CLOSE ENCOUNTERS by Mike & Gary Paul Gates Wallace
Kirkus Star


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Highlights from Wallace's career, with bridging chapters by Gates (Air Time): a novel format (credited to Wallace's agent, Bill Adler) that showcases Wallace and confines Gates to paraphrasing his thoughts, explaining his actions, and outfight puffery. The result, for the most part, is predictably bland. Gates tips in Wallace's early life (native of Brookline, Mass., debut in Midwest radio), his three marriages (two sons by the first, the third lasting), his early entertainment employ (notably the talk-show, Mike and Buff, with wife #2, Buff Cobb). Then Wallace comes on with Night Beat, the N.Y. interview show (1956) that made his name: ""Our guests would be thoroughly, painstakingly researched and then . . . I'd go at them as hard as I could. It they appeared to be hiding behind evasive answers, I'd press them. . . . If, in response to pressure, they became embarrassed or irritated or sullen, I'd try to exploit that mood."" Gates resumes with kudos, one-up concessions: ""That there were nights when viewers caught a glimpse of Wallace's darker, disagreeable side--his warts and all--only underscored the fact that there was nothing slick or rehearsed about Night Beat."" The failure of Night Beat--now The Mike Wallace Interview--over ABC nationwide (via a libel suit, a network apology) led Wallace into commercials and TV-claptrap, and a career-crisis decision, at 44, to return to journalism. . . by winning over executives who (in Gates' words) ""regarded him as a headline-seeking troublemaker who could not be trusted to behave with dignity and decorum."" With Wallace's comeback--on CBS Radio, CBS Morning News, as first-choice for the gestating 60 Minutes--the book slips into a structural focus on Wallace-the-newsman/newsmaker. There's a chapter on his early recognition of Nixon's comeback potential (a projection, perhaps), his near-turndown of 60 Minutes for a Nixon post (the only hard-ish news here); he also tells how he was ""taken in"" by Spiro Agnew. There are later chapters on his 60 Minutes, post-Watergate interviews with Ehrlichman and Haldeman; his part in the My Lai story and, more crucially, ""The Selling of Colonel Herbert"" (which appealed, like other ventures, because it went against the liberal grain). He reviews his Middle East coverage, especially the Syrian-Jews-have-it-OK program and charges of defection from Jewish groups. The book doesn't really heat up, though, until Wallace gets to the ""investigative reporting""--the elaborate, staged exposÉs of domestic foul-ups and frauds--for which he's been most celebrated and criticized. Finally Wallace tells his side of the Westmoreland affair and, in mountainous detail, of two personal embarrassments: the Haiti incident and the watermelon-and-tacos remark. (On colleagues, he's generally tactful, often effusive.) A slick performance, in the aggregate, without a jot of humor, and only a rare thought--but OK as a replay (much broadcast-quotation) and a recap, to say nothing of the pre-sold multitudes who'll want to give it a flip through, regardless.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow