In the midst of the 1968 presidential campaign, Mike Wallace visited Harvard College to talk about the launch of a new CBS News magazine program called “60 Minutes” that he would co-host with Harry Reasoner. He gave his talk at Harvard’s Kirkland House while his son Chris was a senior. Mike was excited to discuss the great hopes he had for the series, whose premiere was days away.
One bone he had to pick with Harvard students, though, was how little support presidential candidate Richard Nixon received in a recent Harvard student poll. He just could not understand the students’ dislike for the former vice president. Later, it came out that during the campaign, Nixon had discussed with Wallace the possibility of him becoming Nixon’s press secretary.
Early in his career, Wallace was sidetracked doing television commercials and even toyed with becoming a political flak before finally deciding he wanted to be considered a serious journalist. With the launch of “60 Minutes” in September 1968, Wallace pursued significant, award-winning reporting for the remainder of his career.
Wallace’s involvement with the Center for Investigative Reporting began in earnest in 1982 when he was the correspondent for CIR’s first story developed for “60 Minutes,” titled “The Bad Drug” (2/7/1982), which was about the hypertension drug Selacryn that was kept on the market even after reports surfaced of serious and fatal side effects. The success of this first story, developed by CIR reporter Doug Foster and produced by Allan Maraynes of “60 Minutes,” led to a regular contract between CIR and “60 Minutes” that would eventually result in numerous Sunday night reports.
Wallace was supportive of CIR from the time the working relationship began and soon joined the center’s advisory board. He later wrote a supportive note for the center’s annual fundraising letter. In 1983, he agreed to write the foreword for the CIR’s journalism book “Raising Hell,” telling readers:
“You are about to embark on a series of first-rate short stories – detective stories, in a sense. Some of them have the crisp kinetic energy of a good film chase; others, the gritty wisdom of lessons learned hard at first hand. If it all adds up to a “textbook,” it’s the most engrossing one I’ve read in quite a spell.
“I’m not sure that I’m the most appropriate choice to introduce Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets the Story, for I’m to some degree a figure out front now, a funnel through which the work of a variety of reporters is currently brought into darkened living rooms across the land. It is all of us – the producers, their associates, the researchers (and myself along with them) – who engage in the endlessly fascinating pursuit of not ‘just the facts, ma’am,’ but along with the facts, the sketches of those assorted individuals who people our filmed inquiries on 60 Minutes. …
”What you’re about to read is fascinating and instructive, about as eloquent an understanding of what it is we do – in print and television – as I have come across. My sole fear is that it will trigger too many more of you to try and wind up doing what we do, and already there aren’t enough jobs to go around.
Wallace’s zeal for the story that hadn’t been told and the interview that no one had done looms large over the journalism landscape of the last half-century. His interest in investigative journalism and specifically the role played by a small, independent organization such as CIR was an important element in the center’s history. The center has survived 35 years because Mike Wallace and other influential journalists took an interest. We’ll miss him.
*From the foreword to the book by David Weir and Dan Noyes