Mike Wallace died earlier this month at age 93, and while some may find it preferable to focus on the positive when speaking or writing about an individual on the occasion of his passing, the Monitor had little good to say about Wallace while he was living, so why start now?
Wallace, who achieved his greatest fame on CBS’s long-running newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” was a Jew by birth whose snarky attitude toward Judaism was perfectly illustrated in the response he gave when a Washington Post reporter wrote that Wallace had been spotted ordering a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur at a popular Capitol Hill restaurant. Asked about it, Wallace confirmed the story, adding, “I am a Reform Jew. The best thing I can do is serve my master.”
Wallace’s religious observance, or lack of it, was his personal affair. What bothered the Monitor was his dismaying habit of losing his vaunted hard edge in the presence of just about any Arab or Muslim dictator.
In 2006 he came out of retirement to interview Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and proceeded to spread the word that the man who denies the Holocaust and calls for destroying Israel is not really such a bad guy after all.
“He’s actually in a strange way…a rather attractive man,” gushed Wallace, suddenly transformed from cynical journalist to swooning schoolgirl, “very smart, savvy, self-assured, good looking in a strange way…. He couldn’t have been more accommodating.”
Of particular note was Wallace’s stupefying performance on Sean Hannity’s radio program. Asked by Hannity if he considered Ahmadinejad to be an anti-Semite, Wallace flatly responded, “No, I don’t.”
When Hannity quoted Ahmadinejad’s statements about wiping Israel off the map, a nearly incoherent Wallace replied, “Yes, he says wipe [Israel] off the map, and of course I asked him over and over about that. He says in effect, hey, it’s perfectly sensible to do…pardon me. It’s perfectly sensible for them, and I’m not quoting directly, obviously, because I don’t have the translation in front of me, to…for them to…it’s perfectly sensible, if there is a Holocaust, and let’s buy the fact that there was a Holocaust. Where did the Holocaust take place? Did it take place in an Arab neighborhood? Did it take place in Jerusalem? No. It took place in Germany. Then it seems to me, under those circumstances, take Israel, the Zionist entity, he called it, move it to Germany. Move it to Europe. That’s where it happened.”
Hannity asked Wallace if he thought that was a legitimate argument, to which Wallace shot back, “It’s an argument. I’m not a commentator. You are.”
Back in 2002 Wallace, appearing on “Larry King Live” to talk up an interview he’d recently conducted with Yasir Arafat, expressed a level of sympathy and understanding to the Palestinian terror chief that he rarely if ever extended to an American leader.
“You know something, Larry,” he said, “I came to – I came to admire Arafat beginning back in 1977. He has made mistakes along the way as all of us do….”
In 1975, during a notorious “60 Minutes” whitewashing of the late Syrian president Hafez Assad, Wallace characterized the thug who killed tens of thousands of his own people as “cool, strong, austere and independent.”
Wallace’s view of the Arab-Israeli conflict was already clear back in 1958, when he hosted Israeli ambassador Abba Eban on the TV show “Mike Wallace Interviews.”
Though Eban handled his end of the conversation with his trademark wit and intelligence, Wallace’s tone was prosecutorial throughout, as when he quoted, without indicating any disagreement, the historian Arnold Toynbee’s statement that “The evil deeds committed by the Zionist Jews against the Arabs are comparable to crimes committed against the Jews by the Nazis.’ ”
Later in the interview Wallace alleged that “the problem of the refugees is allied with the problem of territorial expansion on the part of Israel.”
“Mr. Ambassador,” he asked Eban, “do you … foresee further territorial expansion by Israel?”
Remember, this was nearly a decade before the Six-Day War, when Israel first came into possession of the territories now so widely deemed to be the crux of the conflict. To portray Israel as expansionist in 1958 was to basically call into question Israel’s very legitimacy.