Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

My 25 Years With Mike Wallace

by BARRY LANDO

I worked on 60 Minutes for more than 26 years, most of the time as a producer with Mike Wallace. Each report on the show has “produced by” written on the art work introducing it, but most viewers have no clue what “produced by” really entails.

Indeed, the great irony of 60 Minutes was a question of truth in packaging. That is 60 Minutes, which prided itself on ruthless truth telling, exposing cant and fraud, was, in itself, something of a charade.

The fact is that, although the viewers tuned in to watch the on-going exploits of Mike, Morley, Harry, Leslie etc. etc., most of the intrepid reporting, writing, and even many of the most probing questions posed in the interviews, were not the handiwork of the stars, but much more the effort of some thirty or more very talented—producers –and associate producers–who researched and reported the stories that the stars presented –as their own exploits–each Sunday night.

I was willing to go along with that system because it allowed me to help shape what was the most powerful news show on television. I was also willing to reign in my ego because Mike Wallace brought so much to the team himself: a sharp, penetrating mind, an uncanny ability to seize the essence of a story, to sense an opening in a tense interview, then thrust with a rapier-like question for the journalistic kill.

To Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who had once been a radical underground leader, Mike asked,  “What is the difference between the Yasser Arafat of today and the Menachem Begin of 1946?”

Seated crosslegged on the floor in front of the Imam Khomeini in 1979 during the hostage crisis, Mike asked, “President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt calls you, Imam — forgive me, his words, not mine — a lunatic.” Khomeini’s shocked interpreters refused even to translate until Khomeini insisted.He predicted, correctly, that Sadat would soon be overthrown.

Or to Yassir Arafat, in a backstreet building in war-torn Beirut. After Arafat excoriated the U.S. for ignoring the human rights of the Palestinians, Mike leapt at the opening to ask the PLO Chairman about a small article Mike had found in the back pages of the Times, in which Arafat had praised former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Mike asked a startled Arafat, “In other words, Mr. Chairman, Idi Amin, the butcher, you admire?”

Afterwards, Arafat’s aide, Mahmoud Labadi, said to Mike as we were wrapping our equipment and PLO armed toughs roamed the room,  “Mike, you’re not going to use that part about Idi Amin, are you?” Mike smiled and said ever so quietly,

“Mahmoud, do I tell you how to do your job?

“No,” said Labadi.

“Then please don’t tell me how to do mine.”

On another occasion in Western Iran, we were with a group of journalists being escorted by a particularly crazed  Iranian colonel to cover the war with Iraq.  After the colonel had delivered a long diatribe against the U.S. government, Mike turned to him and said, “You know, colonel, “I don’t think much of your government either.”

Later that evening, in a room off the hotel lobby, with other journalists watching the evening news, the colonel entered, unholstered his 45, strode up to Mike a wild look in his eyes, and moved forward until the muzzle of his revolver almost touched Mike’s forehead. Everyone in the room froze. Mike looked up at the colonel, and with his hand pushed the revolver so it pointed towards the ceiling. The officer grinned, pulled the trigger. The pistol was empty.

He was part reporter, part actor playing reporter. He had a flare for the dramatic, the ability to achieve almost instant rapport with interviewees, no matter their wealth, achievement, or background. He made them forget the camera, the lights; he was totally with them in the moment, fascinated by whatever they happened to be saying, from a famine-stricken mother in Ethiopia, a child dying in her arms, to the crooks of all shapes and sizes who attempted –almost always unsuccessfully with Mike–to lie their way to respectability,

Mike’s political agenda never seemed to get in the way. There was no story that he wouldn’t agree to go after, from detailing the enormous power of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington to the peccadilloes of Walter Cronkite, who we accused of accepting airline tickets for a piece we were doing on the widespread practice of press junkets.  Mike’s targets were often livid, but their rage only heightened Mike’s pleasure. He loved controversy, being the center of a story, seeing the sparks fly.

Though he greatly admired the Shah of Iran, was charmed by his wife and Iran’s ambassador in Washington–when I suggested a report on the Shah’s brutal secret police, the Savak, Mike immediately concurred.

Later, we did a report during the hostage crisis explaining why the Iranians had such hatred for the United States. President Jimmy Carter called to asked CBS News President Bill Leonard, not to broadcast the report. Leonard refused to comply. The shameful facts we were revealing about U.S. complicity with the Shah were not unknown to the Iranians—but to most Americans

The only time I saw Mike flinch was when he backed away from the excellent report produced by Lowell Bergman, claiming that U.S. cigarette company executives lied under oath before Congress when they claimed they didn’t know that nicotine was addictive .

CBS management was refusing to broadcast the report. It was a very tense time, and later became the subject of a movie, “The Insider.”

Mike, of course, was seriously concerned that his reputation—as well as the reputation of 60 Minutes–would forever be tarnished if he didn’t fight back. I agreed and over a bottle of wine at an Italian restaurant, I suggested he could end the face-off by threatening to resign if CBS refused to go ahead with the broadcast. There was no way, I argued, that CBS could take the public relations bashing that would ensue if Mike Wallace quit over that issue.

Mike finally agreed. He was going to talk to the powers-that-be the next morning, he said.

He didn’t.

When I asked why, he said he just couldn’t go through with it. He couldn’t use such tactics.

The bottom line was that Mike could not bear the thought of not being on the air, on 60 Minutes. That, for him was what life was all about. During the countless times the subject of retirement came up, he would invariably shrug,  “I couldn’t. I wouldn’t know what to do.”

He relished the adulation, the eyes following him as he made his way through a crowded restaurant, the people coming up to him in increasingly distant airports telling him how much they liked his latest show. It validated his existence. But more than anything he enjoyed the flash and spark of controversy, confronting miscreants, catching an interviewee out, breaking through emotional barriers, to reveal some carefully-hidden weakness. And it could all be done with a simple gesture, a raised eyebrow and a single word, like “and?” or “but?”

And yet, and yet, despite having worked with him for more than a quarter century, I never really knew who he was; what was really going on deep inside, in the soul, if you will. I would be sitting with him over dinner after a long day of work and he would be asking me questions about my domestic life, or whatever, with that same sincere look in his eyes that same intense concern–that I had seen him use just a few hours earlier in an interview.

But I loved that man. My wife and I will miss him.

He had said he wanted to keep on working till his toes turned up. Mike, you almost made it.

Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. His latest book is “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” Lando is currently completing a novel, “The Watchman’s File”, concerning Israel’s most closely guarded secret (it’s not the bomb.) He can be reached through his blog.

BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes. He is the author of The Watchman’s File. He can be reached at: barrylando@gmail.com or through his website.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]