Few people were better at digging up secret information than the late 60 Minutes veteran Mike Wallace, and now CBS News has honored that memory by posting his FBI surveillance file online. The network requested the documents through the Freedom of Information Act after his death in April of last year, and either to protect itself or get to the story first, CBS managed to scoop everyone else in the process.
While there isn't anything too scandalous in his background, it's clear that from time-to-time the federal government took an interest in Wallace's stories and what he might be up to. There's a lot of discussion of a trip he took to Cuba while working on a story in 1970. The U.S. government even appeared to have conducted an investigation on his behalf, after a World War II veteran sent Wallace a threatening letter accusing him of being a communist traitor.
In a posthumous lead-chasing tactic that Wallace would have admired, many journalists make it a habit to automatically request FBI files on famous citizens after their deaths — the Bureau won't release files to the media for people who still are alive. And it also gives historians a chance to see exactly what kind of lengths the government would go to keep tabs on non-lawbreaking citizens who they might consider "troublemakers." Whether CBS was worried about the effects of a troublemaking story that someone else could publish about Wallace with a FOIA request, or whether it was straight-up curiosity, reamins unclear. But it seems CBS thought would it be best to beat everyone to the punch in this case, asking the courts for Wallace's info themselves and scooping any other intrepid reporters by putting the best parts online.
You can read the angry letter, as well the FBI memos sent about it, by downloading the documents from the CBS website.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.