Few names transformed American broadcasting more than Mike Wallace. His career, which spanned more than six decades, shaped modern broadcast journalism by revolutionizing the art of the interview. His brash style and refusal to accept canned answers laid bare corruption, scandal and deceit among the world’s most powerful people.
Wallace got his start in radio while he was studying at the University of Michigan in 1939 where he delivered announcements between shows at WOOD. This foray into broadcasting got him recognized by WXYZ in Detroit, where he worked until enlisting during World War II. Wallace returned to radio after the end of the war, serving as an announcer and broadcaster for a number of popular radio dramas and game shows.
The Mike Wallace Interview
Wallace’s early days on television were spent largely floating from one program to another, and he was most famous at that time as a product pitchman. That all changed in 1955, when Wallace secured his very own show Night Beat. The show lasted only two years, but it caught the attention of producers at ABC, and they hired him to do a national program.
When The Mike Wallace Interview hit the airwaves it was an instant success. Wallace secured interviews with some of the biggest names of the era, including Rod Serling, Salvador Dali, Adlai Stevenson and Henry Kissinger. These interviews are noteworthy for their frank dialogue, but one interview in particular made Wallace a celebrity.
In December, 1957, Drew Pearson appeared on The Mike Wallace Interview to talk about Senator John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize for the book Profiles in Courage. In the midst of a live interview, Pearson claimed that Kennedy took credit for writing a book someone else had ghostwritten. Rather than shrinking away from the controversial statement, Wallace pressed on until Pearson accused Kennedy of using a speechwriter to write the book.
The interview didn’t sit well with the Kennedy family, and they pressured ABC to issue a
retraction. Eventually, the network caved to the demands of the Kennedys.
The incident left a bitter taste in his mouth, so Wallace began looking for a new home. He took a series of jobs that eventually led him to CBS, where he worked on their morning news program. By 1967, Wallace longed to return to serious journalism, and when CBS approached him with their concept for 60 Minutes, Wallace jumped on the opportunity.
Wallace’s time on 60 Minutes was the defining point of his career, and for the next four decades he served as its host and correspondent. CBS gave Wallace and his co-host Harry Reasoner immense power to air any story they felt was true and newsworthy. This led to a confrontational style of interviewing, called “ambush journalism,” where Wallace intentionally blindsided his subjects with difficult questions.
His time on 60 Minutes included many memorable moments. In an interview with Nixon’s close adviser John D. Ehrlichman, Wallace called him out on Nixon’s many crimes related to Watergate. Wallace called the Ayatollah Khomeini a lunatic during the Iran hostage crisis and took Roger Clemens to task over the use of steroids in baseball.
Wallace retired as a correspondent in 2006, and held his last interview in 2008. He died in 2012.
Mike Wallace stands as a pillar of inspiration for young broadcasters. His commitment to excellence and refusal to compromise on his principles are the foundations to success in radio or television.
If you’re interested in a career in broadcasting, contact the Miami Media School and learn about the many exciting broadcasting career options available to you.