Mike Wallace Leaves Contentious Legacy

CBS News icon and “60 Minutes” reporter, Mike Wallace, died last night, at the age of 93, at a care facility in New Haven, Connecticut.

Rachel Hirshfeld,

Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace

CBS News icon and “60 Minutes” reporter, Mike Wallace, died last night at the age of 93, at a care facility in New Haven, Connecticut.

Wallace was known for his “probing, brazen style” of reporting, which “made his name synonymous with the tough interview,” noted CBS News. He played a huge role in the surge of “60 Minutes’” ratings, leading it to become the “number-one program of all time.”

Wallace was the recipient of 21 Emmy Awards, five DuPont-Columbia journalism Awards and five Peabody Awards. He was also the Paul White Award winner in 1991, the highest honor given by the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award grand prize and television first prize in 1996 and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1991.

During the course of his career, Wallace interviewed Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During his 1989 interview with the Chairman of the "Palestine Liberation Organization" (PLO), Wallace enabled Arafat to continue professing his anti-Israel sentiments, without question and in the absence of his customary “probing” reporting style. When he asked Arafat if he had renounced “military operations” inside Israel, Arafat responded, “Any people who are facing occupation or oppression have the right to use all methods.” Wallace did not probe further or question the validity or morality of his claims.  

“In a 1988 segment on “60 Minutes” — 18 years before publication of the almost instantly discredited essay “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt — Wallace advanced essentially the same theme. His report seemed to be an attempt to discredit pro-Israel activists in the United States — especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — and undermine U.S. support for Israeli aid,” explained the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) in their report entitled “Mike Wallace’s Middle East Problem.”

In his 1958 interview with the late Israeli ambassador to the United Stated, Abba Eban, the CBS reporter espoused what many saw as a blatant anti-Israel discourse.

He commenced the interview saying, “Mr. Ambassador, in its 10 years as a nation, Israel has been involved in repeated violence, major border incidents, two open wars with the Arabs -- the first in 48, the last in 56. What do you foresee for the next ten years?”

His belief that Israel has only been a nation for 10 years is, itself, cause for concern, even among those faintly acquainted with Jewish history.

Wallace, quoting the British historian, stated, "... Arnold Toynbee has said, 'The evil deeds committed by the Zionist Jews against the [refugee] Arabs are comparable to crimes committed against the Jews by the Nazis." 

He continued addressing the Israeli ambassador, noting that, “the American Jew and the State of Israel, the anti-Zionist rabbi, Dr. Elmer Berger [a Reform rabbi, not Satmar or Neturei Karta] has written, 'the Zionist-Israeli axis imposes upon Jews outside of Israel, Americans of Jewish faith included, a status of double-nationality,' a status which he deplores. What's your answer?"

The interview progressed in a similar vein. Yet, the Israeli ambassador eloquently refuted all of the allegations and carefully selected sources of reference, defending Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist.

Mike Wallace will certainly be remembered. The question that remains, however, is: in what way? All that can be determined is that the passing of the iconic reporter will certainly leave a contentious legacy.