On Night Beat in 1957, where he made his reputation as an inquisitor. Inset: Wallace, who came out of showbiz, emcees with Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan.MJ: Tell me, why is income distribution never mentioned on 60 Minutes?
MW: How do you mean?
MJ: Well, women, for example, earn less than 65 percent of what men earn in this country for comparable jobs. And that's for comparable jobs—most women are trapped in the pink-collar ghetto. You've never done a story on that.
MW: Well, the one story that I've done is about a head hunters firm—people who service various businesses, like CBS and Ralston Purina, to try to get women into jobs.
MJ: That's one story about executives. Actually, your views on women's liberation are notorious. Twenty-five years ago, you said: "It helps if a wife walks one step behind her husband. European women have that by-your-leave-my-lord attitude that you just don't find in American women. They're infinitely more self-absorbed. European women let the men run things and quite right they are too!" Good Housekeeping reminded you about this statement a couple of years ago, and you said: "I stand by every word." Do you still?
MW: Not as firmly as I did then. I have a producer, Marion Goldin, who is the equal of anybody on my staff. And I value her very highly. Lorraine, before we got married, supported her children with her galleries and paintings. Liberated by no movement, liberated by herself. And in spite of that, Lorraine is essentially feminine.
MJ: A feminist can be feminine.
MW: So many feminists in our business lose that soft, round, appealing quality—I don't know how else to define it.
MJ: Does this "attitude" enter your work? Since you don't find feminists attractive, wouldn't that discourage you from doing a story about them?
MW: On the contrary, if I regarded them as harpies, and harpies off on a wrong bent, and there were a story to tell about them, as far as I'm concerned that's grist for the mill.
MJ: You'd certainly be less likely to profile women who weren't particularly happy with the "femininity" they felt society had imposed on them.
MW: Again, you have to choose among the stories you can do each year, and, conceivably, I would not opt for that kind of piece.
MJ: All my questions about what you don't cover lead toward a fundamental observation: You believe that there are individual instances of malfeasance in this society, but you don't believe that there are structural flaws.
MW: How do I say this in a way that will not sound callous? There are flaws in our society, it's quite apparent. But basically our society is one I have admiration for, one in which I am comfortable and one which I believe has served the vast majority of American people well. I am a Depression boy from Boston, with immigrant parents whose god was Franklin Roosevelt. I grew up to one-third of a nation ill-clothed, ill-housed, ill-fed. I don't see that now. Maybe I'm, so to speak, "taking the train from Westchester into the middle of Manhattan," and I don't see the ghetto. Well, it's not true, because I live 20 blocks from Harlem.
MJ: And you have a vacation home in Haiti.
MW: I have more than a vacation home there. We have a home and a shop, and it's conceivable that we'll retire there. But, by and large, I think America is proceeding fast enough to a planned economy. What that kind of economy has done to England over the past decade has—it seems to me—been a disaster. Sometimes England is almost a sad country to visit.
MJ: Don't you think Haiti is a sadder country? It's conceivably the poorest country in the world; it's certainly the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
MW: It may be, as far as dollar-income is concerned, one of the poorest. But Haiti is far from a sad country. Haiti under "Papa Doc" Duvalier was a terror-ridden country. But if you went to Port-au-Prince today, I promise that you would be stunned by the vitality, and the life, and the joy, and the dancing, and the music. And when you talk about income, there is so much hand-to-mouth living in the country that it never finds its way into the statistics.
MJ: By this comparison, and it shows up very clearly on 60 Minutes, one can tell you have a fairly low opinion of the efficacy of government intervention.
MW: Yes, I think that it too frequently bogs down in waste or malfeasance or boondoggling. I'm very cynical about it.
MJ: But you don't have the same doubts about the efficacy of private corporate enterprise.
MW: I'm really not doctrinaire about that. I'll come back to the Pinto and the lack of safety procedures and the willingness to put on television those professionally believable mavericks who will say that the emperor has no clothes.
MJ: But the main point we tried to make about the Pinto was that it was business as usual. Ford weighed how much the deaths would cost them versus how much it would cost to fix the car. And that cost-benefit analysis is central to every corporation in this country.
MW: It's central to all kinds of reckoning. You will do the same thing in the way that you lead your life or raise your child. We're constantly called upon to make those value judgments. I really don't think that anybody sits down at the Ford Motor Company, or at Hoffmann-LaRoche, and says to himself: "Okay, there are going to be this many overdoses, or that many fiery deaths, and we are willing to buy them in order to keep the cost of the production down." There are bound to be certain risks in mining uranium, producing nuclear power or manufacturing products that the consumer wants.
MJ: The issue is accountability. In a corporation, people are only accountable to make sure that profits go up every year. Let me put my question in sharper relief: A former colleague of yours at 60 Minutes told me: "Mike is a great reporter, but ultimately he's a worm like all the rest of us. Invisible hand signals are passed from the top telling us what limits we cannot repeatedly cross over. That's why 60 Minutes tends to be the Reader's Digest of TV. If Bill Paley says to squirm, Mike—even though he's a gold-plated worm—will squirm just like the rest of us." This colleague of yours added: "And the first hand signal that's passed is not to talk about these things. Mike, and anybody else who wants to remain with the network, will never admit that what I'm saying is true." Is there the slightest truth to what this fellow says?
MW: Absolutely not.
MJ: Remember, we're not talking about guts or censorship, but self-inhibition. You mean to tell me that you don't identify with the upper-middle class and above so…
MW: Oh, conceivably, conceivably. One does stories that interest oneself.
MJ: CBS is about the 90th-biggest corporation in this country. If you consider net income, it's about 65th. Its declared profits last year were $198 million. And that's after all the high salaries. Could you do a story against the way that wealth is made in this country?
MW: "Against the way"? Why would we want to do a story "against" the way? Listen, I know that you're saying: "Mike, no matter how good a job you do, you are a member of the establishment press. And the establishment press covers establishment stories in a fairly searching way, but you never question the basic premises of the society in which you live." And I say back to you,"That probably is true." By and large we are talking about the society that we live in as a given, but a given in which 60 Minutes has grown, survived and prospered, in spite of remarkable obstacles to our success. I'm not much of a social philosopher—I'm a reporter. You wish that I were more of a social analyst, more of a commentator. More of a social activist. But Saul Alinsky, I'm not.
MJ: I appreciate your being so frank with us. I just want to ask you a few final questions. Edward R. Murrow, who wasn't nearly the interviewer or investigator that you are, nonetheless had a reputation as a courageous figure. No one doubts that Mike Wallace is extremely tough, but on what issues have you been courageous?
MW: I don't know. That's a good question. Frankly, it never occurred to me.
MJ: It never occurred to you to be courageous?
MW: I've never tried to be courageous. A maverick, maybe. But courageous—I don't think so.
MJ: Looking back on the 35 or so years that you've been a journalist, isn't there any issue about which you wish you had been?
MW: No. I like to think that I've been honorable and fair, and that I've let the chips fall wherever they were going to fall, no matter what my personal view has been. I carry little ideological baggage.
MJ: I've done some surveying of 60 Minutes' fans and it seems clear that liberals perceive you as a liberal and conservatives as a conservative.
MW: Nothing could please me more. I like to think of myself as drawing from both sides: Bill Buckley; Henry Kissinger; Abe Rosenthal, editor of the Times, except really he's not all that liberal. I'm trying to think of a friend who's a liberal…and I can't come up with one right away. Shana, except she's not really a personal friend…Ahhh, one of my regular Saturday morning tennis partners, I think basically he's probably a communist.