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General News    H4'ed 4/8/12

Sayonara to Mike Wallace And the TV News Era He Led

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Message Danny Schechter

I hate to break this to you but that posture quickly became a ratings winning game, an act, a shtick, like so much of TV News. He later abandoned the sandbagging entrapment interview when others like Geraldo Rivera "borrowed" the technique.

Having worked at ABC's 20/20, a 60 Minutes wannabe, I could see how many high profile segments were invariably dramatized and hyped.   I wrote about my experience in "The More You Watch The Less You Know," a title that expressed my view, but I did get to meet some of the 60 Minutes crew where a close friend of mine has worked for years at a senior level.

Don Hewitt, the demigod who ruled the roost there could be arrogant and and condescending with his emphasis on telling stories, more than slaying evil individuals and institutions, but he created a family that took on important issues even as so many other TV stations began pandering by exploiting celebrities and kowtowing to power.

He and Mike were often at each other's throat before they kissed and made up. Of them all, Andy Rooney was more the stand-up union loyalist than the ego-maniacal personality.

I did get to know CBS's Walter Cronkite who endorsed our Mediachannel.org in glowing terms. When Walter couldn't show up for a discussion about the decline of journalism with Professor Ben Barber, Mike Wallace graciously sat in for him.

Mike didn't relate to much to our brand of harsh criticism of network journalism but he gave as good as he took. In that moment, I saw him as a mensch, a phase of affection that I can use on this Passover weekend.

In a way, as serious as some of the subjects he took on were, it became more show business more than news business.

He was very competitive and in some cases competed against Barbara Walters who also grew up in Brookline Ma where he lived as a kid. He was not above stealing interviews and was tough taskmaster to work with, but TV News was less when he left late in his own life.

He needed the oxygen of media attention and began slipping away when he lost it.

 TV News is not what it once wanted to be. It had a way of losing its greats. Murrow was forced out and, now the anchor who aspired to be like him, Keith Olbermann, has lost his own job perhaps because a personal failingor impatience with what the Business has become   Dan Rather was set up, and Peter Jennings died too young.

The values of the market have torpedoed whatever senses of mission most of our media may have once been seen to have, although there is more nostalgia than reality about the glory days.

But, even knowing what we do about Big media's function on behalf of the status quo--selling its wars and pumping deference to authority---let's still say a dayenu for Mike Wallace who for a long time really cared and taught us real lessons about right and wrong.

 

News Dissector Danny Schechter has worked in TV News at the local, cable and network levels, before defecting to independent journalism and spend too much of his time challenging official journalism and its service to the status quo on his Newsdissector.net blog. He edits Mediachannel1.org and hosts a show on Progressive Radio Network (PRN.FM). 

 

 

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.
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