QUESTION: Why are scoundrels willing to go on "60 Minutes" and let Mike Wallace nuke them in front of millions of people?
ANSWER: We went to the man himself, Mike Wallace, for the answer. The first thing we learned was that, astonishingly, the famous voice of TV - metallic, filled with outrage and make-believe astonishment, a tabloid sort of voice - is how he talks all the time. That's his normal voice. Wow."We have very little difficulty getting people to go on camera," Wallace told us. "At the beginning, nobody knew who we were, so they came on. Then they began to understand, so they didn't come on." Now, he said, people are once again willing to tell their side of the story. "I think they know they're going to be treated fairly," Wallace said, without a hint of sarcasm.
It helps that many guilty people don't think they're guilty. They have endless reservoirs of self-delusion. For example, Jeffrey MacDonald, the Green Beret convicted of murdering his family, was only too happy to go on camera with Wallace. What MacDonald didn't know was that Wallace had seen the galleys of Joe McGinnis' book "Fatal Vision," and that, rather than being a defense of MacDonald, it was a journalistic indictment.
"He was still under the impression that McGinnis was still his bestfriend," says Wallace. When Wallace confronted MacDonald with the truth, "he blanched, he couldn't believe it."
Great TV moment. But nasty!
"He knew what `60 Minutes' was and he knew me. Why did he (go on camera)? Because MacDonald believed he could persuade any reporter of anything."
One other factor: Wallace doesn't take any pains to warn his interviewees that they're going to be publicly humiliated. Rather he sort of toys with them. He feigns innocence for a while and then moves in for the kill. Nowadays some reporters find such techniques distasteful if not unethical.
"I think any reporter who is trying to get a story has to occasionally role play," he said. "Sometimes you do it with syrup and sometimes with vinegar."
Remember the piece we did on "Citizen Kane"? We said at one point that Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic, had made an "unconvincing" case that Kane was largely the inspiration of Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter, who we said wrote "the original draft of the script." This is part of an old debate - who should get credit for one of the greatest movies in history - and our statement did not please Frank Mankiewicz, son of Herman. He wrote to us:
"My father did not just write `the original draft' of the script, he wrote all the drafts of the script including the shooting script - all of it . . . Citizen Kane is a marvelous film - maybe the best ever - and it is largely due to the direction, acting and inspiration of Orson Welles. But the story, from start to finish, and the entire original screenplay was the creation of Herman J. Mankiewicz."
Now we await word from the Welles family.