Fresh Air Remembers Mike Wallace Of '60 Minutes' The CBS News correspondent who became famous for his two-fisted interview style and hard-hitting interviews with politicians, celebrities and newsmakers died Saturday. He was 93. Fresh Air remembers Wallace with excerpts from a 2005 interview.
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Fresh Air Remembers Mike Wallace Of '60 Minutes'

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Fresh Air Remembers Mike Wallace Of '60 Minutes'

Fresh Air Remembers Mike Wallace Of '60 Minutes'

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

We're going to listen back to an excerpt of the interview I recorded with Mike Wallace in 2005 after the publication of his memoir "Between You and Me." Wallace died Saturday at the age of 93. He was famous for the two-fisted prosecutorial interview style he developed on "60 Minutes," and for the ambush interviews he used to conduct, a technique that was very controversial. Mike Wallace was with "60 Minutes" from its start in 1968, and was even doing occasional segments when I spoke with him when he was 87.

He developed some of his style on his late-night TV show "Night Beat," which was broadcast in New York. Here's a clip from a famous Mike Wallace interview with Malcolm X on the "CBS Morning News" in 1964. This was eight months before Malcolm was assassinated, after he had become disillusioned with Elijah's Muhammad's leadership of the black Muslims.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS MORNING NEWS")

MIKE WALLACE: Do you feel perhaps that you should now take over the leadership of the black Muslims?

MALCOLM X: No. I have no desire to take over the leadership of the black Muslims, and I have never had that desire, but I do have this desire. I have a desire to see the Afro-American in this country get the human rights that are his due, to make a complete human being.

WALLACE: Are you the least bit afraid of what might happen to you as a result of making these revelations?

X: Oh, yes. I probably am a dead man already.

GROSS: Here's the excerpt of my interview with Mike Wallace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GROSS: One of the things you've become best known for in your "60 Minutes" interviews is not only the tough interview but what's been described as the ambush interview, where the camera person walks in with the camera running...

WALLACE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and the person doesn't want to be interviewed but the camera man's there with the camera on and you see the person waving the camera away and putting their hands in front of their faces...

WALLACE: That's right.

GROSS: ...so that no one can see who they are, and you're asking questions even though they're trying to get rid of you. Have you ever had any reservations about that kind of interview? Have you ever thought that there was anything unethical about it?

WALLACE: You know something?

GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.

WALLACE: I didn't think at the time that it was unethical, no. I mean, come on, we're - I'm a reporter. I - you can't subpoena people to talk to you. If you write to them and try to call them on the phone and they don't answer and so forth, then take them unawares. The problem became this. We became a caricature of ourselves. We were after light and it began to look as though we were after heat.

Not to reveal some information, or not to find out the story, but the drama of...

GROSS: It turned into theater.

WALLACE: Hmm?

GROSS: It turned into theater.

WALLACE: It was good theater.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

WALLACE: It was good theater. But after a while it became kind of predictable, and so finally both Don Hewitt and I said, hey, enough of this. This is foolishness. Don being the producer of "60 Minutes." This is foolishness, and so we gave it up. I still think it's a perfectly legitimate device to take somebody unaware and say, hey, there's a question that you ought to answer.

GROSS: You have discussed and written about a problem that you've had with depression.

WALLACE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: When you realized what it was, did you...

WALLACE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...comprehend it? And I ask this because I think it's fair to say that a lot of people of your generation didn't grow up, you know, reading Freud and studying psychology, and it being, you know, everybody wasn't in psychoanalysis or some kind of therapy. Things have really changed in terms of dealing with psychological issues, and certainly with depression; our understanding of the biochemistry of depression has changed enormously.

WALLACE: Right. And the genetics, yeah. The genetics.

GROSS: And the genetics of it, exactly. Exactly. Did you get it when you were diagnosed?

WALLACE: When I first began to not be able to eat happily, or sleep enough, or whatever, and had pains in my arms, I didn't understand it. I was going through a tough time. I was sitting - have you ever been sued for libel?

GROSS: Knock wood, no.

WALLACE: Good. She hasn't. Well, knock wood for you, because when you're sued for libel...

GROSS: And this was the Westmoreland case that you're talking about.

WALLACE: That's exactly right. For $120 million, CBS and among others, me, sued for libel and spent four months in a cold and drafty federal courtroom being called liar, cheat, fraud, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, that - I didn't realize what was happening, but I was sliding into a depression. My wife said, Mike, you're depressed. I'm not. I'm - and my own doctor said, no, don't you talk about yourself and depression. It would be bad for your image, Mike. Can you imagine?

GROSS: Well, let me ask you. You say some people warned you that you couldn't talk publicly about your depression, it would be bad for your image.

WALLACE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And in fact, I mean, your image is of being the really tough questioner. Nothing gets to you...

WALLACE: That's right.

GROSS: ...and you can ask anything to anyone. And so if people thought that...

WALLACE: So who is this...

GROSS: ...you were vulnerable, that...

WALLACE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...that could in fact really affect your image. So did it? When you came out as having suffered from depression...

WALLACE: What happened was this.

GROSS: Yeah.

WALLACE: What happened was this.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

WALLACE: One o'clock, 1:30 in the morning, you remember Bob Costas used to do a show called "Later"?

GROSS: Yes.

WALLACE: He wanted to talk to me about "60 Minutes," and I asked him, who watches or who listens at 1:00, 1:30 in the morning, and he said, well, some people who work at that time, but also people who can't get to sleep. And I said, oh, my people. And that's - he got so many answers, so many telephone calls, so many people who said, hey, that's what's going on with me, and you mean to say that Wallace, who apparently is doing his job and was a tough guy and so forth, he's not just a wimp, as a result of that I figured I'm going to go public. Of course by that time I was fairly well established doing what I do.

GROSS: Mike Wallace recorded in 2005. He died Saturday at the age of 93.

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