Mike Wallace and American Media

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/04/mike-wallace-and-american-media/255639/