Reed Irvine - Editor
  October A, 1984  

CBS SHOULD RETIRE MIKE WALLACE

 THIS ISSUE:
  • CBS SHOULD RETIRE MIKE WALLACE
  • Credibility, A Precious Product
  • Cover-up Mike
  • Savaging the Investigator
  • Specious and Easily Refuted
  • The Substance Was Wrong
  • Wallace Practices Cover-up
  •  What You Can Do
  • Notes
  • Mike Wallace, one of the stars of "60 Minutes," is showing up regularly on other television programs to promote his new book, Close Encounters, written with the help of Gary Paul Gates. In 1982, right after the CBS hatchet job on Gen. William C. Westmoreland, AIM said that Mike Wallace, the correspondent on that program, should be fired. His book provides evidence that CBS made a mistake in not retiring Wallace when he turned 65 last year. If they were concerned about journalistic credibility, not just getting higher ratings, they would do so now.

    In our February 1982 AIM Report urging that Wallace be fired, we brought up three things--the Westmoreland program a profile Wallace had recently done on the late Jean Seberg, and a racist joke Wallace had told while, unbeknownst to him, a video-tape camera was trained on him. The Wallace-Gates book discusses the Westmoreland case and the racist joke episode. It is totally silent on the Seberg profile.

    The treatment of these stories, including the silence on the Seberg case, confirms our earlier judgment that Mike Wallace, for all his good qualities as a tough reporter, is weak in honesty and ethics and in his dedication to the public's right to know.

    Credibility, A Precious Product

    In his book, Mike Wallace writes: Those critics who question our bona fides, who contend that we are guided by ulterior or even dishonest motives, are themselves misguided. It simply is not true that we approach a story--any story--with an ideological ax to grind. Perhaps I should say that any reporter who does bring that kind of baggage into his work has no chance of lasting very long. I don't know anyone in our business who doesn't recognize that our most precious commodity is our credibility, and every time we slip up and jeopardize that, we do so at our peril."

    How, then, does Mike Wallace react in the face of compelling evidence that he has personally done something or has been involved in a program that is dishonest, unfair or hypocritical?

    The answer that emerges very clearly from Close Encounters is that his preferred method of protecting that precious commodity, credibility, is to cover up anything that might damage his credibility, distorting the facts if necessary. It is clear that he is not of the school that believes in quick and complete confession of error as a means of demonstrating dedication to accuracy.

    Cover-up Mike

    Mike Wallace, the fearless investigative reporter, doesn't believe in investigations of his own work, according to his new book. A chapter dealing with the Westmoreland documentary written by co-author Gary Gates, but obviously reflecting the views of Wallace, is very critical of CBS News and its former president, Van Gordon Sauter, for having launched an in-house investigation of the documentary after it was attacked by TV Guide. The TV Guide article, "Anatomy of a Smear--How CBS Broke the Rules and 'Got' General Westmoreland," appeared in May 1982, five months after the network aired the documentary accusing Westmoreland of doctoring intelligence figures in Vietnam.

    Wallace had been the correspondent for the 90-minute documentary. "The Uncounted Enemy--A Vietnam Deception." According to his book, he and the producer, George Crile, had stood ready to respond to the TV Guide article with a strong defense of their work. But before they could draft a reply, the new president of CBS News, Van Gordon Sauter, had announced to a meeting of CBS affiliates that Burton Benjamin, a senior executive producer, would make an investigation of the TV Guide charges and report on his findings. The book notes that Sauter did not issue any statement in defense of the documentary, and complains that this "seemed to cast the documentary--along with Wallace and Crile themselves, in a most ambiguous light."

    Wallace suggests that Sauter was overly sensitive to the concerns of the CBS affiliates, since he himself had a background in station management. The Wallace-Gates book reports that there was also a rumor that Sauter had succumbed to pressure from his superiors in the corporation, a charge that he denied. There are those who think that Sauter ought to have been sensitive to the concerns of the affiliates who broadcast CBS News programs and to the owners and senior managers of the corporation, but journalists like to foster the idea that any non-journalistic interference with their activities is evil. Owners and managers are supposed to be motivated by a crass interest in profits, while journalists are concerned only with Truth. Mike Wallace seems to feel that it is improper for an owner to suggest an investigation to determine if the journalists he hires are telling the truth.

    Wallace's book compares Sauter's action unfavorably with the way one of his predecessors, Richard Salant, reacted when an equally egregious CBS documentary, "The Selling of the Pentagon," came under heavy criticism in 1971. Salant had made a public statement supporting the broadcast. At the same time, he and his deputies looked into charges about faulty reporting and editing procedures. As a result, CBS News operating standards were revised to prohibit some of the practices used in "The Selling of the Pentagon." The authors comment approvingly. "However, all this took place behind closed doors, beyond the glare of public scrutiny."

    Salant is reported to have described how he would have handled the TV Guide revelations of serious violations of CBS News operating standards and journalistic ethics. According to Wallace and Gates, he would not have bothered to comment on these serious charges, but he might have instructed his deputies to look into them "quietly on an informal basis and strictly under his supervision." They say that Salant would have ruled out any formal report or public announcement about what he intended to do. He is quoted as saying, "The important thing in this kind of situation is to keep it from getting out of hand. When you officially assign a report to be done by somebody, you're delegating, and after that, whatever you get, you're stuck with. And if you've made a big deal in public about that report, then you're really stuck with it."

    Wallace and Gates comment: "That was a lesson that Van Sauter was about to learn the hard way. By making 'a big deal in public' about the internal investigation he ordered, Sauter transformed a minor irritation--the TV Guide article--into a major cause celebre, which, in turn, helped provoke the acrimonious libel suit that followed."

    The TV Guide article, which we now know was based on information and documents leaked by Ira Klein, the editor of the Westmoreland documentary and the first major whistleblower to be found in a TV network news department, had listed some eight specific violations of CBS News guidelines or journalistic ethics. TV Guide has a circulation approaching 20 million, and its revelations were picked up by newspapers around the country. The stories created a "tremor" at the CBS affiliates meeting then in progress. Wallace considers this a minor irritation that should have quietly been swept under the rug. Why? Presumably to avoid embarrassment to him and others connected with the production.

    Savaging the Investigator

    Mike Wallace the investigator shows himself to be a poor investigatee. His book attacks the respected senior executive producer, Burton Benjamin, who was assigned the unpleasant task of exploring how Wallace and Crile had done their jobs. The book says: "Like Kowet and Bedell (authors of the TV Guide article), he became so preoccupied with procedural questions that he seemed to lose sight of the central and most important fact: namely, that the substance of 'The Uncounted Enemy' was sound and above reproach. Nor were Wallace and Crile alone in thinking that Benjamin had botched the investigation and had issued a report that was a disservice to the documentary in particular and, by extension, to CBS News in general. Others at the network shared their consternation...

    Wallace and Gates wisely refrain from discussing most of the specific charges, since doing so would destroy the contention that they were insignificant procedural points. For example, TV Guide charged that producer George Crile had begun the project convinced that there had been a conspiracy to under-report enemy strength in Vietnam and had ignored the evidence that conflicted with that view. Clearly, that is something more than a procedural matter. It also has a strong bearing on the question of whether the substance of the documentary was sound and beyond reproach, as Wallace contends. This is an issue Mike Wallace should have addressed squarely in his book. Does he, as an investigative reporter, believe in ignoring and excluding all the evidence that conflicts with some predetermined conclusion he started out with? How does this square with his statement that critics are misguided who contend that Wallace and his colleagues have ulterior motives and approach stories with axes to grind?

    A related charge was that CBS asked witnesses who were sympathetic to Crile's predetermined conclusion soft questions but went after those who disagreed "with prosecutorial zeal." Two witnesses who were obviously "coddled" were the originator of the conspiracy charge, Sam Adams, and one of his friends from their days at the CIA, George Allen. Adams, who was paid $25,000 by CBS for his services as a consultant, was carefully rehearsed before his interview. There was no effort to test this story or embarrass him, even though he was on the record as accusing senior officials in the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House, including the president, of being part of the conspiracy to understate enemy strength in Vietnam in 1967. Adams was identified on the program as a "consultant," but there was no mention of the fact that he was being handsomely paid by CBS News, a clear-cut violation of CBS News operating standards. George Allen did not perform up to Crile's expectations in his first interview, so Crile gave him a second chance. But just to make sure he did what was expected of him, Crile took Allen into the screening room and showed him taped interviews with other 'friendly' witnesses. Since the CBS News standards require that interviews be spontaneous and unrehearsed, the treatment of both Adams and Allen constituted a flagrant violation.

    Gen. Westmoreland was one of the witnesses Mike Wallace pursued with 'prosecutorial zeal." TV Guide pointed out that he had not been given adequate notice of the topics Wallace wanted to discuss in the interview. Westmoreland traveled to New York from his home in South Carolina for the interview. On arriving at the hotel, he found a letter awaiting him listing 10 topics Wallace supposedly would discuss. Only one of these concerned the topic Wallace really intended to discuss-- the estimates of enemy strength in Vietnam in 1967. The general thought that he had been invited to talk about a broad view of the role of intelligence in wartime, only to find that he was to be grilled intensively about 14-year old numbers, cables, and discussions. Wallace's book blames the general for not having come better prepared, saying: "Even though George Crile had sent in that letter spelling out the topics to he discussed in the interview, Westmoreland seemed not to have prepared himself for the toughness of the questions that Wallace put to him."

    There was a reason for that. The letter had reached the general only the night before the interview. In addition, Crile had taken pains to hide the true subject of the interview. He had listed 10 topics. The one clue to the real topic was this question: "What about the controversy between the CIA and the military over enemy strength estimates?" Gen. Westmoreland, according to the book, had given Mike Wallace red carpet treatment when the CBS correspondent visited Vietnam in 1967. He didn't dream Wallace would reciprocate by luring him to a grilling about a 14-year- old controversy without giving him enough advance notice to permit him to review his records.

    That brings up another serious charge by TV Guide-- that the Westmoreland interview had been edited deliberately to make Westmoreland look bad. This was carried to the extreme of showing the general giving an incorrect off-the-cuff figure on enemy infiltration rates, a figure he later corrected by mail. Wallace ignored this letter and cited the incorrect figure as evidence that Westmoreland had been understating the infiltration rate back in 1967. This goes to the heart of the program's honesty and fairness.

    Specious and Easily Refuted

    The Wallace book states that Wallace and Crile considered that most of the TV Guide allegations "were specious and could easily be refuted." However, the one refutation it attempts of these charges is pathetically weak. It admits the documentary could have included "any number of Westmoreland loyalists who would have sided with the general's claim that there was not conspiracy to deceive Washington and the American public about the real strength of enemy troops in 1967." Then it adds: "That, after all, was the official position, the party line, and it was hardly news. What was news was the fact that some of the top officers in Westmoreland's own command had decided to end years of silence by making such dramatic disclosures on national television."

    Wallace presumably knows the difference between breaking news and a carefully crafted documentary, put together at great expense over many months to prove a serious charge of wrongdoing. "Uncounted Enemies" was not a hot news flash that Sam Adams, or George Allen, or Col. Gains Hawkins had suddenly decided to break silence and divulge some dark secret. Adams had been peddling his story for 14 years. He had told Crile in 1980 that there were others who were willing to support his charges. If it were merely news that CBS was after, those people could have been interviewed for the CBS Evening News.

    The fact is that there was nothing particularly newsworthy about these old stories, and the individuals telling them were not of sufficient prominence or rank to win instant credibility. What Wallace and Crile did was not report news, but build a case for a kangaroo court. Their case would never have gotten anywhere had they simply shown their taped interview with Walt Rostow, President Johnson's national security adviser, pointing out that the Johnson White House was well aware of the dispute between the Army and the CIA over enemy strength in 1967 and that there was no effort to deceive. How do you make a case that Westmoreland was deceiving the White House when the president's national security adviser says that it simply isn't true? You have to answer that with something better than the charge that Rostow is merely following some "party line." That is why Wallace and Crile could not use Walt Rostow on their program.

    The Substance Was Wrong

    Mike Wallace is sadly mistaken if he really thinks that the substance of the Westmoreland documentary is sound, as his book asserts. "The Uncounted Enemy" tried to make a mountain out of a molehill. This was an outgrowth of a controversy that developed in 1967 about the number of Vietcong who were essentially non- combatants or possessed of very low levels of combat capability. These included political cadres and so-called "self-defense forces." which consisted mainly of old men, women and children. These groups had been carried in the military order of battle since 1965 as an unchanging number that had been supplied originally by the South Vietnamese armed forces. In 1967, Westmoreland's intelligence chief, Gen. Joseph McChristian, came up with substantially increased numbers for these categories, and he proposed revising the order of battle accordingly.

    Westmoreland was concerned about this, at least partly because he feared that the media would incorrectly interpret the revision as representing an increase in enemy combat strength, not just as a change in our ability to estimate their number. This was subject to especially undesirable misinterpretation since the changed estimate did not involve combat troops, but the order of battle wouldn't make that clear.

    The CBS documentary and the Wallace book demonstrate the validity of Westmoreland's fear that the revision would be misunderstood. They said that Gen. McChristian's new numbers put Westmoreland in a dilemma because "neither Congress nor the public would tolerate another major escalation, especially one on a scale necessary to defeat an enemy nearly twice as large as previous intelligence estimates had indicated." Mike Wallace had said in the documentary that if Westmoreland accepted McChristian's figures. "he would have to take the bad news to the president." but if he didn't, "well, there was only McChristian to deal with."

    Having said that, Wallace reported that McChristian was soon transferred out of Vietnam and Westmoreland's headquarters began to suppress and then alter critical intelligence reports on enemy strength. Gen. McChristian told AIM that Westmoreland had never tried to influence his intelligence operations. He said that CBS had blown the dispute about the intelligence estimates "way out of proportion," and that he felt they had not gone about the subject properly. CBS had asked McChristian on camera, a hypothetical question about a commanding officer's imposing an arbitrary ceiling on enemy strength estimates. Answering that, McChristian said it would be "falsification of the facts" and "dishonorable." CBS used that to give the impression that McChristian had accused Westmoreland of falsifying facts and of being dishonorable. McChristian told AIM that had not been his intention. He was answering a hypothetical question, not passing judgment on the charges CBS was making. In the Wallace book, this is described as "one of the most poignant moments" in the interview. It would be poignant if the general were criticizing his old commanding officer, but since he was not, there is nothing poignant about it.

    Wallace Practices Cover-up

    Mike Wallace again demonstrated his preference for the cover-up in his handling of an embarrassing situation that arose in March 1981 when he was videotaped making a joke that reflected on Hispanics and blacks. Wallace was interviewing Richard Carlson, executive vice president of the San Diego Federal Savings & Loan in connection with a story he was doing for "60 Minutes" about people losing their homes when they default on home-improvement loans. While his camera crew had stopped to change film, Wallace commented to Carlson about the difficulty in reading the loan contracts. He said: "You bet your ass they're hard to read if you're reading them over the watermelon or tacos."

    A month later Wallace learned from a reporter for the Wall Street Journal that the camera crew Carlson had hired to tape the interview had recorded him making this remark. His book reveals that he "exploded," calling Carlson and accused him of dirty pool. He said that Carlson's camera crew should have stopped when his did, because it was understood that anything said when the CBS camera was not rolling was off the record.

    "Off the record" means that the remarks should not be reported, not that they can't be recorded. For example, CBS reporters covering President Reagan recorded his off-the-record joke about bombing the Russians when he was testing his microphone before taping a radio broadcast. What is more, they aired the recording as soon as other reporters, who had heard about the joke (one can only surmise from whom), reported it. Carlson was more honorable. He told Wallace that he had refused to release the tape to the Wall Street Journal reporter or disclose any quotes from it. Wallace, according to his book, asked him to stick to that. However, he was very worried, and the next day he called back to ask that his embarrassing words be erased from the tape altogether. He withdrew that request almost immediately, after thinking about how it would look if it became public knowledge that he had requested and obtained such an erasure.

    The San Diego story had been made for the "60 Minutes" season that began in the fall of 1981. It still had not aired by early November, and a New York Times reporter, Robert Lindsey, wondered why. He made calls to Wallace and to San Diego Federal to try to find out if a deal had been struck to keep the program off the air in return for not embarrassing Mike Wallace. Both parties, of course, denied that, but Wallace says that he decided that it would be wise to get the program aired as soon as possible. The program was put on in late November, and Wallace commented that "any fool could see that it didn't reflect a racist point of view."

    However, the ethnic joke story wouldn't die. Nancy Skelton of the Los Angeles Times pursued it and got all the salient facts, including the quote and Wallace's request that the tape be erased. Wallace tried unsuccessfully to persuade her not to write the story. Failing that, he resorted to candor. According to his book, he told Skelton: "Look, I happen to have a penchant for obscenity and for jokes. Anybody who knows me, I'm afraid, knows that I do ethnic jokes and I do obscenity from time to time." Wallace's colleagues at CBS knew that, of course. They might ruin an Earl Butz for telling an ethnic joke, but they wouldn't snitch on Mike Wallace.

    Even more interesting than the attempted cover-up is the book's admission that Wallace's joke was "to some degree a calculated effort to find out if Carlson might indulge in a similar indiscretion when the interview resumed." It admits that this might be considered "entrapment," and that this was a technique Mike Wallace had used many times over the years. As Gen. Westmoreland discovered to this sorrow, it is unwise to trust your friend, Mike Wallace.

    What You Can Do

    If the media follow Wallace's advice and example and try to cover up their own misdeeds, it will be hard to curb abuses. Van Gordon Sauter deserves praise, not censure, for having commissioned the Benjamin investigation. His big mistake was not making it public promptly and offering Gen. Westmoreland a reasonable opportunity to answer the CBS smear. Send your opinion to Thomas H. Wyman, Chairman, CBS, Inc., 51 West 52nd St., New York, N.Y. 10019.

    The AIM REPORT is published twice monthly by Accuracy In Media. Inc., 1275 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, and is free to AIM members. Dues and contributions to AIM are tax- deductible. The AIM Report is mailed 3rd class to those whose contribution is at least $15 a year and 1st class to those contributing $30 a year or more. Non-member subscriptions are $35 (1st class mail).

    NOTES FROM THE EDITOR'S CUFF By Reed Irvine

    GENERAL WILLIAM WESTMORELAND'S $120 MILLION LIBEL SUIT AGAINST CBS IS SCHEDULED TO go to trial on October 9. It seemed fitting to discuss the issues in the case and to report on what one of the defendants, Mike Wallace, says about the program that gave rise to it. Wallace has a new book out, and I suspect that the timing is more than coincidence. Wallace is appearing on talk shows to plug his book, but it also gives him a chance to plug the CBS case. His interviewers, including Barbara Walters and Phil Donahue, have soared him the tough questions. The toughest question Waiters asked was whether it was true that most of the questions he asked when he interviewed Westmoreland had been written for him by the producer, George Crile. Embarrassing but not vital.

    HOWARD SAFIR, WHO HAD RECEIVED FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM AIM FOR HIS $10 MILLION LIBEL suit against ABC and Geraldo Rivera, settled out of court for a reported $235,000 just before the trial was scheduled to begin on September 24. In October 1980, ABC's "20/20" had aired a segment about the Justice Department's witness protection program. Safir, an official of the U.S. Marshals Office who has responsibility for administering this program, was interviewed by Rivera. Rivera asked him if any of the witnesses under his protection had been killed. Safir replied: "In the ten years that the program has been in operation, we know that no witness under the active protection of the Marshals Service has ever been killed. There have been thirteen witnesses who were in the program at one time killed, and in all of these cases it was a result of the breach of their own security."

    WHEN SAFIR'S REPLY WAS AIRED, THE SECOND SENTENCE WAS OMITTED, AND GERALDO RIVERA then declared: But Mr. Safir was either badly misinformed or intentionally lying about the unblemished record of the Federal Witness Protection Program." He pointed out that the body of a woman murdered while in the program had been found less than two weeks be- fore he interviewed Safir. That was supposed to prove that Safir was wrong, but Rivera neglected to mention that the woman's murder was unrelated to her participation in the witness protection program. Her murder was related to activity that she had engaged in under the new identity the government had given her, and her murderers didn't know about her past. ABC had subsequently aired Safir's complete statement on "20/20," but this was negated by a statement saying that ABC had information indicating that what he said wasn't true.

    ACCURACY IN MEDIA WENT TO SAFIR'S AID WHEN THE LAW FIRM THAT ORIGINALLY REPRESENTED him pulled out of the case, discouraged by the amount of time and money it was taking. AIM helped Safir find a new law firm and loaned him $5,000 from our legal aid fund to pay some of the expenses. Both he and his attorney agree that our assistance was a key factor in enabling them to obtain this favorable settlement. A big firm such as ABC counts on being able to wear the plaintiff down and exhausting his resources. This almost happened to Howard Safir. His case was a strong one, and I am glad that AIM was able to help keep him in the ring. Our loan will be repaid.

    WE ALSO WENT TO THE AID OF DR. CARL GALLOWAY IN HIS LIBEL SUIT AGAINST CBS. CBS won the jury verdict, and we have been trying to arrange assistance Dr. Galloway needs to pursue his appeal for a new trial. This has not gone smoothly, I regret to say. The problem has been to find a good lawyer willing to fight the case on a contingency basis. I personally think that Dr. Galloway's case is strong and that he was the victim of inappropriate instructions the judge gave the jury. If you would be interested in helping underwrite the appeal, if you are a lawyer or you know a lawyer who might be willing to take the case, please let me know. I will be happy to supply information about it. In case you have forgotten, Dr. Galloway was falsely accused by Dan Rather on "60 Minutes" of having signed a false medical report that was to be used in insurance fraud. It wasn't his signature, and Rather had never even talked to Galloway before he displayed the forged document on the air. The jurors have indicated that they were sympathetic to Galloway, but they were bound by the judge's instructions that they could find for him only if they were convinced that Rather acted with malice. Galloway was not found to be a public figure, and he should not have had to prove malice.

    THANKS AGAIN FOR YOUR SUPPORT ON THE VIETNAM FILM PROJECT. CHARLTON HESTON'S NARRATION has been taped; all the interviews have been taped, and we should have everything completed by the end of October. Peter Rollins, the producer and I met with Bruce Christensen, the president of PBS, and came away feeling that we have a good chance of getting PBS to put it on. We have raised enough to cover production costs, but we still need funds to help pay for promotion and distribution.

    IS THE REAGAN CAMPAIGN ORCHESTRATING THE ANTI--ABORIION DEMONSTRATORS AND THE CATHOLIC bishops who are critical of Geraldine Ferraro? Are they also behind the Washington Legal Foundation's complaint to the House Ethics Committee about Ferraro's deficient financial disclosure reports? Have they also inspired the stories in the media about the finances, illegal campaign loans, and the dubious tenants of Ferraro and husband John Zaccaro? NBC correspondent Janet Gangel charged on the NBC Nightly News on September 21 that all of these things were being coordinated or inspired by the Reagan campaign under the guidance of campaign manager Ed Rollins and Reagan's longtime adviser, Lyn Nofziger. Gary Curran of the American Life Lobby says the idea that they get orders from the Reagan campaign is laughable. Dan Avila of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life says the charges are nonsense and that NBC is "swallowing the line that Ferraro is putting out." Paul Kamenar of the Washington Legal Foundation says he would be willing to test his denial of Gangel's charge on a polygraph. Lyn Nofziger says the charge "is too ludicrous for words." Ed Rollins said that Gangel came in fresh off the Ferraro campaign plane with rumors she had picked up on the campaign. He said he denied it, as did every principal that she talked to. He thought it was incredible that NBC would let "a reporter with this lack of credibility put out this kind of story."

    THE AIM-ALLIED EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION SPEAKERS BUREAU IS ONE OF OUR MOST SUCCESSFUL programs. We have 30 speakers giving great talks to a wide variety of groups all across the country, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Allied Educational Foundation. The Foundation has suggested that we expand the program by training speakers who could deliver our message in their communities and nearby areas. They have offered us a grant of up to $25,000 for this purpose. The funds could also be used for scholarships to encourage the education of AIM-minded journalists. The grant is contingent on our matching their grant dollar for dollar with gifts from other sources. I think it's a great idea. If you agree, clip and return the coupon below.


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