Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mike Wallace's Legacy: Selling Cigarettes or Blowing Their Cover?

Mike Wallace died today, leaving a mixed bag as a legacy. On the negative side is his son Chris, a right-wing Fox News broadcaster/ideologue who brings no honor to his father's name.

Wallace spent a lot of years at CBS News and became most noted for his reporting and his almost obsessively challenging reporting. He did not back down from people who had things to hide and he'd often intimidate people simply by introducing himself. It was a kind of reporting TV made respectable, the kind of "I'm the star and you're my target" sensationalism that often led to overblowing and overreporting stories of little importance.

Wallace could never be pointed to as a paragon of journalistic ethics. The man who exposed Big Tobacco, for example, used to sell cigarettes on national TV and was a heavy smoker.

But there was something affecting about a cranky old Jew going hell-bent after everybody and every once in a while doing a touching interview with an unusually gifted entertainer (Barbra Streisand comes to mind and she was scared constipated by him) or an underdog.

He was a man who defined a certain developmental age in TV. Actually, at 93, he probably defined more than one age. But he won't be easy to forget.

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