Thousand of public relations professionals and crisis managers owe Mike a huge debt of gratitude. We have created a meaningful and purposeful industry of helping business and institutions work through crisis management with the single opening question:
“Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”
Wallace, a mainstay of the CBS News program “60 Minutes”, died April 7 at age 93.
That’s never a real threat in most cases but just the thought of Wallace’s aggressive and credible investigative journalism was enough to turn normal steel-nerved business people into glassy-eyed, undulating gelatinous blobs like Jabba the Hut, brain fried and medically unresponsive. And thesewere the leaders who were innocent.
His fellow “60 Minutes” reporter Morley Safer described him: “Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” as reported by Adam Benstein in the Washington Post.
Wallace was old-school journalism. He was the guy Woodward and Bernstein looked up to before Watergate-reporting was cool. He was of the Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid generation. Reporters first, make-up wearers second. More than if it bleeds, it leads.
There is a lot to be learned from Wallace and his take no crap attitude:
- Do the right thing – If you and our enterprise are doing the right thing you shouldn’t have to worry about this and the next generation’s Mike Wallace crashing through the door.
- Be prepared. Wallace’s scathing interviews were based on hours of research, confirmation, witnesses, testimony. He knew when the truth was stretched and would hit you with his classic “Oh, come on…” You need to be equally prepared.
- You need to know how to react to the crusading reporter as they come at you. You have rights as a subject.
Wallace tormented his subjects, but his objectivity, honesty and credibility could never be challenged. He wasn’t perfect, He fought his own devils. But he also demonstrated hard-hitting, investigative reporting of the highest quality could pull real audiences in prime time.
In his own way he made a better world, if for no other reason than forcing us to ask our clients: “Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”