CBS Newsman Mike Wallace Dies At 93

Over the weekend, 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace died in Connecticut. Wallace, a star of that CBS news magazine for 40 years, stood out because of his seeming willingness to ask anybody anything. In 2005, he sat down for an interview with Steve Inskeep.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's take the next few minutes to remember Mike Wallace. The "60 Minutes" correspondent died over the weekend.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Wallace was the star of that CBS news magazine for 40 years, and he stood out because of his seeming willingness to ask anybody anything.

MONTAGNE: During the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, he interviewed the new Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

MIKE WALLACE: Imam, President Sadat of Egypt, a devoutly religious man, a Muslim, says that what you are doing now is, quote, "a disgrace to Islam." And he calls you, Imam - forgive me, his words, not mine - a lunatic.

MONTAGNE: That was a characteristic question for Wallace, whose colleague Morley Safer remembered him on "60 Minutes" last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

MORLEY SAFER: Mike took to heart the old reporter's pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

INSKEEP: And though he interviewed some of the most famous people in the world, Wallace was the center of attention on-camera. It wasn't always positive attention.

MONTAGNE: In a 1982 story about the Vietnam War, Wallace accused General William Westmoreland of deliberately underestimating enemy troop strength and prolonging the war.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

WALLACE: Isn't it a possibility that the real reason for suddenly deciding in the summer of 1967 to remove an entire category of the enemy from the order of battle was based on political considerations?

GENERAL WILLIAM WESTMORELAND: No, decidedly not. That...

WALLACE: Didn't you make this clear in your August 20th cable?

WESTMORELAND: No.

WALLACE: I have a copy of your August 20th cable...

WESTMORELAND: Sure, OK, OK...

INSKEEP: Westmoreland brought a libel suit that was eventually settled out of court. Now, having heard the late Mike Wallace ask questions, let's hear him answer a few. Back in 2005, he came to a microphone for our occasional series The Long View.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

INSKEEP: Mr. Wallace, it's great to make your acquaintance, even at a distance.

WALLACE: We're not going to be calling each other by name, or do I say something like Steve to you?

INSKEEP: You absolutely can call me Steve.

WALLACE: You can call me Mike then.

INSKEEP: Well, thank you.

WALLACE: Forget this Mr. Wallace crap.

INSKEEP: It's going to be...

As Mike Wallace spoke, you could faintly hear in the background the ticking of a clock. He's still working at the age of 87.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALLACE: I cut myself down to about half time, and cut myself down to about half salary too.

INSKEEP: Some people may wonder why you are still working.

WALLACE: Because I wouldn't know what else to do. It's as simple as that. You know, I had a couple of - three episodes of clinical depression. I'm fine now, but I talked to my psychiatrist, to whom I go for lube jobs every six months or so, and he says, look, what are you going to do? Do you know what you are going to do if you quit completely? And I said, I don't know what I'm, I'm - I love to work. I love to be useful.

INSKEEP: I think more than most interviewers, the questions that you ask can be as interesting as the answers that they elicit. And...

WALLACE: Well, a lady by the name of Faye Emerson, who was a good friend of mine a million years ago, told me, Mike, there is no such thing as an indiscreet question. And you know what? It's true.

INSKEEP: You know, it's not just the substance of the questions with you, though, sometimes. It's the way that they're asked.

WALLACE: I couldn't agree more. If you've done it a long time, as you apparently have done, and as you know I surely have done, you learn that one of the most persuasive ways to get somebody that you're interviewing to open up is to write down maybe 50 questions ahead of time. And when you sit down with an interviewee under those circumstances, you become co-conspirators. They suddenly realize he knows a lot about me, so I'm going to help him draw a round picture of me.

INSKEEP: I remember an interview - to be honest, I can't remember the subject of the interview. I can only remember your reaction. It was more than a decade ago on "60 Minutes." Some politician made some statement, and the camera cuts backs to Mike Wallace and you say gimme a break.

WALLACE: You mean I was a little skeptical of what he was saying?

INSKEEP: A tad.

WALLACE: If you listen carefully and - a perfectly sensible thing to say to somebody. Give me a break, come on, let's talk seriously. Don't phony up your answer. That's not the function of an interview. First of all, you want a character sketch, you want a profile, you want to find out what's important to that individual that you're speaking - whoever he or she may be, and that's why you prepare so thoroughly for it.

And that's why I sit down and - not with everybody, but with somebody that I care about interviewing. Morgan Freeman, all I knew was that he is the most comfortable actor - and when I say comfortable, when he is doing a role he is simply superb. I was very curious about this man because I have respect and admiration for him, so much of it. The man learned to fly in his sixties.

If you can keep fresh eyes and not be jaded by hearing the same kind of thing over and over and over again, the interviewee will help you.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about one other thing, and it's a bit of a delicate subject, I suppose, but there are no indelicate questions, as you have said.

WALLACE: No indiscreet questions.

INSKEEP: No indiscreet questions.

WALLACE: Yes, but no, I'm very curious to hear what this...

INSKEEP: Well, you've interviewed many, many people who are in the twilight of their careers, who are late along in life, who have seen many things. How do you interview a person of a certain age?

WALLACE: You mean like me?

INSKEEP: Something like that, yes.

WALLACE: That's not difficult. I've been there. I know what it's about. And I know what struggles sometimes are going on in that individual's mind. And if you're interviewing that person, you're interviewing him for his experience, or her experience, for their wisdom, for their willingness to tell truths perhaps that they had not been willing to tell truth about before. In other words, what the hell, let's just tell it the way it is.

INSKEEP: You write that you angered Mel Brooks at the age of 75 or so when you told him it's all downhill from now on.

WALLACE: That's correct. And he hated it.

INSKEEP: Well...

WALLACE: He hated to...

INSKEEP: Let me ask you, is it all downhill from now on?

WALLACE: Hell yes. I mean, come on, when you've been on "60 Minutes" for 37 or 38 years, you've been around the world and talked to all manner of individuals and you have the energy, psychic and physical, to do that kind of thing, and then suddenly you'd prefer to nap in the afternoon, it's different.

And when you say downhill, that doesn't mean that you don't have the same energy in your mind about the stories that you would like to cover. But you don't have really the physical capacity.

INSKEEP: Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" in 2005. He died on Saturday in Connecticut at the age of 93.

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