Mike Wallace, depression and the real “Blues Brothers”

Today was reported the death of the great reporter Mike Wallace, of 60 Minutes fame. Sharon Waxman, an excellent reporter herself, recalls meeting him, and hearing of a now forgotten side of Mike Wallace, and of his great friends Art Buchwald and William Styron too: 

[Mike] Wallace always seemed fearless and in fact on that day — vibrant and powerful late in his 80s – he seemed timeless too.

Wallace was one of [Art] Buchwald’s closest friends. They would spend summers on the Vineyard together (that day Wallace had just come up from exercising on the beach, visiting Art who was recovering from a stroke).

And Art was a friend of mine, a late-breaking relationship during which we talked for hours. One of the things we talked about was Art’s recurring bouts with depression. It was the thing that he shared with two of his closest friends: William Styron, the novelist, and Mike Wallace.

The three of them would discreetly appear together at support groups, calling themselves “The Blues Brothers,” Buchwald told me.

I could understand Buchwald and Styron as suffering from depression: a humorist (a common affliction among them), and a novelist who wrote about the illness in “Darkness Visible.”

But Wallace was a surprise. Familiar to us all as the aggressive journalist who asked the fearless questions of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Malcolm X, that seemed hard to fathom.

But it was the case. In 1996, Wallace went public with his illness, and asked the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging for more federal funds for depression research.

He told the committee that he had felt “lower, lower, lower than a snake’s belly,” and had tried to commit suicide.  (The depression apparently first appeared after being sued for libel by Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who sought $120 million for a 1982 “CBS Reports” documentary, “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception.”)

I don’t know if Wallace succeeded in winning funds for research. But he overcame his depression and went on to continue one of the most storied careers in American journalism.

He is missed, and a man worthy of our great admiration.

I recall Wallace declaring then that he intended to spend the rest of his life on Zoloft. I wonder if he did. 

One thought on “Mike Wallace, depression and the real “Blues Brothers”

  1. Faux quote on Mike Wallace goes viral


    RIP, Mike Wallace. But there’s another part of Mike Wallace’s life that needs examining and it has little to do with Mike, and much more to do with how in the Internet Age, false quotes spread like wildfire and become part of new urban legends, and in this case, a new urban newsroom legend.

    And as this new urban newsroom legend has it, never fact-checked of course, which is par for the course, of course, beer magnate Joseph Coors reportedly originated the alleged maxim when he allegedly quipped, although there is no recording of him saying it: “The four most dreaded words in the English language — ‘Mike Wallace is here.’ ”

    Most likely, Coors never said that.

    True, there was a newspaper ad that Coors took out in 1983 that used that line as part of the ad copy, but Mr Coors himself never quipped those exact words, never said those words, never uttered those words. They were put in his mouth by a savvy team of Madison Avenue copywriters. Welcome to another faux quote making the rounds of the Internet in this Age of UnFactCheckable/UnFactChecked Facts.

    Whoever actually first uttered that Coorsian phrase, it wasn’t Jean-Paul Sartre, that for sure, nor was it Sartre-joker Jonathan Rauch, but you can bet that plenty of big shots believed it, and when Mike Wallace passed at 93 recently, newspapers and wire services and TV eulogies and websites and blogs were inundated with the faux Coors quote as if it was a real quote.

    Joseph Coors never said that. When I asked a top newspaper editor, whose newspaper had also used that faux quote, he wrote back to me in a very nice way and said: “The editorial about Mike Wallace and Joseph Coors in our newspaper did not report that Mr.
    Coors said it. It reported that ‘as legend has it,’ he originated the phrase. We also were diligent to note that “regardless of whoever actually first uttered it” — clearly casting doubt on whether Coors was the first. So no, we didn’t “fall for it.””

    But hundreds of newspapers and blogs and Web sites did fall for the faux Coors quote and it’s now part of urban newsroom legend, which no amount of digging or investigative legwork can undo. What’s done is done. Coors said it, make no mistake about it. Mike Wallace knows the truth, but he aint talking now. Gone with the wind, Mike took the truth with him. Long live Mike Wallace!

    Andrew Beaujon at the Poynter Institute asked in a headline: ”Who really said, ‘The four most frightening words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace is here” ‘?

    Beaujon asked in his short item on the faux quote, if faux it really is, and the jury is still out to a three-martini lunch on this one:

    “[It’s an] interesting question: Who really said “The four most frightening words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace is here’?”

    The Los Angeles Times attributes it to Joseph Coors. “Wallace had such a fearsome reputation as an interviewer that ‘Mike Wallace is here to see you’ were among the most dreaded words a newsmaker could hear,” writes David Bauder of the Associated Press.

    In The Washington Post, Adam Bernstein wisely goes with the passive tense: “For anyone hiding a secret, it was often said, four of the most dreaded words in the English language were ‘Mike Wallace is here.'” In an AP gallery:

    “His reputation preceded him: ‘The four most dreaded words in the English language: Mike Wallace is here,’ as the saying goes.” Someone get an investigative journalist on this pronto!”

    Investigative journalists around the country are now looking into this tempest in a Coors can.

    A top newspaperman in New York, well placed to know what he is talking about, tells me: ”A copy of the 1983 ad was on the wall in Mike Wallace’s office. CBS aired another copy in its Wallace obituary on the evening news the other night.”

    So the ad exists. The copywriters really did put those words in Joseph Coors’ mouth. But he never really said it. Not in real life. Only on Madison Avenue. Coors is now credited with the famous faux quote, he is said to have quipped the quip, and whether we like it or not, in this Age of Internet Gullibility, the fake Coors quote is here to stay. And ”hell really is other people at breakfast,” as John Paul Sartre once quipped in 2003. Not.

    Dan Bloom is a journalist based in Taipei.


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