Mike Wallace, 87, honed his style in the 1950s on Night Beat, where the host, cigarette smoke swirling in the air, grilled the guest on a dimly lit set. In 1968, he joined a new show called 60 Minutes, and helped change TV journalism forever. He met with TIME's Jim Kelly to talk about his new book, Between You and Me, his interview style and his epitaph.
IF YOU WANTED TO THROW YOURSELF A HARD BALL, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Well, I can think of a tough question, but I might not want to answer it. "Where did you go wrong?"
YOU'RE FAMOUS FOR THE HARD-HITTING PIECES, USING HIDDEN CAMERAS AND REPORTERS WITH ASSUMED NAMES, AND THEN YOU COME IN AND HAMMER THE GUY. IT MADE FOR GREAT TV, BUT NOT EVERYONE THOUGHT IT WAS FAIR. SEE THEIR POINT? I really don't. Look, because it had not been done before and it had not been seen before, the audience was able to view the process from the inside. It wasn't an ambush. It was an effort to get behind the façade.
WHO WAS THE EASIER INTERVIEW: THE SHAH OF IRAN OR AYATULLAH KHOMEINI? The Shah of Iran. He wanted to be on TV. He was comfortable with being asked any question as long as you preceded it with "Your Majesty." When I interviewed the Ayatullah, he walked in, I put out my hand and he swept past me, sat down and waited for the questions. They had been approved in advance, but I asked one they did not approve. I thought, What are they going to do? Take me hostage? "Anwar Sadat says you are a lunatic," I asked. Of course, he doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Farsi. The interpreter was between us, and he looked at me like I was a nut case. He puts the question to him, and I must say, for the first time he began to peer at me. Who is this who is asking this question? He predicted not much of a future [for Sadat].
WOULD CBS BE DIFFERENT TODAY IF BILL PALEY WERE STILL IN CHARGE? It's an utterly, utterly different business today. Les Moonves is not Bill Paley. Les Moonves was able to turn the network around as far as the ratings are concerned, and some of what he has done has been first-rate, but some of what he's done ... Bill Paley valued his news division. It was what distinguished his network from the others.
YOU HAVE BEEN QUITE PUBLIC ABOUT YOUR DEPRESSION, WHICH STARTED 20 YEARS AGO, DURING THE LIBEL TRIAL WILLIAM WESTMORELAND V. CBS. DID THE TRIAL TRIGGER WHAT WAS ALREADY THERE? I have a hunch that my mother suffered from depression. But when you're called a liar, a cheat and a fraud, you worry about it. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, thought about suicide. My wife Mary said, "You're depressed." My own doctor said, "Don't talk about depression. You're a tough guy. It's bad for your image to suggest that you're depressed." That happens a lot with doctors. They're worried about the stigma, and they do not understand depression.
WHAT DO YOU TAKE NOW? Zoloft.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR AN INTERVIEW? I take a yellow pad and categorize my questions. Ambition, motivation, greed, joy, defeat ... 50, 75 questions. And then what happens is, when an interviewee is maybe reluctant to really let it come out, you establish the chemistry of confidentiality with these questions. They begin to understand I know an awful lot about them, and I cared enough to read and look at and worry about the questions.