Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner – premier of “60 Minutes” in 1968 (photo: CBS)
Mike Wallace has died, calling forth a rush of thoughts and feelings slamming into one another like bumper cars. He was one of a handful of giants who defined what a tv news interview should and could be. The Washington Post calls him, “The biggest star of the longest running, highest-rated, most influential news show since its 1968 debut…” Guys like Wallace, Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner, were the role models for a generation of Boomer broadcast journalists.
His death makes me wonder who we have left with the training and instincts to take his place. The hollow and terribly sad answer is: “No one.” Just a lot of pretenders to the throne who lack the skill and corporate backing that made Mike Wallace what he was — the “take no hostages” 800 lb. gorilla of television news interviewers.
We do still have Sam Donaldson, who, at the spritely age of 78, is far from having outlived his usefulness beyond being a sometime “contributor and analyst.” He could still be a torchbearer for the truth at all costs. If they’d let him. Probably too dangerous, though. You never know what kinds of embarrassing questions a guy like Sam might ask were he released back into the arena. Can you imagine Sam going one on one with Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney? Might upset the advertisers. Can’t have that. Anyway, at 78, Sam may have had his fill of adversarial encounters. But I doubt it.
I’ll never forget a minor Donaldson-related encounter of my own. It happened back in the early 80’s, during my KABC days. I had been sent out to LAX to interview a congressman. Can’t remember who the congressman was, or even the topic. Just that he was caught up in some controversy and I was sent out to get a comment. When the interview ended and the camera was turned off, the congressman, who knew Sam Donaldson and I were both with ABC, told me to “Tell Sam Donaldson, he’s a son of a bitch.”
We need guys like Sam Donaldson and Mike Wallace. The country needs them.