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September 22, 1989 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-22

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Smith Drugs



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Bornstein Bookstore

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Greenfield & Ten Mile

Nine Mile & Coolidge

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Metro News

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Grand River & Drake

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'60 Minutes' Mainstay
Undaunted By His Critics


Special to The Jewish News


ike Wallace, co-edi-
tor of TV's "60 Min-
utes," ticks off ac-
cusations that tick him off.
"I am tired of being thought
of as a self-hating Jew. Such
a notion is laughable," says
Wallace. "Those who accuse
me of such a thing are unwill-
ing to see that I am a dispas-
sionate reporter."
But those who passionately
portray the 71-year-old
Brookline, Mass., native as
anti-Israel point to pieces he
prepared on Syria, the
American Israel Public Af-
fairs Committee and Y _ assir
Arafat for the CBS-TV news
magazine, aired Sunday
nights at 7 on Channel 2, as
evidence of those charges.
Nonsense, the no-nonsense
broadcaster reports. Indeed,
he quickly adds, there have
been times when the percep-
tion is the exact opposite.
"Look, I've interviewed
Arafat three times during my
career. And there was a point
where he wouldn't see me for
10 years" because Arafat con-
sidered Wallace's line of ques-
tioning out of line, too
How to antagonize Mike
Wallace? Claim that his ques-
tions are soft pitches in a
hardball league — a seeming-
ly unjust and outlandish ac-
cusation for anyone familiar
with the substantive style of
the broadcast journalist some
have nicknamed "Mike
"I thought my questions to
Arafat during the last seg-
ment we did (in February)
were thoughtful, carefully
constructed and thought out,"
says Wallace.
Think again, said some
Jewish viewers who were
upset that Wallace's ques-
tions were seemingly not
tough enough.
"You must understand,"
says Wallace, "it is not the
function of a reporter to beat
up on an interviewee."
Wallace has taken his share
of lumps from viewers over
the topics he has dealt with.
"I was taken aback with the
reaction I got on the first
piece I did on Syria (in 1975),
which was an accurate piece,"
says Wallace. "I got a
remarkable amount of flak"
for what some viewers con-
sidered a less than compell-
ing report on that country's
handling of its Jews.
"We went back for a second

look (in 1976) — and that was
one of the few pieces we have
ever done that for — and
found it to be accurate."
Wallace is intent on getting
across the reasons behind his
coverage. On Arafat: "I
wanted the audience to
understand him better."
And Wallace claims he
understands the reasons why
Jewish viewers decried his
coverage of Arafat. "There is
an excessive sensitivity on
the part of the Jewish com-

'It's all a question
of heat and light. If
you're only after
the heat,
audiences will
understand that:

munity in this country to the
man who is the leader of the
Wallace, amiable and amus-
ing while being interviewed,
is not sensitive to criticism.
The lone original correspon-
dent on "60 Minutes," he has
fielded complaints all
through the 21 years the
show has been on the air.
There was the media furor
over Wallace's request to "60
Minutes" co-editor Morley
Safer that Safer drop a story
on Haiti. Wallace's wife had
relatives living on the Carib-
bean island, and she feared
government repercussions if
such a program were aired.
Then there was the
"watermelon/tacos" remark
that fed allegations of
Wallace being a racist.
In 1981, while working on
a "60 Minutes" segment with
a San Diego bank executive
about credit scams that
targeted blacks and
Hispanics, Wallace, unaware
that the videotape was roll-
ing, noted that complicated
contracts were "hard to read
. . . if you're reading them
over the watermelon or the
Apologetic, Wallace offered
an explanation to a reporter,
contending, "Anybody who
knows me, I'm afraid, knows
that I do ethnic jokes, and I do
obscenity from time to time."
After all, he admitted, he
even did Jewish jokes — and
"I'm Jewish."
He is also one tough cookie.
The seat opposite Wallace in
an interview seems wired.
"I've always been in-
quisitive," says a smiling
Wallace. "You name it, I
asked it."

As a child growing up in
Brookline, where friends
knew him as Myron Leon
Wallace, the future television
star typically never asked the
easy one. "My mother said I
was nosy," he laughs.
He developed a nose for
news and maybe, just maybe,
says Wallace, it is because of
his Jewish upbringing that
he has always been concern-
ed about justice.
"Maybe that is why I am
always for the underdog," he
Wallace is dogged in pursuit
of the truth. Truth be told,
however, television's number
one interrogator has a "ques-
tionable" past: Wallace was
the one who asked the ques-
tions of a celebrity panel on
"Who Pays," a quiz show with
a brief history on NBC in
It was a job he had to learn
to live down.
If Wallace was game to host
a quiz show, he was hesitant
to take on another role. In
1968, Wallace was offered the
job of press secretary to new-
ly elected President Richard
Nixon. The same year, he was
offerred the "60 Minutes"
No regrets, says Wallace of
his choice. Since 1968, he has
interviewed innumerable
world leaders, including the
Ayatollah Khomeini, Anwar
Sadat and Menachem Begin
("a prickly, difficult man," he
has said), as well as enter-
tainers, military officials and
other celebrities.
It was a story dealing with
an army general that caused
Wallace major headaches. A
CBS special on "The Un-
counted Enemy: A Vietnam
Deception," in which Wallace
served as correspondent,
alleged that this country's
military officials purposely
underestimated the number
of the enemy that U.S. troops
encountered during the Viet-
nam War.
Gen. William Westmore-
land, who was interviewed
during the documentary, filed
a $120 million libel suit
against the network and
Wallace, as well as others
working on the documentary.
While the suit was later
settled, Wallace went through
his own personal trial. He
told a reporter last year that
the suit took its toll, that he
suffered from depression
because of the case.
Recovered, Wallace admits
he learned some lesons from
the Westmoreland incident.

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