Mike Wallace Biography

News Anchor, Journalist, Radio Personality(1918–2012)
Mike Wallace was a television journalist best known for his affiliation with the CBS news program '60 Minutes.'

Synopsis

Mike Wallace was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1918. Beginning in college he worked as an announcer and a newscaster on radio, and later served as a naval communications officer during World War II. In the 1950s he began to work on television, and in 1963 he joined CBS as a reporter. In 1968 Wallace became co-editor of the news program 60 Minutes and was known for his aggressive interview style, winning numerous Emmy Awards over the ensuing decades. Wallace died in New Canaan, Connecticut. in 2012.

Early Career

One of television's most admired journalists, Mike Wallace spent much of his career as a host and correspondent on the popular news magazine 60 Minutes. His relentless interviewing style often made his subjects nervous, whether they were world leaders or popular actresses. Sometimes called a pit bull, Wallace seemed to be driven by an intense commitment to deliver the truth to his audience. "I'm nosy and insistent," he once explained.

The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Wallace was born on May 9. 1918, in Brookline, Massachusetts. After high school he attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he first discovered radio journalism at the campus station. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1939, Wallace worked at several radio stations in Michigan.

During World War II, Wallace spent several years in the U.S. Navy as a communications officer. After the war, he ended up working a number of television and media jobs before finding his true calling in the mid-1950s. Living in New York at the time, Wallace became the host of an interview show called Night Beat. The program went national on ABC in 1957 as The Mike Wallace Interview. This was America's first taste of Wallace as the tough interrogator. He later called these one-on-one encounters "a radical departure from the usual pablum of radio and television interviews."

In 1963, Wallace became a full-time correspondent for CBS News. He had decided to pursue hard news as a career after the 1962 death of his oldest son, Peter. In a later interview, Wallace explained that he wanted to "do something that would make Peter proud."

'60 Minutes'

Wallace was one of producer Don Hewitt's first picks for his news magazine 60 Minutes. Debuting in 1968, 60 Minutes featured Wallace and Harry Reasoner as co-hosts. Wallace helped pioneer what is known as "ambush journalism." He was fond of the technique, which called for approaching a subject without warning. While he later dropped the practice, he maintained a reputation for having no mercy for his subjects.

Never afraid of asking the tough questions, Wallace interviewed numerous world leaders. He had the courage to question the sanity of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, soon after the American hostage crisis began in Iran. He later challenged Russian leader Vladimir Putin about whether Russia was truly a democracy and questioned him about corruption.

Wallace also talked with other newsmakers, using the same, no-nonsense approach. For each interview, he was known to do extensive research and approached every subject with a skeptical eye. Wallace asked singer Barbra Streisand about spending two decades in psychoanalysis, saying "What is she trying to find out that takes 20 years?" He also asked comedian Johnny Carson about a possible drinking problem. One of his most controversial segments, however, came in 1998, when he included footage of an assisted suicide of a terminally ill patient by outspoken euthanasia supporter Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

Career Obstacles

Wallace's success did not come without its share of challenges. He was personally devastated by a libel suit by General William Westmoreland over a CBS News special Wallace had done on the Vietnam War. The 1982 program claimed that Westmoreland had intentionally underreported the strength of enemy troops, a charge that Westmoreland disputed. "The Westmoreland affair, professionally and personally, was one of the most difficult times of my life," he later said. The resulting trial in 1984 sent the distinguished newsman into a terrible depression, and Wallace later revealed that he had attempted suicide during this difficult time.

Another professional setback came in 1995 when Wallace fought with his own network over an interview he conducted with Jeffrey Wigand, a former research head for a tobacco company, for a story on misleading industry practices. This whistleblower gave Wallace some startling information on nicotine, but higher-ups at the network initially refused to air the story—and Wallace himself reportedly capitulated—for fear of lawsuits. The incident became the basis for the 1999 film The Insider with Christopher Plummer as Wallace and Russell Crowe as Wigand.

No matter what controversies he stirred up or roadblocks he faced, Wallace tirelessly strove to the bottom of each story for nearly 40 years. As fellow 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer once explained, Wallace "took to heart the old reporter's pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." For his impressive work, Wallace won numerous accolades, including 21 Emmy Awards.

Final Years

Wallace stepped away from his full-time role on 60 Minutes in 2006. Not ready to give up chasing stories completely, he made several appearances on the show over the next two years. One of his biggest interviews from this time was with Dr. Jack Kevorkian who had just been released from prison. In January 2008, Wallace's final 60 Minutes interview aired, during which he talked with disgraced baseball star Roger Clemens about his alleged steroid use. 

Around this time, Wallace underwent surgery for a triple bypass, and his health began to decline. Some reports indicate that Wallace suffered from dementia. He spent his last years at a care facility in New Canaan, Connecticut.

On April 7, 2012, Wallace passed away "peacefully surrounded by family members." He was survived by his fourth wife, Mary; his son, Chris; stepdaughter Pauline Dora; stepsons Eames and Angus Yates; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Chris Wallace has carried on the family's name in journalism as the host of Fox News Sunday.

Friends, fans and colleagues responded to the news with great sadness. "His extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable and he has been a force within the television industry throughout its existence," said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather also remarked on Wallace's impact on television news, saying he made it "more investigative, more aggressive and relevant."

For many, the passing of Wallace marks the end of an era in news reporting. No one in today's news media seems to have the same mixture of nerve, talent and determination. Wallace won his audience's trust and admiration week after week, and his unpredictability kept them tuning in. "It almost didn't matter what stories he was covering, you just wanted to hear what he would ask next," said Jeff Fager, former CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer.

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