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Doug Robinson: Mike Wallace vs. President Hinckley? Dave Checketts needn't have worried

Published: Monday, April 9 2012 5:55 p.m. MDT

Wallace, who was criticized in the journalism community for what was perceived as soft treatment of the church leader, told National Public Radio that he admired President Hinckley's "candor, his willingness to entertain any question, no matter how difficult or, perhaps embarrassing. He was just absolutely open with me. It became quite clear that there was a great deal in the Mormon religion that I genuinely admired."

Wallace said he had never had a "relationship like this with a clergyman. I'm not a particularly pious or religious person." As for being seen as a "patsy for the Mormon Church," he said, "Because I have the feeling I do for Gordon B. Hinckley, I figure I'll get a pass on this if I'm not as characteristically confrontational."

Wallace wrote about his first meeting with President Hinckley in the foreward to "Standing for Something." He said he received an invitation for a luncheon at the Harvard Club in New York City and wasn't inclined to attend, except that he would have a chance to dine with the leader of the LDS Church. He had been trying for decades to get any of the top Mormon leaders to meet with him, he wrote, but had been turned down.

Wrote Wallace, "So I was totally unprepared for a cordial, even a sunny greeting at the luncheon from Gordon B. Hinckley. And I was still hesitant when, following his postprandial remarks, he threw the floor open for questions from any and all of us. Timorously, I wondered aloud to him if he might entertain the notion of an interview-cum-profile for '60 Minutes.' President Hinckley's bespectacled eyes literally twinkled as he good-naturedly allowed that it sounded like an appealing notion, that after all he really had nothing to hide, and that he imagined he'd have little difficulty handling whatever queries I loosed at him. He'd heard and answered worse, he was sure, during his young missionary years in London where he'd taken on whatever the skeptics and nonbelievers had thrown at him in his Hyde Park appearances and/or confrontations."

The result was a wonderful moment for Wallace, President Hinckley and the LDS Church.

As Checketts recalls, he wrote Wallace a long letter after the interview. "I told him it couldn't have been handled with more class and dignity." Checketts liked the interview so much that it inspired him a couple of years later to arrange for President Hinckley to speak at Madison Square Garden to give him more exposure to the world's media. Checketts invited the biggest names in journalism to the event — "I knew they'd come because they all want tickets to the Knicks games and they don't want to get on my bad side," jokes Checketts. The event attracted some 25,000 people, including many of the big names in the media.

"Mike Wallace was sitting there in the front row," says Checketts. "He came to the reception afterward, too. He and President Hinckley shared laughs and took some pictures. He said he had a soft spot for President Hinckley. Most people didn't think he had a soft spot for anyone."

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