manifest of the ship that he came over on from the old country.

And your mother?

Mike Wallace: My mother was a year and a half when she arrived. They obviously did not know each other, but they came from close by. They met in Boston. Back in the '50s, I went to Moscow on an operation for Westinghouse News. I decided that I would look for the Wallick family. I found an old synagogue, and met some old people there who said, "Oh, the Wallick family went to Kazakhstan during the Second World War." And that is really all I know about my family.

When was your first experience in broadcasting? Was it in Ann Arbor?

Mike Wallace: Radio in Ann Arbor, yes, the University of Michigan.

I think you said once that you felt "trapped" by radio, that it was so captivating it was almost impossible to get out.

Mike Wallace: Well, radio was the first time -- when I hit the University of Michigan -- that I found that I had an interesting delivery, a reasonably attractive voice. I didn't have to worry about what I looked like. The mind's eye in radio for the listener is so much more vivid than anything that you can put on the screen. At least that's what I believed then. So, I wasn't trapped by radio. I was trapped because I felt I would probably never make it in television because cosmetically, perhaps, I wasn't sufficiently interesting looking or pleasant looking. But no radio, it was wonderful to work in radio.

Did you consider any other career?

Mike Wallace: Growing up I thought that I was going to be, probably, a lawyer. Then I thought maybe I would be an English teacher. Then one day at Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan, I walked into - I guess it was my sophomore year there -- I walked into the radio station operation there. It wasn't really a station. And I was hooked. I suddenly realized that was going to be my métier. I didn't know how I was going to make it, but I knew damn well I was going to be. All I wanted to be was a radio announcer. That was it. I could rip and read the news. I could announce a soap opera. I wound up doing "Road of Life," the story of Dr. Jim Brent, and 'The Guiding Light." And, I read a hell of a commercial.

I really got my first job in radio for $20 a month n 1939, from in WOOD in Grand Rapids.

Is that the station that was owned by a furniture company?

Mike Wallace: Woodwash; WOOD-WASH. It was owned by a laundry and a furniture company, yes.

I think it was WASH until noon and WOOD until midnight or something of that sort. It was part of the Michigan Radio Network back then. That gave me an opportunity. Truly, you could do everything in the world. You could do news. You could do sports, not play-by-play, but color and quiz broadcasts. When people talk to me about what they should do, that's the way, even today, I think that some young individual who wants to go into broadcasting should start. First of all, forget about communication school or journalism school to begin with. If you want to go to journalism school, fine. Wait until you finish college and had a good LS&A background, literature, science and the arts background. Know your economics, know your history, know your political science and write. Then you can learn your trade, so to speak, in television or radio simply by doing, starting out as an intern and learning how to do everything, but you've to do that in a small market so that you have an opportunity to be bad before you are good and nobody is going to throw you out of a job.

Were you ever bad?

Mike Wallace: I was a novice, of course. You learn as you go.

So you moved to Detroit and acted on some amazing radio series.

Mike Wallace: In Detroit, Douglas Edwards and I were the two "Cunningham News Aces." Douglas Edwards was the first anchor of the CBS Evening News on television, but at the beginning of the war, the broadcast would start with the sound of a P-38, "The Cunningham News Aces on the air and here is Douglas Edwards..." or "Here is Myron Wallace." But in addition to that, I regularly narrated and announced, did the commercials for The Green Hornet, and occasionally for The Lone Ranger, and a variety of that kind of broadcast, dramas.

When did Myron Wallace become Mike?

Mike Wallace: In Chicago, so that would have been either in the early 40s or in the middle 40s after I got out of the Navy, somebody wanted to do a program called The Love of Mike. They used to call me Mike. That was my nickname. My original nickname was Chinky, Chinky Wallace because I had slanted eyes or narrow eyes. I liked "Mike," so I discarded "Myron" and kept "Mike." So, it's been 60 years or thereabouts.

After I got into the Navy I finally found out that reading other people's words -- be it advertising or news writing or whatever -- was not going to be satisfying for me. So little by little I found my way out. I also found that it was more lucrative to be able to do a variety of things in radio and eventually in television.

In the late 40's, you had a talk show with your wife of the time that got a lot of attention for an unusually frank and open atmosphere.

Mike Wallace: Mike and Buff. Buff Cobb was in Chicago when I got out of the Navy in '46. I think she was playing with Tallulah Bankhead in Private Lives at the time. She was an actress and a bit of a glamorous figure to me at that time. So I succumbed and taught her how to do interviewing, and we did a husband and wife broadcast for a while on NBC in Chicago. The interview show stopped first, and the marriage shortly thereafter. Maybe it was vice versa.

You also did some acting on Broadway, didn't you?

Mike Wallace: I did one play on Broadway, but that came considerably later. By that time I had been to Chicago, out of the Navy, back to Chicago. I came to New York in 1951 and have been there since. In 1955, I guess it was,

I had been covering as a newsman the theatre to a certain degree and I was offered the opportunity by Abe Burrows who was directing this particular play. A famed director, Burrows. He had a play by Harry Curtis called Reclining Figure and I got to play the idealistic young art dealer, the juvenile lead. I was still, I guess, in my late 20s or early 30s. We ran, I guess, about 100 performances, but that was enough to make me understand that I didn't want to be an actor.

Why not?

Mike Wallace Interview Photo
Mike Wallace: Because it is a bore, at least for me. The repetition! If you play a matinee and evening performance on Christmas and New Year's, and this was late in the run, to a house of 100 or 200 people in a theatre that seats 1,000, you begin to understand that it's a bore. I didn't want to spend my life that way.

Many people refer to the theatricality of your work on 60 Minutes, the sense of drama that is associated with your work. There would seem to be some connection between the fact that you actually performed professionally as an actor, and narrating radio shows, and the fact that you bring a terrific sense of drama to the news.

Mike Wallace: Well, I would hope that drama is an interesting way to take charge of the tube. I'm sure that the performance aspects that I learned in various other chores prior to going into news full time was very, very important.

I have been in news full time now, I guess, for going on half a century. But, in order to make people want to watch, and as I say, to take charge of the screen, you must know there are some people who are interesting on camera and some people who are not. I didn't have, for instance, I did not particularly have an anchorman's mien. I wanted to carve out something interesting in the way of what I am going to do on television. So, I decided, well, why don't you study, think, research and do -- not the pabulum of ordinary interviews, "What did you write? What did you sing? When did you do this?" and so forth -- but rather go into the psyche, and into the gut [level] of the interviewee. And the interviewee likes to feel comfortable, and challenged sometimes -- if he or she is an interesting person -- by the research that has been done ahead of time by the interviewer. Strangely, that had never been done. Well, I say "never been done," I'm sure it had been done, but for television we were the first to do it, back in 1956 for a program called Night Beat, on a local station in New York at 11:00 at night when people's thresholds were down to the kinds of questions that we were asking. New York likes to discover something new, and this was new. People wanted to come on and wrestle with me, and wanted to be surprised, and wanted to be challenged with difficult, sometimes abrasive, sometimes skeptical questions.

Who were some of the guests that you remember?

Mike Wallace: You name it. Everybody. A lot of people in New York were fascinated by the fact that somebody was finally asking questions of some substance and unexpected questions. One back then would never talk on air to a homosexual. I mean it just would be unheard of. But we did, those who were willing to come out of the closet and talk about it - or somebody who was addicted to drugs. I mean it is difficult to believe now, but a half century ago and that was virtually that -- 45 years ago, all television interview programs were pabulum, easy questions and easy answers and so forth. And, suddenly we decided -- it wasn't my idea, it was a colleague of mine by the name of Ted Yates with whom I worked for a long time. He said, "Let's really go after some of these people in an interesting way. Make them think, make them react." And, they did.

You made a decision a few years after that to concentrate on news rather than entertainment. You have linked that decision to a very painful chapter in your life, the tragedy of your son's death. Was that a period of soul searching?

Mike Wallace: It was 1962. What happened was that my son, Peter, then 19, had taken the summer of his junior year at Yale, had taken the summer off and gone to Grenoble in France, to summer school, and then he was going to meet some of his pals at a youth hostel in Greece and just hang out with his pals for a while. We didn't hear and didn't hear and didn't hear, which was unusual. Not that he wrote daily, but he would write every week, and suddenly -- nothing. So, finally I decided I'm going to go find out what has happened. I found out he had fallen off a cliff and nobody knew. The people at the youth hostel knew because we went there to find out what had happened, and there was his luggage and so forth. It turned out it was a monastery in which a couple of nuns were living. He was obviously a fine, fine young man. He wanted to be a writer, wanted to be a reporter. So, we went up the mountain we had been told that he went up to find those nuns. I got up about, I don't know, 500 or 600 feet on a donkey with the American consul from Athens who had been loaned to us. I looked down from where he obviously had been sitting, and there he was. And so, I had found I was still doing a variety of chores at that time, news, a quiz broadcast, I was doing Biography at that time. I was doing a bunch of different things. I used to say, when asked, that the reason that I do all of these things is so that I can make money to support the kids that I had, two of my own and two stepchildren at the time. So, I said, let's make a virtue of this tragic necessity and give up everything that I had been doing to see how it would be until I wanted to go to work, basically.

I wanted to go to work for CBS News, but I was perfectly content to go to work for whatever. It became apparent that ABC News wasn't going to hire me. I had talked to the President of NBC News. "No." I was asked if I wanted to go to KTLA out in Los Angeles, and I went out there to talk to them. Finally, I said, "You know, let's see if maybe CBS will not hire me on some kind of a basis, but exclusively for news." I had been at CBS. Dick Salant was the President of CBS News at the time. He said, "Well, I'll tell you what, the salary will be low." And, the salary that he offered was about a third or a quarter of what I had been making. Then he didn't say it, but, "You will be on a kind of probation until we discover what it is that..." and so I grabbed it in March of 1963.

It's an interesting paradox. 60 Minutes has been the number one program on television for many years. It has depth and intelligence and it is full of challenging information, yet TV has this image of being Pabulum. You showed otherwise.

Mike Wallace: Well, we were fortunate, because when 60 Minutes started in 1968, CBS was way ahead of the game in entertainment and everything else. They had money. They had ratings. They had a good audience. They had a remarkable news division. They had Murrow, et al., Walter Cronkite by that time. So, we were a loss leader, so to speak. "We'll put them on the air." It started out Tuesday nights at 10 o'clock against the NBC Tuesday night movie and I believe it was Marcus Welby on ABC. So, everybody figured we would get killed. And we did, for about the first three, four or five years, until we found our character. Then there was the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Revolution, and then finally the 1973 Yom Kippur War when suddenly there was no gasoline to drive to Grandma's house. By this time we had moved to Sunday, on a Sunday afternoon or a Sunday evening. People began to tune in, and by that time we had our act together. There was nothing like us. Nothing had ever been seen on American television like our broadcast. It developed a huge following. As I said, we went on the air in 1968, and the first five years we found out who we were, and the next five years we simply built an audience, and we were -- unbelievably -- first of all broadcasts on one or two occasions in the '70s, the '80s and the '90s because we were "appointment television." People wanted on a Sunday night at 7 o'clock to watch 60 Minutes.

You fomented a lot of controversy with your piece on Syria in 1975. Talk a little bit about the reaction that you got from the Jewish community, particularly.

Mike Wallace: Well, I'm Jewish myself, you know.

I'm Jewish by heritage and in a certain way by feeling, but not a particularly religious or pious Jew. My religion is Golden Rule. That's what I try to live by. But, having said that, I met a Palestinian by the name of Fayez Said who was, I guess, born and brought up in Lebanon, who let the scales fall from my eyes about the state of the Palestinians. I began to -- I talked with him, and as a result of that I wanted to move around. By this time I was doing a lot of foreign work. I wanted to move around in that community and the Arab -- Palestinian and so forth -- community. Finally, we were going to do a story about the Syrian Jewish community, which had been substantial, and then had narrowed considerably. What we did was tell the truth about the real state of the Syrian Jewish community, which was not as bad as we had been led to believe. I was promptly labeled a self-hating Jew because we began to tell the truth about what was going on there.

Because you said things were not as bad as they had been?

Mike Wallace: You got the impression that this was an enslaved minority from certain propagandists on the Israeli side. One got the feeling that the Jews were in a ghetto, and indeed they were, but they could get out of the ghetto and go to the university and they did, and not all of them had to have identity cards saying they were Jewish. They could drive cars. A person with whom I spoke on this broadcast said, "Life in Syria is no paradise, and it is even worse for Jews. Having said that, let's be honest about it. Yes, you can learn about your heritage in a Syrian school. There are schools in Syria in which Hebrew is taught. You can move around." This was broadcast in a year when the United Jewish Appeal was using the plight of the Syrian Jews to raise money. In any case, that gave people trouble with me, and I'm sure that my father and mother are still rolling in their graves about their son being labeled a self-hating Jew.

You went back later and checked it all out again, didn't you?

Mike Wallace: We went back and checked it out again about six or eight months later, and found the first broadcast had been accurate. Only this time, some of the sober people in the Jewish community finally acknowledged that the first report had been accurate.

Tell us a little bit about the H.R. Haldeman interview. You have written that it was a frustrating experience in some ways.

Mike Wallace Interview Photo
Mike Wallace: One doesn't like to pay for interviews. Strangely enough, in England, in Israel, in Russia, when an interview like this takes place the interviewee gets paid. In the United States that is beyond the pale; you don't do it. There are ways to get around it, but you don't. All of a sudden, at the height of the Watergate business, it became apparent that H.R. Haldeman was going to be available for an interview for the sum of $100,000. They chose me to do the interview. All I can tell you is that we did not get our money's worth. He was not forthcoming.

There was a great to-do about what is called "checkbook journalism." "Checkbook journalism" is when you pay someone to answer your questions. "Checkbook journalism" also, I suppose, is when somebody writes his memoirs or her memoirs. If you are going to do an interview with somebody, at least if the interviewer is on his game, he is going to ask skeptical questions, whereas if you are just doing an essay or your memoirs, you are going to write your own memoirs. The New York Times Magazine had the daughter of Joseph Stalin, Svetlana Alliluyeva, do her memoirs. Isn't that checkbook journalism?

They paid her?

Mike Wallace: They paid her, of course. And Life magazine paid the astronauts to tell their story. That also is checkbook journalism. They were not questioned skeptically. It remains a bad idea, in my estimation, to pay for a news interview. If you are a corrupt politician who says "I'll tell it to you if you pay me," and decides to tell what he wants to tell, et cetera, et cetera. It's a bad idea.

So it was a bad idea to pay Haldeman?

Mike Wallace: We got nothing. It was a bad idea. We certainly did not get our money's worth. He must have laughed all the way to the bank about being paid $100,000 to tell us virtually nothing.

The adventure of Jeffrey Weigand and the tobacco industry story has been captured in the film The Insider. Was the film accurate or was the film fiction?

Mike Wallace: Two-thirds of the film is quite accurate. It was dramatized excessively.

How was it watching Christopher Plummer play you?

Mike Wallace Interview Photo
Mike Wallace: Listen, I could have been a contender if I was that good-looking. He did a good job, I thought, he got some of my tics. But, the basis of the film was that I had lost my moral compass and had gone along with the company and caved in for fear of a lawsuit or something like that. Also, Don Hewitt, who is the Executive Producer of 60 Minutes, but mainly me. That was utter bullshit. It was done for the drama involved. Then finally, at the end, I found my moral compass again, except it was not true.

In a quote from the movie, your character says, "I'm with Don on this." In other words, "Yeah, we should kill it." You didn't do that?

Mike Wallace: Certainly not. In the broadcast that we did do at that time, I did a mea culpa on behalf of CBS. I negotiated it with the people at CBS, which permitted me to say that for the first time in the history of 60 Minutes, for the first time in the history of CBS News, as I know it, I was told not to do something. We weren't going to broadcast something that I had done for fear of a law suit or something of that nature. God, that happily is not my reputation, and it was a lie. But it made it more dramatic.

Well, it's up there on this big screen and people are going to see it all over the country. That must have been very frustrating for you.

Mike Wallace: It was especially frustrating because I had never been contacted to get my side of the story. This is ostensibly history, but no one -- not the writers, not the producer -- called me and said, "Mike, okay, we want to do this. Tell us your version of the story." Nothing of that sort happened.

What is your version of the story?

Mike Wallace: It was difficult to get Jeffrey Weigand to speak. He came to New York on two occasions with his wife. His wife did not want him to speak about it because he had an agreement with the Brown & Williamson Tobacco company that he was not going to talk about that. We tried to persuade him. We were all in this together, the camera crews, the technicians, Lowell Bergman who was the producer, and I. Finally, finally, he decided to sit down and tell his story, which was extraordinary. Now came the fact that unbeknownst to us, Larry Tisch owned and was running the CBS network at the time, was in the middle of negotiations with the Brown & Williamson corporation, which was the corporation involved in this whole business with Jeffrey Weigand. Negotiation about some off-brands or one thing or another. Also, there was a concern that perhaps there would be a major, major lawsuit. We were told by the attorneys at CBS that chances are the lawsuit would be brought against CBS in Kentucky and that conceivably a Kentucky jury, obviously, would go against us and conceivably there could be a levy, if you will or a fine, something in the amount of $15 billion if it came down against us, and that naturally, we would appeal and in order to appeal, CBS would have to put up a tenth of that $15 billion, which is $1.5 billion. Look, I had no idea if it was accurate or inaccurate, but therefore they decided that they were simply not going to permit this thing to be broadcast. Well, you can imagine! As far as we were concerned, we had never had anything like this before.

Meantime, Lowell Bergman is taking careful notes about what everybody was saying. I had no idea why he was taking notes, but in any case...

We finally decided that we were going to broadcast a piece about it, the same piece that we were intending to do, except we would not name Brown & Williamson, Jeffrey Weigand and all of the individuals. So, if you hadn't named the people, you couldn't be sued. I mean, who would sue you? In any case, that was what finally took place. Obviously, we were all not enthusiastic about it because we wanted the real thing on, but all of the information that would have been there would be there, except for the name of the company, the name of the scientist, and the name of the CEO, and so forth. So, we put it on the air, except that I demanded and got the opportunity to tell the audience that nothing like this had ever happened in my decade at CBS. You can imagine, prior to all of this, that there had been fights between the lawyers -- the company lawyers and the outside lawyers and things of that nature. But, we put it on the air and I said, "When it becomes possible, we will broadcast the whole thing." Well, that took not very long because the Wall Street Journal had the story, published the story and obviously, as soon as that was published, they said, "Go ahead because they can't very well sue you and not the Wall Street Journal." So we put it on the air.

But...

Mr. Bergman, with whom I had worked for 13 years, suggested that he had been against putting that sanitized piece on the air, and said that I had caved in and Hewitt had caved in. He leaked that misinformation to The New York Times. What else he leaked, I have no idea. So it came off as though -- I mean Hewitt and I were virtually not speaking because Don had indeed gone along with the company, and I had for a period of maybe about 12 hours and then I said, "Unh-unh, I'm not going to do this." All of this is on the record. It's on the record, what I'm saying. Naturally, I was upset about it and made it apparent that I was upset about it. There was no talk about a movie at that time. Then, I suddenly realized that Mr. Bergman had been forwarding all of this information to Michael Mann, an old friend of his, who was producing and/or directing and/or writing the film. So that, he knew everything that was going on inside our shop.

He was privy to what we knew at the same time that it was happening.

Lowell always felt that he had gotten insufficient attention for his work and he probably had. Producers by and large don't get sufficient attention for their work.

Do you think there was actually a vindictive feeling on his part? If not consciously maybe subconsciously?

Mike Wallace: Not subconsciously. In any case, I asked Lowell to get me a copy of the manuscript. He said he couldn't do it. Couldn't do it! I finally called Michael Mann and got a copy of the manuscript within 24 hours. I pointed out some of the wrongs things in there, just outright dead wrong. Michael Mann corrected those, but he quite candidly said, "Look we need the drama." He didn't say it this way. But, "We need the drama of the fellow who loses his compass and finally gets it back and everything resolves itself." Well, what can you do under those circumstances?

Looking back on that, is there anything you would have done differently, regardless of what the film said?

Mike Wallace: There was nothing that I could have done.

It never occurred to me that this kind of disloyalty -- that's not the right word -- that this kind of connivery would have gone on behind the scenes. I mean Bergman and I had been working together for years and years. He saw a chance to make some money and so forth. Then the amusing thing or the ironic thing, he said that he'd been fired and so forth. He was never fired. He stayed on and collected his salary for two years more, I believe it was. Then he wanted a job on 60 Minutes II and came to my apartment to ask if I would help him get his job back at 60 Minutes II, which I declined to do.

It must have been a painful chapter.

Mike Wallace: It was a very painful chapter.

Where do you get your drive? In the mid-70s 60 Minutes became a 52-week a year program. It must take an unbelievable amount of work to produce those pieces. Where does that passion come from?

Mike Wallace: I think because I came late to the game, I felt that I had more to prove, probably, than some others. I find that women have more drive because they have more to prove in television reporting. So, what I had to do was do more of it, work harder at it and in addition, I loved the chore. I mean to work for 60 Minutes, and to be able to go any place in the world, do any story, have enough time on the air, et cetera, there's simply no job in journalism like it. At the beginning, it was a dream. Even now, at the age of 84, I work with people who are half my age or less, and it's the draw of the story. If there is a good story going, why not be there? The only thing, or the main thing that makes it a drag today, is the fact that you have to get on airplanes, and in order to get on airplanes you carry a lot of luggage because you don't trust the airlines to get it there. You have to take off your clothes. You have to walk a mile and a half to the gate, all of that kind of stuff. Frankly, flying is a pain in the ass in 2002. There comes a time. So, I'm cutting back by half, I believe, for the next little while.

Your contract continues for the next couple of years, doesn't it?

Mike Wallace: Yes. Two more years, until I am 86.

And then?

Mike Wallace: We'll renegotiate.

You have come under fire for some of the aggressive things you and your producers have done to uncover fraud. For example, the Medicaid fraud piece which involved the setting up of a clinic in Chicago, can you talk about that?

Mike Wallace: I am happy to talk about it.

We did what any sensible reporter would do, except that if you have a television camera involved and you have a television tube involved, you want the audience to be able to see what they can see. We had heard that there was corruption going on in laboratories in Chicago, and what we did was, we hid a camera behind a mirror and we talked to some of the people who were committing the fraud. They were quite candid in what they were saying. Then I came out from behind because if I was going to talk to them, I wanted to be on camera talking to them. They were taken aback, and in effect their pudding came spilling out. In effect, what they said was, "Yes, we kited our bills," or "We overcharged," or "We didn't do work that we said that we had done," and so forth. This was back in the '70s, I guess, at a time when this kind of thing in television simply was not done.

It is done more today.

Mike Wallace: A lot more today, and we don't do it as much today. What are you after? Are you after light or heat? If you are after light, fine, but if you are after drama, after heat -- and there is obviously a certain amount of drama involved in coming upon somebody who is doing something criminal. You see it happening in front of you, that is dramatic. But there are other ways to tell the story and we did not want to become a caricature of ourselves. Other people started to do the same thing, so we figured we would go back to doing it in a more traditional way. Nothing has been diminished as a result.

There was an ad for 60 Minutes that I am sure you are well familiar with, "The four most dreaded words in the English language: Mike Wallace is here." Is that flattering?

Mike Wallace: Of course it is, for a reporter. It's asinine, but it's flattering.

"Hey, tell the truth," that's what it says, "Because this guy and his team (and his team is very, very important) probably has the goods on you. He probably knows a good deal of what you don't want them to know, so play straight with them. Tell the truth." I can not tell you how many people, as a result, decided to tell the truth. The Coors Brewing Company ran that ad. We were going to do a piece about the Coors Brewing Company and [their] use of lie detectors without the knowledge of some of the people that they were detecting, and their employment practices and things of that nature, browns and blacks and women and so forth. At the time, they were being boycotted by AFL-CIO because of some of these practices, and I told the PR guy from Coors Brewery, "We are going to do the story whether you like it or not, so why not cooperate and tell the story?" He finally made the decision, and the Coors brothers, the two older guys, conservatives, said, "Yeah, let's tell the story." So, we told the story. Those lines were used when we repeated the story that summer. They took out an ad saying, "The four most difficult words" or whatever, "60 Minutes is here, Mike Wallace is here." They said, "If you like the truth and good beer, watch 60 Minutes."

Are you as tough in your personal life as you are on the air?

Mike Wallace: I'm obviously a pain in the neck to live with. But you know something, no longer. I have really become quite benign.

Could you tell us a little bit about your struggle with depression, which you have made public.

Mike Wallace: I had done a story about depression on 60 Minutes early on. I didn't know anything about it, really. I found out about a California fellow who ran a large corporation, who had been Secretary of Defense or Assistant Secretary of Defense. He had it all. He talked to me about it and said, "Suddenly, I found myself in a deep depression. What was I depressed about?" Josh Logan was on that, and he too had a manic depression. So, we put the piece on the air. Then, when I was on trial for my life effectively, during the Westmoreland trial, when he sued CBS and me and a variety of other employees of CBS for $120 million because we told the truth about the story called, "The Uncounted Enemy" of Vietnam deception. I sat in the cold and drafty Federal courtroom in Foley Square in New York for about five months, and the plaintiff puts on his case first in a libel suit. He had sued for $120 million bucks. To be called "liar, cheat, fraud," et cetera, and in a libel case nothing is barred, little by little by little, I found myself getting spacey, and unable to sleep and unable to eat, and I mean really, what in the dickens is going on? What happened, obviously it took me a little time to find out, was that I was in a classical, clinical depression. I mean, it really was a tough one. I was copeless; not just hopeless, but copeless. I tried to keep on working because I was ashamed of acknowledging the fact that I was depressed. You don't use that word.

What year are we talking about?

Mike Wallace: The broadcast was '82, the trial was '84.

I finally got to see a psychiatrist, and he said, "Mr. Wallace," and I said "Yes, Dr. Kaplan," and today, 20 years later, it is still Dr. Kaplan and Mr. Wallace. I see him every six months or so for a lube job, so to speak. He said, "You are suffering from a depression and we can treat it," et cetera, et cetera. So, what happened was he fed me something called Ludiomil and talked to me. That's in my estimation quite important, that you do psychotherapy along with pharmacological therapy. He talked to me, and little by little by little he found out -- he didn't really know what it was that I did at that time -- finally he said to me, "You know something, Mr. Wallace," -- this was after about a month of therapy -- "What you have to do is to get ready, number one, to answer the kind of questions that you like to ask people because they are going to ask you that on the stand. Then you have to get ready to lose because if you lose, you think your life is gone. Well, we're going to try in these sessions to get you ready for that." Of course, he was absolutely right. But, what the Ludiomil did was make your hands shake, among other things. It dried your mouth, everything. But, I could just see myself sitting on the stand five yards from the jury with a glass in my hand and my hand shaking and the jury saying, "Well, any guy whose hand is shaking that way is obviously guilty."

In any case, because we were superbly represented, the case was made and he went away. He dropped the lawsuit.

I didn't want to talk about the stigma of depression. Finally, one night I was on the Bob Costas Show, back when he did Later on television, about 1:30 in the morning. In the middle of it, I suddenly realized, "Hey, the people who are watching at this time of night are people who can't sleep." So, I decided those are the people that I used to be, and that is the first time I began to go public about it. It lifted an extraordinary burden. Since that time I have talked about it fairly openly for the reason that it can be helpful for other people to say, "Well look, here's a guy who was at the bottom of the heap, miserable, and look, he has it back. He's...surviving."

There's no shame in having it.

Mike Wallace Interview Photo
Mike Wallace: There's about as much shame as getting Scarlet Fever. No, there is no shame whatsoever.

Tipper Gore also went public in the last couple of years. Her depression was also triggered by an event in her life, a very serious injury to one of her children. That is something a lot of people don't realize, that there can be a triggering incident. That doesn't mean it's not clinical depression.

Mike Wallace: Or genetics can trigger it. A shocking event, the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, there are all kinds of things. It may be latent in you. As I look back, I believe my mother probably had a tendency to that. But it can be treated, if people would pay attention to it, and when they are given some kind of medication, stick with it. Find the right recipe and stick with it. Sometimes it takes a little while to catch.

We ask our interviewees what the American Dream means to them. You have spoken to so many different people from so many walks of life in the years you have been broadcasting. What does that phrase mean to you today, "The American Dream?"

Mike Wallace: Well, it's such a wonderful country. The American Dream is the privilege of being able to realize what you are capable of, at least what you believe you are capable of, and to test yourself, and nobody is going to get in your way. Maybe if you are black it's not so easy, for some people it is not so easy, for certain minorities, for women. It is the extraordinary freedom that comes with opportunity, to try to make of yourself what you would like to make of yourself.

The other thing about the American Dream is to help others to achieve it, to realize it too, and to be willing to defend it, to be willing to go to the mat, to tell other people and to defend it with your body if necessary, with your mind, with your ethics, to be honest. I just can't imagine -- despite all our flaws, and we have plenty of them, the American Dream for me is the privilege of living in a society that is as good as ours is, with all its flaws, and God knows there are those, I can't think of any place in the world that I would rather live. I'm extraordinarily privileged, as the son of immigrants who came from no place.

Anybody can do it, not anybody, but just about. It is a lot better than it used to be. Hopefully, the time will come, sooner rather than later, that anybody will have a shot at it.

What are you most proud of?

Mike Wallace: Having survived. When I say "having survived," I mean it. Find your way, struggle and hanging in there, being honest with yourself and honest with others and finally, finally, learning to be kind to other people.

Thank you so much. You have been very generous with your time. We appreciate it very much.




This page last revised on Mar 24, 2008 13:32 EDT