February 18, 2021


[Ira Rosen, the author of Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at ‘60 Minutes,’] also writes that Wallace regularly peppered colleagues with questions about their sex lives; lashed out at them for no good reason; grabbed the bottoms and breasts of women who worked in the office; pulled them onto his lap; and snapped bra straps.

“The verbal harassment I experienced from Mike Wallace and other TV big shots was, in a word, criminal,” Rosen writes. He says he stuck it out for so long “in part out of fear, but mostly out of ambition.”

It is depressing to think that a “60 Minutes”-worthy story — on the ingrained culture of harassment at a cultural institution — took place at the nation’s most prestigious and most popular TV newsmagazine. The writer Sally Quinn ventured into this territory in “We’re Going to Make You a Star,” a 1975 memoir about her stint at CBS News. She wrote that Hewitt tried to sabotage her after she said no to his advances. (The reviews were vicious.)

In a 1991 article for Rolling Stone, the journalist Mark Hertsgaard reported that Hewitt and Wallace routinely harassed women in the workplace. In 2017, “60 Minutes” tried to obscure its past. Richard Zoglin, a biographer, was hired by Simon & Schuster, a publisher then owned by the CBS Corporation, to write a book on the show’s history in time for its 50th anniversary. After he started asking about the treatment of women on staff, he was replaced by a new author: Jeff Fager, who had succeeded Hewitt as the show’s top producer.

Rosen does not go into the book fiasco but does note that CBS fired Charlie Rose, a “60 Minutes” correspondent and a co-anchor of “CBS This Morning,” after a number of women had accused him of sexual harassment. He also includes the 2018 firing of Fager, whose career ended after he sent a threatening text message to a CBS reporter who was preparing a “CBS Evening News” segment that dealt with allegations of sexual harassment against Fager himself. (The problem went to the very top: The CBS Corporation also fired the company’s chief executive, Leslie Moonves, after a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and sexual assault.)

The above New York Times review doesn’t mention if this infamous moment in Mike Wallace’s career appears in Rosen’s book. As described by the late Roger Ailes, someone else who understood the blending of theater and journalism even more than Hewitt and Wallace:

Recognize that any time you are in the presence of a newsperson, the conversation is fair game for the record. Jimmy Carter’s famous confession that he sometimes had lust in his heart for women other than his wife was uttered to a Playboy magazine journalist as he was leaving Carter’s home at the conclusion of the formal interview. Even Mike Wallace, big-game hunter of the unguarded moment, got caught in this snare. As recounted on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal by TV critic Daniel Henninger in March of 1981, Wallace:

was interviewing a banker in San Diego about an alleged home improvement fraud involving mainly black and Hispanics, who supposedly had signed contract they couldn’t understand, which led to foreclosures on their home mortgages.The bank hired a film crew of its own to record the interview with Mr. Wallace. The bank apparently left its recorder running during a break in the CBS interview, and the tape has Mr. Wallace saying, in reply to a question about why the black and Hispanic customers would have signed their contracts, “They’re probably too busy eating their watermelon and tacos.”

When the Los Angeles Times got wind of this indiscretion and reported it, there was at least a minor uproar from reporters and others about Wallace’s “racially disparaging joke”. Wallace ultimately pleaded “no bias”, admitting that over time he’d privately told jokes about many ethnic groups but that his record “speaks for itself”. Henninger added, “Needless to say, this has to be the most deliciously lip-smacking bit of irony to pop out of the oven in a long time. Here we have the dogcatcher cornered. The lepidopterist pinned. The preacher in flagrante delicto. This is the fellow who has imputed all manner of crimes against social goodness to a long lineup of businessmen and bureaucrats. From here on out, all future victims of Mr. Wallace can take some small comfort in knowing that although they may stand exposed as goof-offs, thieves and polluters, he’s the guy who made the crack about the watermelons and tacos.”

Eventually, as the cost of the equipment Wallace used for his stings became affordable to all, James O’Keefe and others on the right would begin to employ the same investigative techniques that 60 Minutes pioneered, only aimed at Wallace’s fellow leftists. As I wrote in 2011: Investigative Journalism: It’s All Fun and Games until the MSM Gets Stung.

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