Mike Wallace and a change in press culture!


Promoting the great Saint McCain: We have no overall view of the career of the late Mike Wallace.

Presumably, he did a lot of good work. Presumably, no one is perfect.

This morning, the New York Times presents a long history of his career. Since Wallace is thought of as an iconoclast, we thought it was worth recalling an instance in which he betrayed a different impulse.

By 1998, the upper-end press corps was increasingly becoming the equivalent of a small, upper-class social club—a wealthy fraternal/sororal order with shared views and rigid group narratives. By 1998, one such narrative involved the moral greatness of the great saint, Saint John McCain.

John McCain was morally great. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were not—were the opposite. Everyone voiced these standard group tales, including a famous iconoclast.

In June 1998, Howard Kurtz reported the swoon for the sainted McCain, a group phenomenon which would soon be known by that name:
KURTZ (6/8/98): The media's fascination with McCain transcends his maverick style. Nor can it be fully explained by his cheerful accessibility...

The plain truth is that a growing number of journalists want John McCain to run for president. The fact that he's just flirting with the idea makes him all the more desirable.

Mike Wallace, who turned down the chance to be Richard Nixon's press secretary, says of McCain: "I'm thinking I may quit my job if he gets the nomination. . . . I'm impressed by his independence, by his willingness to take on the tough ones. By his honesty about himself. As I look at the current crop, there's something authentic about this man."
Wow. Kurtz went on to quote other major press figures who were caught in the swoon. (“Al Hunt has written in his Wall Street Journal column that McCain ‘is the most courageous and one of the most admirable men I've ever known in American politics.’”) But Wallace had actually said that he might quit his job to work for McCain if he got the GOP nomination.

By 1998, the upper-end press corps had become a small, corrupt mafia—an inbred group which was devoted to its silly, novelized tales.

John McCain was the world's greatest saint. Starting in March 1999, Gore was the world's biggest liar.

The liberal world still won’t discuss most of this remarkable story. Darlings! Careers hang in the balance! Some things must be ignored!

But Wallace was pushing these fairy tales too. By now, at its upper ends, this was no longer an actual “press corps.”

What was it instead? We've reported for years. You decide!


  1. Mike Wallace's tough guy schtick was always a very commercial act; and was memorably parodied on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." By the period The Daily Howler was talking about, Mr. Night Beat was reduced to doing fawning interviews with movie starlets on the dumbed down "60 Minutes." But to be fair, he was really old by then, and like Andy Rooney, couldn't let go.

  2. Mike Wallace used to badmouth Howard Stern a lot. But when George Wallace passed, Mike was full of stories trying to show that George wasn't that bad a guy.

    Howard's response:" I may have done a lot of bad things in my life but I never stood in front of a schoolhouse and barred entrance to some kid because she was black.

  3. Mike Wallace used to badmouth Howard Stern a lot. But when George Wallace passed, Mike was full of stories trying to show that George wasn't that bad a guy.

    Howard's response:" I may have done a lot of bad things in my life but I never stood in front of a schoolhouse and barred entrance to some kid because she was black.

    1. Well, if you knew the story of George Wallace, he had a late-life conversion and renounced his previous segregationism and racism. In his final term, he made a record number of appointments of blacks to government positions, including two to his own cabinet.

      The two students whose entrance to the University of Alabama Wallace blocked were James Hood and Vivian Malone.

      In 1996, two years before Wallace's death, the George Wallace Foundation named Malone as the first recipient of the Lurleen Wallace Award.

      In 1997, Hood received his PhD from Alabama. The two had met earlier, and Wallace wanted to personally bestow the agree, but poor health prevented it. When Wallace died in 1998, Hood attended his funeral and urged forgiveness.

  4. I quit watching 60 minutes in late 1986 when they did a faked report on the Audi 5000 C3 about “Unintended Acceleration”.
    The accelerator cable on the Audi 5000 was connected to the throttle body and the automatic transmission.

    CBS had sabotaged the transmission and caused it to pull the accelerator cable down and open the throttle; something the car would never do on its own.
    Unintended acceleration was caused by the driver stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and freezing in panic, pushing mightily on the gas pedal.
    The reason was simple. The pedals were too close together, and offset a bit to the side compared to other cars.

    60 Minutes made it look like an inherent mechanical failure in the vehicle, when it was actually driver error. 60 Minutes flat-out lied, and they got caught at it.

  5. Why is the press treatment of the Gore campaign the only thing anyone in the media should ever talk about? And why is it that when they do talk about it, you still say they do it some way you don't like, or you rant at them for doing it too late? Is there any way to actually satisfy Bob Somerby, or is he intent on playing some odd Ancient Mariner role of bothering everyone, forever, about something that irked him 13 years ago?

    1. "Why is the press treatment of the Gore campaign the only thing anyone in the media should ever talk about?"

      Did someone suggest that? No, no one did.

      Perhaps the voices in your head?

    2. The death of Mike Wallace makes Somerby think about... An obscure episode from the McCain campaign. The whole site's premise is that no one will ever dare tell... The story of the press animus against Gore, because they're all careerists and hacks. How can you confirm that they're careerists and hacks? Because they don't ask questions Bob Somerby wants them to ask, which is a grave, grave failing to the republic.

      There was a time when what Somerby did here was trace how bits of rhetoric seeped out and spread through the media. What he does now is complain incessantly that cable news reporters don't ask questions with quite the phrasing he'd prefer. What kind of a niche is that? How is that appropriate to a guy whose other hobbyhorse is that liberals don't care enough about black children? Now, when a story hits big ABOUT BLACK CHILDREN, Somerby just wants to talk about cable news presenters and re-heat old grievances about Gore '99. It's demented.

    3. So now you're complaining that Somerby hasn't addressed the story that hit big "ABOUT BLACK CHILDREN?"

      Because you've just reconfirmed that you are an hallucinating idiot, one has to assume that you're referring to the Martin/Zimmerman case.

      ...to which Somerby has of course been paying attention.

      But you've already decided (on unspecified evidence) that this death is "ABOUT" the race of the deceased, so it's no wonder you're unhappy with Somerby's coverage.

      Get back on your meds.

    4. Sorry, but the only thing Somerby has been "paying attention" to in the Trayvon Martin case is whatever anybody on MSNBC or the New York Times (and now, Soledad O'Brien, 10 days later) have said about it so he can parse it and use that as a club to advance whatever obscure and long-lost point he wants to make.

      I see no indication that Somerby gives a tinker's damn about Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman, and certainly about the myriad of serious issues this case raises in his incessant quest to tell us poor rubes how bad cable TV talk shows are.

    5. "parse it"

      That is, show that they were intentionally misleading their viewers or, at best, spouting misinformation.

      But, yeah, "parse."

      You got nothin' -- as usual.

    6. Whose been "misled"? You? Of course, not. You're sooo much smarter than all those other stupid, easily misled people.

      And you are exactly all the demographic Bob has left -- those who think they are soooo much smarter than the "average" person as he exposed the mean, evil media for easily "misleading" them.

    7. Mr. Sarcasm,

      Do you believe sites like Media Matters are insulting people intelligence?

    8. people's (not people)

      I guess I'm in for an insult.

    9. Bob says, repeatedly, in his education posts, including one today, that liberals don't really care about black children but rather use education to score points about how the other team is a bunch of racists. Bob now has a high-profile media circus centering on an honest-to-God black child. Which he has proceeded to use not to discuss black children and their lives and struggles, that thing he claims nobody talks about enough, but instead to nitpick panel discussions on cable news. Maybe he should follow his own prescription and demonstrate that he cares more about black children than meta-discourse on meta-discourse about how Team Media is DOIN IT RONG.

    10. Hypo, I have no idea what point you think you are making with "Media Matters." But I will say that at least MM is honest about what it claims to be -- a watchdog on conservative media.

      MM doesn't pretend to be "musings on the mainstream "press corps" and the american discourse" then confine itself virtually solely on MSNBC and the New York Times.

    11. I don't like what Bob Somerby talks about.

      He should use the Trayvon Martin case, which *I* have decided is all about race, to talk about race.

      When Bob does talk about race, in an education thread, I will go there to talk about Trayvon Martin!

      If you disagree with me, it's just because you think you're so much smarter then everyone else.

    12. Anon 4:18,

      My point was the Mr. Sarcasm (Anon 2:29) was making a presentation in which its thesis was that media criticism was not needed because average people were smart enough to not be mislead by the media. From his vocabulary and the tone of his prose, I thought I recalled him praising Media Matters in the past. This seems to me to be a contradiction.

  6. The entire press, including the likes of David Halberstam, was enthralled with McCain. Maybe they felt Gore was damaged goods( in the media circles they traveled in, why wouldn't they?) and that McCain as an centralist conservative (though he had no real claim to being one) was what the Country needed. They liked him standing up to the
    Bible thumpers.

    They were dumb. But Wallace and 60 Minutes's real legacy is in showing that news could be packaged as infotainment, and by the time McCain Ran Wallace was worth Millions. Being a reporter was once a working class sort of job, and 60 was a big part of changing all that.

    1. Greg, you might recall that in 1998 there was this little bill floating around the halls of Congress called "McCain-Feingold" that McCain's party absolutely loathed.

      That's where he got his "maverick" reputation, not from Mike Wallace or anyone else. By the time 2008 rolled around, McCain was pretty much revealed as just another political hack, which is one reason he lost so badly to Obama.

      Whatever Somerby might dream up to make the case that Mike Wallace advanced the myth of St. John McCain, it doesn't even amount to a footnote in a long, brilliant, pioneering career in broadcast journalism.

      That Somerby would try to use it in an extremely feeble attempt to tarnish the reputation of an elderly man who is now safely dead reveals a lot about Bob, doesn't it?

    2. I'm not sure how "enthralled" Halberstam was with McCain. McCain did write a new foreword to the reissued "The Best and the Brightest" which still stands as the single best history of the policies and people who brought us into the Vietnam War.

      McCain was certainly well qualified to write that foreword, and it really served to diffuse the charges of lack of patriotism that were leveled against Halberstam when the book was first published.

  7. So you're jealous of a 93-year-old man too, Bob? You know, you could have waited for the body to cool off before you started kicking it.

    Nice easy target, though. A 93-year-old dead guy. Easier than a 17-year-old dead kid, isn't it?

    1. Yeah, wouldn't want to bother Bob's herd with opinions that don't match the groupthink.