The television newsman who pretty much invented the style of the tough interview in the early years of the medium died Saturday at a care facility in Connecticut. His last appearance on "60 Minutes," and on television, was an interview of Roger Clemens, the baseball pitcher accused of lying about steroid use, on January 6, 2008. Wallace won his 21st Emmy award at the age of 89 for a 2006 interview of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. CBS has posted tributes and videos on its website and announced that the "60 Minutes" program of April 15 will be devoted to Wallace's career. Bob Schieffer announced the news on CBS' "Face the Nation" this morning and turned the show over to longtime "60 Minutes" colleague Morley Safer.
From the CBS News website:
"It is with tremendous sadness that we mark the passing of Mike Wallace. His extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable and he has been a force within the television industry throughout its existence. His loss will be felt by all of us at CBS," said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO, CBS Corporation.
In the early days of broadcasting, with no line between news and entertainment, Wallace did both. In the 1940s and '50s, he appeared on a variety of radio and television programs, first as narrator/announcer, then as a reporter, actor and program host.
On his first network television news program, ABC's "The Mike Wallace Interview," he perfected his interviewing style that he first tried on a local New York television guest show called "Night Beat." Created with producer Ted Yates, "Night Beat" became an instant hit that New Yorkers began referring to as "brow beat." Wallace's relentless questioning of his subjects proved to be a compelling alternative to the polite chit-chat practiced by early television hosts.
Years later, CBS News producer Don Hewitt remembered that hard-charging style when creating his pioneering news magazine, "60 Minutes"; he picked Wallace to be a counterweight to the avuncular Harry Reasoner. On September 24, 1968, Wallace and Reasoner introduced "60 Minutes" to the 10:00 p.m. timeslot, where it ran every other Tuesday. It failed to draw large audiences. But critics praised it, awards followed, and after seven years on various nights, "60 Minutes" went to 7:00 p.m. Sunday and began its rise.
Here is that first "60" Minutes show.
From the New York Times obituary:
Mr. Wallace created enough such moments to become a paragon of television journalism in the heyday of network news. As he grilled his subjects, he said, he walked “a fine line between sadism and intellectual curiosity.”
His success often lay in the questions he hurled, not the answers he received.
“Perjury,” he said, in his staccato style, to President Richard M. Nixon’s right-hand man, John D. Ehrlichman, while interviewing him during the Watergate affair. “Plans to audit tax returns for political retaliation. Theft of psychiatric records. Spying by undercover agents. Conspiracy to obstruct justice. All of this by the law-and-order administration of Richard Nixon.”
Mr. Ehrlichman paused and said, “Is there a question in there somewhere?”
No, Mr. Wallace later conceded. But it was riveting television.
The New York Times has posted a pre-obit video interview with Wallace that was not to be seen until his death.