Mike Wallace: King of the confrontation
For the last couple of years, you’ve probably noticed a change in the way we do news at WWAY. We decided to do it differently than it’s been done in Wilmington. We decided to keep persuing answers, even when the people from whom we want answers don’t want to cooperate. It’s a style that isn’t always comfortable for the people being questioned, we the questioners or sometimes even for you the viewer.
"They can call it TMZ. The last time I saw something on TMZ they were asking Lindsey Lohan where she was going to party or if they could see Beyonce’s baby bump,” I told the StarNews during an interview last fall about the way we do things now. "Mike Wallace and ’60 Minutes’ follow people to their car and demand answers. Just because somebody doesn’t want to answer a question doesn’t mean they get to walk away."
For some reason, a lot of people in these parts act like what we’ve been doing is somehow new and unusual to TV journalism. It’s not. Mike Wallace, who died over the weekend at the age of 93, made a career of it for half a century. His "60 Minutes" interviews were the stuff of legend, as he asked some a lot of powerful, famous, infamous people question that, at times, made them and us squirm.
Wallace asked the Ayatollah Khomeini, a man not used to being questioned, what he thought of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat calling him a "lunatic." He looked Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the eye and told him he had a sort of "ghoulish" interest in helping people end their own lives. And then there were the countless examples of Wallace and his camera crew barging into offices or charging through the halls of power to confront people who thought just avoiding him, closing the door in his face or walking away sufficient to hide their side of the story.
"Time" called Wallace "The Grand Inquisitor." What a compliment for the man who embodied the lesson I learned in college about good reporters: If someone closes a door, chew your way under it.
What we as journalists should learn from Wallace’s career is that getting the truth isn’t always easy, but it’s essential to keep pushing. It’s important to keep control of your interview by being prepared and smart. And what you as viewers should learn from him is that his style is tried and true. You may not always like it, but imagine what we would have never known if he had never mastered the skill.
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