Mike Wallace and American Media

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I am sorry to hear of Mike Wallace's death and extend sincere sympathies to his colleagues and family. A career even half as lengthy and accomplished as his would be cause for admiration and gratitude. Timothy Noah has a wonderful collection of quotes from his interviews long before the 60 Minutes era, and Dashiell Bennett at The Atlantic Wire has clips of a number of famous Wallace encounters.

As was the case after Christopher Hitchens's death in December, or the shocking loss of The Atlantic's editor, Michael Kelly, nine years ago this month during combat in Iraq, we note the passing of engaged, very strong-minded public figures who were never called wishy-washy and weren't afraid to make enemies as well as friends. I assume that everyone secretly wants to be admired uncritically, but outspoken figures like these would be the last to expect hagiography about themselves.

Wallace typically began his toughest questions with, "Forgive me, but ...." That was the sign he was about to raise an uncomfortable topic. Forgive me, but it seems appropriate as part of the remembrance of Wallace to recall the "North Kosan" discussions, which were the subject of the dramatic (in my opinion) opening of a cover story I did back in 1996, called "Why Americans Hate the Media."

Wallace very much didn't like this article, or the book it was part of, and he made that clear volubly, in public, and to my face. But I think that even in the episode recounted in the article he displays the confidence and determination that were indispensable parts of his importance as a reporter and interviewer. As the years go on, I have more and more respect for people who manage to keep working at a high level rather than cutting corners or slacking off, and Mike Wallace was remarkable in that and many other ways.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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