Mike Wallace, popularizer of the 'ambush interview,' dead at 93
Mike Wallace, a fixture on the CBS news program "60 Minutes" for 30 years died Saturday night at the age of 93.
He was an early practioner of the "ambush interview" where he and his crew would wait for a subject to emerge or simply waylay the unfortunate wrongdoer and pepper him with questions that invariably showed the target to be evasive or downright mean.
It's a tactic that was rightly criticized by journalists at the time and 60 Minutes eventually gave up on the tactic.
But beyond that, Wallace was a relentless interviewer who could reduce a subject to a quivering pile of jello, or bring them to tears with a single query. Biased, opinionated, but with a rough integrity that stood up over time, Wallace didn't care about party or ideology - he went after everybody.
His famous interview with Ted Kennedy in 1980 on the eve of the senator's announcement for president is a case in point. The Kennedy team wanted an interview with family friend Wallace thinking it would be a softball affair. Wallace went after Kennedy with everything in the book; Mary Jo Kopechne, womanizing, drinking, and when asking him why he wanted to run against an incumbent from his own party, Kennedy dissolved into incoherence. Many historians point to that interview as a reason why Kennedy's campaign was stillborn.*
He was also family friends with the Reagans and counted Henry Kissinger as a confidante. Despite his ferocious reputation, celebrities and politicians stood in line to be interviewed by him.
Most of the subjects that he ambushed were genuine crooks who deserved to look bad on national television. That kind of journalism began to die out when it became a parody of itself as it was imitated in newsrooms across America, as well as in movies and TV dramas.
Fox News has a good obit that summarizes his career.
Matt May emails that it was Roger Mudd, not Mike Wallace, who interviewed Ted Kennedy on the eve of his presidential campaign announcement. I thank Matt for correcting my faulty and fading memory and apologize for the error.