“You and your friends won’t like what you’ll see on my program in a couple of weeks,” Mike Wallace told an acquaintance in Jerusalem in November 1990, referring to a forthcoming “60 Minutes” report on the Temple Mount riot staged by Palestinians earlier that fall.
It’s hard to miss the smugness and anticipatory glee inherent in that statement, recounted by former Jerusalem Post editorial page editor David Bar Illan in his thorough dissection of Wallace’s anti-Israel bias in the Feb. 1991 issue of Commentary. Eleven years later, Bar-Illan’s piece retains its timeliness as surely as Wallace retains what strikes many viewers as a clear animus toward Israel and an adversarial stance on a range of issues that concern Jews.
Bar-Illan managed to touch on all the low lights of Wallace’s “60 Minutes” career up to that point, and taken as a whole the article amounted to about as damning an indictment of a journalist as one is likely to find.
“When he first went to Syria in 1975,” Bar-Illan reminded us, Wallace “missed no opportunity to lionize Syria’s ‘cool, strong, austere, and independent’ leader, Hafez al-Assad, whose -unrelenting aim is to retrieve the rich farmland of the Golan taken from him by the Israelis’ (emphasis added).”
And Wallace, added Bar-Illan, “gave a clean bill of health to Assad’s treatment” of the Syrian Jewish community. “He was particularly delighted to show that the Jews of Syria - though suffering from some travel restrictions – were quick to declare on camera that if they could only join the Syrian army they would be eager to fight against Israel.”
Bar-Illan turned next to Wallace’s contribution to Americans’ understanding of the plight of Soviet Jewry: “From 1980 on,” he wrote, “Leonid Brezhnev claimed that no Jews wanted to leave the Soviet Union. But pesky Jewish organizations in New York and that intolerably intransigent government in Israel kept insisting that 400,000 of them, risking jobs, jail and family safety, had applied for visas to Israel.
“Again Wallace knew whom to believe: standing in front of the Kremlin, he announced, with an arrogance only celebrated TV know-nothings can muster, that all the Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet Union had done so and the rest were getting along just fine.”
Bar-Illan also revisited Wallace’s demolition job on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “In a program whose tone was egregious even for him, Wallace portrayed the ‘Jewish Lobby’ as an insidious, all-powerful, multiheaded Washington Svengali manipulating the U.S. Congress and administration. Any congressman who voted against arms sales to Arab countries, implied Wallace, had been bought by Jewish money.”
In a particularly devastating portion of the article, Bar-Illan focused on an interview Wallace conducted with then-Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek during the report on the Temple Mount riot mentioned above. Note how Kollek appears to be endorsing a point made by Wallace:
Wallace: The Israeli government…tried to persuade the world that this was an unprovoked riot by the Palestinians.
Kollek: We have an ideological government, and I think wherever you have ideological governments you run into trouble.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? The problem, as Bar-Illan informed his readers, was that Kollek’s reply had not been given as an answer to that question. “It was,” explained Bar-Illan, “part of a long exchange during the interview in which Kollek, as is his wont, expressed his blunt opinion of the government.”
In other words, Kollek’s statement was spliced completely out of context in order to “create the impression that Kollek agreed the riot was provoked.”
Upon viewing the program, Kollek lodged a sharply-worded protest with CBS in which he complained of having been deliberately used by Wallace.
We’ll conclude our extended look at Mike Wallace next week. As mentioned last week, the Monitor has begun compiling the Media Good Guy list (Wallace didn’t make it), which means that readers who haven’t yet done so are running out of time to send in their nominations.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org