King of The 'Tough Question'
In honor of a discussion my political journalism class had with Mike Gousha on the importance of asking tough questions as a journalist, this post revolves around the master of tough questions that was Mike Wallace. The former 60 Minutes host was described by National Public Radio writer David Folkenflik as having "no question that was too pointed."
As well as addressing an important death in the journalism world, this event also brings to light a newly discovered personal connection to Wallace. He attended the University of Michigan and worked his first job as a radio announcer in Grand Rapids – just 45 minutes southeast of my hometown. There are few people I can say I know of from my area that have made a significant difference in American media. Asking the tough question was the mark he made on in-depth journalism today. Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes said: "People tuned in for the questions not the answers. Funny thing about Mike — and I think a huge part of the attraction to 60 Minutes — in the early days was not so much who he was going to interview but what he would ask."
Sadly, I was only able to watch Wallace on a of couple occasions – as I was an adolescent with little interest in journalism the year he retired from the program in 2006. I believe I could have learned a lot about interviewing from him, though. But, of course, thanks to the magic that is the internet and YouTube I will be sure follow his memorable career. Wallace did not go without his fair share of criticisms, though. He was accused of libel and received blows at the1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. "Their [60 Minutes] flashy style drew criticism for losing sight of what an interview, and journalism, is really for," Folkenflik said.
The NPR article on Wallace inspired me to try and on day live by some of his great advice on conducting interviews. "One of the most persuasive ways to get somebody that you're interviewing to open up is to write down maybe 50 questions on a notepad," Wallace told Steve Inskeep on NPR's Morning Edition in 2005. "And when you sit down with an interviewee under those circumstances, you become co-conspirators – they suddenly realize, 'He knows a lot about me, so I'm going to help him draw a round picture of me."