“60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace, who died April 7 at the age of 93, was a gift to the PR business.
I remember attending countless crisis management workshops and seminars during the early 1990s that promoted themselves as events loaded with insider information about “What to do when Mike Wallace knocks on the door.”
The sponsors of those sessions made money, but the audience was always short-changed. When one-man truth squad Wallace showed up, the jig was up. The PR workshop/seminar takeaways were either to keep your corporate nose clean or door closed when Mike came a-calling.
The no-frills newsman was also a goldmine for PR firms. They earned millions in fees pitching the fear of Wallace to skittish clients.
Coors Brewing paid the ultimate tribute to Wallace, running an ad with a tagline: “The four most dreaded words in the English language: ‘Mike Wallace is here.’” That spot ran after Wallace decided to drop a story about racism among Coors’ top brass. Grateful Coors management rejoiced that it was vindicated by the great newsman. That was a tribute to Wallace’s stature.
CBS ultimately phased-out the “ambush journalism” that was so perfected by Wallace. Executive producer Don Hewitt decided that ambushes were nothing more than “showbiz baloney.” He told Mike to “retire your trench coat.” An era passed.
In today’s 24/7 electronic communications environment, 60 Minutes has lost some of the power that it had as the only game in town. Though CBS has ditched ambush journalism, the hypothetical question, “What do you do when Steve Kroft knocks on the door?” just doesn’t have PR people running for the exits.
Kroft is good. Wallace was one-of-a-kind.
He will be remembered.