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At 87, Wallace still tells it like it is

By Suzanne C. Ryan
Globe Staff / December 8, 2005
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Mike Wallace and his hard-hitting brand of journalism have been synonymous with ''60 Minutes" since CBS introduced the program in 1968. Now 87 years old, Wallace, who has interviewed everyone from Malcolm X to Johnny Carson, has written his second memoir. Wallace was in Brookline, his hometown, recently to talk about ''Between You and Me." He managed to squeeze in trips to his old house on Osborne Road and to his elementary school, Edward Devotion, before answering a few questions.

Q. President George W. Bush has declined to be interviewed by you. What would you ask him if you had the chance?

A. What in the world prepared you to be the commander in chief of the largest superpower in the world? In your background, Mr. President, you apparently were incurious. You didn't want to travel. You knew very little about the military. . . . The governor of Texas doesn't have the kind of power that some governors have. . . . Why do you think they nominated you? . . . Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that the country is so [expletive] up?

Q. What do you think about American journalism today, with its plagiarism scandals, layoffs, and conglomerate ownership influencing newsrooms?

A. It's different, isn't it? The days of Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley are gone. People still do watch, but it doesn't have the clout that it used to have. I don't know what's going to happen or if there will be an evening news 10 years from now. It's a very expensive operation to keep up.

Q. How do you relate to contemporary media? Do you read blogs, play video games, consult your Blackberry?

A. No. I feel as though I'm out of it. I chide myself. But I'm not doing that much day-to-day coverage now.

Q. What do you think of Fox News?

A. Well, my son [Chris Wallace] works for them. . . . [Fox News chairman and CEO] Roger Ailes is a man I admire very much. He understood there was a market that was not being served. He was right.

Q. Given the competition today, how do you think ''60 Minutes" is faring?

A. In the '70s, '80s, and '90s, we were always in the top 10. . . . Now, it's different. But I think we've held onto our standards remarkably well, no thanks to me because I don't do the kinds of stuff I used to.

Q. Of all the people you have interviewed, whom do you admire most?

A. Martin Luther King. . . . Despite the gratitude he felt for what Lyndon Johnson did about relations between the races, Martin had the guts during the Vietnam War to say this is the wrong war, the wrong time, the wrong place.

Q. You have a reputation for being a bulldog reporter. Any regrets about how you've treated people?

A. I determined when I started back in 1956 . . . there's no such thing as an indiscreet question.

Q. You said recently that you thought Dan Rather should have resigned after his producers lost their jobs over the infamous story last year about President Bush's military service record.

A. When everybody who helps you put together a piece like that gets fired, don't you think it ought to cross your mind?

Q. Why didn't you resign from ABC in 1957, when the network president apologized on air for an interview you did with another journalist who said that then-Senator John F. Kennedy was not the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning ''Profiles in Courage"?

A. You know something? It wouldn't have caused a stir at all if I had. No one would've paid any attention. I was no one.

Q. How long do you plan to keep working?

A. Until my toes turn up.

Q. You attended the same elementary school as John F. Kennedy and Robert Kraft. What do you remember about those days?

A. I graduated from Brookline High in 1935. I used to come [into Boston] and ride the swan boats. My dad started a grocery business in Boston in the late teens. It was called Frank Wallace & Sons. Everybody loved Frank. He was really warm. My mother, Zina, was a homemaker and rather humorless.

Q. In your book, you describe meeting Kraft a few years ago when he told you that your alma mater had hung pictures of its three famous graduates. Kraft's picture was supposed to be on top, because he had the best grades. Today you discovered there aren't any pictures.

A. Can you imagine? I felt bad when I got to the school and said, 'Where are the pictures?' I was told by the headmaster, 'Don't be mean to Mr. Kraft.' You'd better believe I'm going to call Kraft.

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