NEW YORK (AP) – Mike Wallace, the hard-driving reporter who has been with “60 Minutes” since its start in 1968, said yesterday he will retire as a regular correspondent on the show this spring.
Wallace is a 1939 graduate of the University. Last month, he donated more than 150 linear feet of journalism history. The documents included notes, transcripts and research from his career in journalism.
A television news legend who was the last person an accused wrongdoer would want to see on his doorstep, Wallace said he’ll still do occasional reports for the show. CBS News President Sean McManus referred to him as a “correspondent emeritus.”
Wallace, 87, has often said he’ll retire “when my toes turn up.”
“Well, they’re just beginning to curl a trifle, which means that, as I approach my 88th birthday, it’s become apparent to me that my eyes and ears, among other appurtenances, aren’t quite what they used to be,” he said.
Wallace has said for years that he was cutting back, but he’s still done six reports in the current season, including a profile of actor Morgan Freeman and a story on soldiers who lost their limbs in Iraq. It was a significant step last fall when Wallace relinquished his position as the first face viewers saw after the ticking stopwatch on each show. Ed Bradley now has that distinction.
“The time has come,” he said. “I’d rather go this way than be shoved.”
He said he’s still working on getting several big interviews for the show – bet on Tuesday’s announcement helping his cause – and he’d like to do a few hour-long specials in the future. He’ll keep an office at the CBS News headquarters.
“It’s hard for all of us to get used to,” said Jeff Fager, “60 Minutes” executive producer. “It’s a sad day, but it’s also a chance to celebrate an incredible legacy and an amazing guy.”
Even as age slowed him down, Wallace was still able to prod interview subjects in a style all his own. Fager remembered an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin last year where Wallace said, “This isn’t a real democracy, come on!”
With founding executive producer Don Hewitt, Wallace helped invent the television newsmagazine; the Sunday-night staple was frequently TV’s top-rated show. Hewitt said Tuesday that Wallace will be remembered with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite as the three legends of CBS News.
Hewitt said he appreciated Wallace’s well-rounded ability to tell different stories, from Putin to Carol Burnett, from Tina Turner to Vladimir Horowitz. It was more than the caricature of a reporter chasing a reluctant subject down a dark street.
“It was showbiz baloney,” Hewitt said. “We did it for a long time. Finally, I said, ‘Hey, kid, maybe it’s time to retire that trenchcoat.'”
Wallace interviewed hundreds of newsmakers, including Deng Xiaoping, Ayatollah Khomeini, Yasir Arafat, King Hussein and Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Reagan. He interviewed John Nash, the academician who was the subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” and arranged for Louis Farrakhan and the eldest daughter of Malcolm X to be interviewed together.
In 1998, Wallace aired a report which on videotape showed Dr. Jack Kevorkian injecting lethal drugs into a terminally ill man.
Some of his news subjects fought back. Retired Gen. William C. Westmoreland sued CBS for a Wallace report on the Vietnam War. Although the case was dropped after a long trial, Wallace said the case brought on a depression that put him in the hospital for more than a week.
Wallace also aired a report with tobacco company whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in 1995 that became the subject of the movie “The Insider,” alleging CBS News caved to pressure from lawyers in delaying the report.
Wallace’s television career dates back to the late 1940s. He acquired his reputation as a tough interrogator with “Night Beat,” a local news show in New York that was a series of one-on-one interviews.
But he was also a game-show host and a commercial pitchman for cigarettes. He became a full-time newsman for CBS in 1963, saying the death of his 19-year-old son, Peter, in an accident made him decide to stick with serious journalism.
Late last year, Wallace, to promote his memoir, sat for an interview with his son, Chris Wallace, a Fox News Channel anchor. The son asked his father, “Do you hate getting old?”
“I had my hearing aid fixed today so that I could properly hear you,” the elder Wallace responded. “I can’t see as well. I now have – this has stopped me from smoking – a pacemaker, have for about the last 15 years. No, I don’t like getting old.”