Mike Wallace was one tough s.o.b. — or so he wanted you to think of him on air. Off camera he could be as charming as Rhett Butler.
We were colleagues during my seven years at CBS News and our offices were on the same floor. He was always polite, attentive, encouraging. Competitive, yes, but not ruthless. Nobody could beat him at quick banter; once, when I produced a series for PBS on the stories of Genesis, he said, “Moyers, you’re the only guy still standing who can make money selling the Bible.”
But he took a serious interest in the reporting I did for the old Edward R. Murrow documentary series See It Now, and as he had undertaken assignments for that series, too, he would come around and compare notes on different techniques of interviewing. He was kidding, I’m sure, when he said that in another life he would have stayed with what we call “long form” reporting, because he would have missed out on the fame and fortune that came when his tough-guy interrogations helped the scrappy and classy 60 Minutes climb to the top of the broadcast heap.
He relished the pursuit of a story, and his many personal challenges — from depression to family tragedies — never diminished his ardor for the chase. I was trying to make a journalist out of myself after several years in politics and government; he had already made a journalist out of himself after several years as an entertainer. And he was generous toward the new kid on the block, as to so many others. He put spine into broadcast reporting, and by his example mentored the lot of us.