For more than half a century, Mike Wallace bought Americans uncompromising reports on influential and often controversial newsmakers around the world. In 1959, Wallace was the first TV reporter to tell the world about the Nation of Islam. In 1964, he conducted the interview in which Malcolm X said, “I probably am a dead man already.”
Wallace was distinguished “as an interrogator of the famous and infamous,” the New York Times said in its obituary when Wallace died on April 7, 2012, at age 93.
Throughout his career, Wallace was drawn toward religious figures in the news, including the Ayatollah Khomeini who Wallace interviewed in 1979. Such famous moments were mentioned throughout the coverage of Wallace’s death—but very little has been reported about Wallace’s own religious background. Many Americans never knew that Wallace came from a Russian-Jewish family whose surname originally was Wallik. His parents already had taken the name Wallace by the time Myron Leon “Mike” Wallace was born in 1918 in Brookline, Mass.
Read the two other related stories, including our fascinating look back at Walter Cronkite taking the CBS anchor chair 50 years ago. And, from Walt Whitman, a remembrance of his famous When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.
MIKE WALLACE ON HIS JEWISH AND JOURNALISTIC IDENTITIES
Thanks to our colleagues at Jewish Lights Publishing, we are publishing a first-person reflection that Mike Wallace wrote for a collection of pieces that were produced after the murder of Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl. In that collection, Wallace writes …
Occasionally down the years I’ve winced at being labeled a “self-hating Jew” because my reporting from the Middle East was perceived as tainted by hostility toward Israel. It wasn’t true, of course, but I figured it came with the territory, meaning that I was deemed biased because I reported accurately what was happening on the other side, with the Palestinians.
And it turned out that every once in a while it was helpful to me as a reporter, for the fact that I am Jewish and not in the pocket of the Israelis seemed to appeal to movers and shakers in Cairo and Damascus and Riyadh, who were willing to talk to me on the record with some candor.
I’ve worked the Middle East beat since the l950s, back in the days of Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, Yasir Arafat, Mu‘ammar Gadhafi. My relations with all of them, with the sole exception of Begin, were cordial and straightforward. But when I questioned Begin in a fashion that I thought reasonable and he found belligerent, our conversation was brought to an end by the intervention of Ezer Weizman, his defense minister, who shortly afterward took me for a friendly drink at a nearby bar.
My eyes had first been opened to Israeli/Palestinian realities by two pioneering figures from that part of the world. Back in the fifties, Reuven Dafne, a Romanian Israeli, and Fayez Sayegh, a Palestinian Christian, two friends of mine, gave me a primer course on the complicated subject, for which I remain grateful.
I have long admired the courage and determination of the Israelis and sympathized with their yearning for a secure state. I have similar feelings about the Palestinians. But I’m an American reporter, a Jew who believes in going after facts on the ground, as Daniel Pearl did, and reporting them accurately, let the chips fall where they may.
The excerpt is from I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. © 2005 Dr. Judea and Ruth Pearl. You can find out more about the book by visiting Jewish Lights.
MIKE WALLACE IN HIS PRIME ON A CONTROVERSIAL PHILOSOPHY
Many Mike Wallace video clips have aired since his death, including footage of his interview with Khomeini. Throughout his career, Wallace sought out some of the toughest interviews involving extreme points of view in religion and philosophy. The following three video screens contain, in three segments, the entire half-hour interview Wallace conducted in 1959 with the popular yet controversial novelist Ayn Rand. If you watch all three parts, you will see many of the Wallace trademark interview techniques. (Of course, in later years, Wallace did not light up cigarettes while on the air, as he does here.)
Ayn Rand was a journalist’s worst nightmare. She was infamous as an iron-willed advocate for her philosophy, so strong in her viewpoints that she happily helped Congress with its anti-Communist witch hunts after World War II. She dominated in public appearances. But, here, we see Wallace using some of his trademark techniques to shape the overall interview. At one point, he asks pointedly: “May I interrupt now?” His questions usually were loaded to make important counterpoints. As the exchange unfolds, Wallace raises a series of questions about the basic purpose of faith and philosophy.
CLICK the screens, one by one, to see the three parts of this half-hour exchange. (NOTE: If you don’t see video screens in your version of this story, click here to reload this story in your browser.)
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.