Monday, April 9, 2012

Mike Wallace Is At the Door...and He Looks Pissed.

So much has already been written since his death on Saturday, so many apt tributes have cluttered the internet, that anything I scrawl about my admiration for Mike Wallace has likely already been stated verbatim somewhere in the ether of cyberspace.

However, in deference to a man who dug his journalistic incisors into a story with the tenacity of a pit bull to a bag of teriyaki turkey jerky, I'm going to elbow my way onto Wallace's bandwagon.

My earliest memory of Myron Leon "Mike" Wallace is awakening each weekday morning around seven, toppling out of my bed and usually extracting a Superman pajama pant wedgie as I dragged my sleepy four-year-old carcass across the braided oval living room rug while he suavely reported the CBS Morning News. His jet black, Brill Cream-slathered coif flickered unstably on the screen of our black and white RCA console.

Like most little kids, I cared little what he had to say; I only knew that my favorite show, JP Patches, would follow immediately thereafter on Seattle's local CBS affiliate, and I'd better reserve a seat on the couch before my brother and sister swooped in.

Mr. Wallace would re-surface a few years later, but this time his glistening 'do was obscured by a combat helmet while he ducked low and barked out the latest developments from the jungles of southeast Asia.

Debuting during this turbulent era was a side project of Wallace's, an exposé-themed venture entitled 60 Minutes. The year was 1968, and, while my worldview hadn't yet expanded beyond the range of my Huffy sting ray, I could tell that the man was in the business of riling folks—a lot.

How he had gotten that guy to cry? I remember wondering.

And by the time I'd aged enough to understand the nature of his program and the blunt force  of his interviewing style, I discovered that he exuded honesty through his stark exposure of the dishonest.

I loved it.

Before Dateline NBC created a Friday night franchise out of busting sweaty pedophiles who foolishly strolled into the dragnet toting a bag of wine coolers and half a pack of condoms, prior to Barbara Walters asking Richard Gere if there were any truth to that whole gerbil thing, Mike Wallace was nailing crooks to the hardwoods.

An explosive interview Wallace conducted in 1996 with former Brown & Williamson Tobacco executive, Jeffrey Wigand, uncovered that company leaders, despite their adamant denials under oath before Congress, had absolute knowledge that nicotine is addictive and that a cigarette's primary function that of a "nicotine delivery device."

Bam.

He grilled with impunity celebrities and criminals, heads of state and athletes. One of my favorite pieces was Wallace's chat with Roger Clemens, who pitched in the major leagues for twenty-three years and won seven Cy Young Awards as his league's most valuable pitcher.

Late in his career, Clemens also testified before Congress, claiming he'd never once used performance enhancing drugs, despite allegations from his former trainer that he had injected Clemens with human growth hormone and anabolic steroids on numerous occasions.

In the toe-to-toe interview, Wallace candidly stated that it "seemed impossible to throw the ball and compete at the age of forty-five without the use of drugs."

Clemens acquitted himself in front of a prime time audience as a dim-witted jock bully who'd finally met his match. He rambled and protested and ultimately emerged as a lying prima donna, just the opposite of the misunderstood victim he'd been hoping to portray.

Didn't Roger Clemens understand that when Mike Wallace calls, you let it go to the answering machine? Hmm...apparently not.

Wallace chatted up every Iranian political leader of the past fifty years, from its deposed Shah to Ayatollah Khomeini to current President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, whom he challenged to "have the courage" to answer a question regarding his personal opinion of the American people.

Okay, is that a good idea when you're sitting in the living room belonging to a guy who thinks the Holocaust is as fake as Iran's elections?

Nope, it wasn't a good idea, but then, Mike Wallace didn't care, and that's why we loved him.

And for all the great work he did expose those dirty deeds, for all his efforts to make sure the wrong-doers didn't rest peacefully...

...I hope he does.

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