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Mike Wallace of '60 Minutes' was a dogged interviewer

CBS newsman Mike Wallace, who died Saturday night, was a dogged reporter and interviewer who took on politicians, celebrities and other public figures and made '60 Minutes' famous.

By Frazier MooreAssociated Press / April 8, 2012

CBS journalist Mike Wallace exits Riverside Church after a memorial service for newsman Ed Bradley in New York in 2006. Wallace, who earned a reputation as a tough interviewer on the network's "60 Minutes" show, died Saturday.

Chip East/Reuters/File

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CBS newsman Mike Wallace was a dogged, merciless reporter and interviewer who took on politicians, celebrities and other public figures in a 60-year career highlighted by the on-air confrontations that helped make "60 Minutes" the most successful primetime television news program ever.

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Mr. Wallace died Saturday night.

Until he was slowed by heart surgery as he neared his 90th birthday in 2008, Wallace continued making news, doing "60 Minutes" interviews with such subjects as Jack Kevorkian and Roger Clemens. He had promised to still do occasional reports when he announced his retirement as a regular correspondent in March 2006.

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Among his later contributions, after bowing out as a regular on "60 Minutes," was a May 2007 profile of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and an interview with Kevorkian, the assisted suicide doctor released from prison in June 2007.

In December 2007, Wallace landed the first interview with Clemens after the star pitcher was implicated in the report by former Sen. George Mitchell on performance enhancing drugs in baseball. The interview, in which Clemens maintained his innocence, was broadcast in early January 2008.

Wallace's "extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable and he has been a force within the television industry throughout its existence," Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, said in a statement Sunday.

Wallace was the first man hired when late CBS news producer Don Hewitt put together the staff of "60 Minutes" at the TV news magazine's inception in 1968. The show wasn't a hit at first, but it worked its way up to the top 10 in the 1977-78 season and remained there, season after season, with Wallace as one of its mainstays. Among other things, it proved there could be big profits in TV journalism.

The top 10 streak was broken in 2001, in part due to the onset of huge-drawing rated reality shows. But "60 Minutes" remained in the top 25 in recent years, ranking 15th in viewers in the 2010-11 season.

The show pioneered the use of "ambush interviews," with reporter and camera crew corralling alleged wrongdoers in parking lots, hallways, wherever a comment – or at least a stricken expression – might be harvested from someone dodging the reporters' phone calls.

Such tactics were phased out over time – Wallace said they provided drama but not much good information.

And his style never was all about surprise, anyway. Wallace was a master of the skeptical follow-up question, coaxing his prey with a "forgive me, but ..." or a simple, "come on." He was known as one who did his homework, spending hours preparing for interviews, and alongside the exposes, "60 Minutes" featured insightful talks with celebrities and world leaders.

He was equally tough on public and private behavior. In 1973, with the Watergate scandal growing, he sat with top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman and read a long list of alleged crimes, from money laundering to obstructing justice. "All of this, Wallace noted, "by the law and order administration of Richard Nixon."

The surly Ehrlichman could only respond: "Is there a question in there somewhere?"

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