Tuesday, April 10, 2012

'Just look for the truth'

OK, I'll admit it.

I loved Mike Wallace.

Well, let me back up. I had a love/hate relationship with the guy. Sometimes his "60 Minutes" segments made me stand up and cheer. Sometimes they'd make me mad. But, that was the point.

As Scott Pelley said last night on the CBS Evening News, Mike Wallace had a saying:

"Our job isn't hard. Just look for the truth."

Those words are more important than ever in this social media cyclone, in which even the relatively-new 24-hour news cycle has been reduced to a seven-minute one.

You no doubt know I'm a old soul. I've watched or recorded "60 Minutes" since I was a boy. Andy Rooney was my favorite. Harry Reasoner was the one I wanted to be like. Ed Bradley was the dude that dug great tunes. I had a crush on Lesley Stahl since her White House days. Morley Safer was the courtly one. Dan Rather was Dan Rather.

But the guy whose voice and manner and mere presence quickened my pulse was Mike Wallace. I admired his guts. I'd always laugh whenever he'd nail some crook. I loved to watch the powerful and the dictatorial and the arrogant asses dither and squirm. Pelley and Steve Kroft and the current crew (Safer and Stahl are still around and, for the record, I still love Stahl and now have a crush on Lara Logan) are doing a great job keeping Don Hewitt's baby and Mike Wallace's MO alive.

Wallace had been to the top of the mountain and to the depth of the valley. Gen. William Westmoreland sued him in a famous incident in 1982. Wallace later admitted the incident, plus the death of a son, touched off a series of depressive episodes. He admitted to Safer in a late interview he once tried to kill himself. I felt for him because I, too, have been nipped at the heels before by the Black Dog.

Favorite stories? Oh, the time he scooped Seymour Hersh on Hersh's own story -- while on an airplane! And the time he threw up the word "lunatic" to the Ayatollah.

Don't miss this excellent New York magazine piece by Matt Zoller Seitz.

Of the CBS clips of classic interviews, please watch Wallace's heart-wrenching story on the Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, who blamed himself for JFK's assassination. You can find it among these classic clips. Heck, watch 'em all.

As such things eerily go sometimes, I watched a Wallace-hosted 1992 CBS documentary on Watergate about 24 hours before I heard of his passing. I remember thinking how much I missed that voice, that turned-up eyebrow, that look, on "60 Minutes."

He had his faults and he wasn't a saint, but at least by one viewer who appreciated a guy going for the jugular and giving his all into his 90s, Mike Wallace will be missed.

One last story: Pelley said last night CBS threw Wallace a big party the Friday night of the week he "retired." Gave him a cake and everything.

Guess who was back at work, sitting at his desk, the following Monday?

You can't help but admire that.

"60 Minutes" will air a special tribute to Mike Wallace at 7 p.m. (Eastern) Sunday, April 15.

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