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Reliable Sources

Interview With Brian Ross; Interview With Mike Wallace

Aired May 21, 2006 - 10:00   ET


MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS: We got caught up in the drama, more than we caught up in going after the facts.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Still, ticking. He's chased bad guys, grilled presidents, and schmoozed celebrities for almost six decades, and he's still got opinions on everything, from hidden cameras to Dan Rather to Katie Couric.

Now he's stepping down as a full-time "60 Minutes" correspondent -- or is he? A conversation with Mike Wallace.

Snow in the spotlight. The new White House press secretary faces the cameras, livens things up and gets emotional. A report card on Tony Snow.

Targeting journalists? ABC's Brian Ross says the Bush administration is tracking the phone calls made by top reporters. Does he have the proof?

Plus, money can't buy him love. The latest public figure to blame the media for his troubles is Paul McCartney.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on new reports that the government is tracking reporters' calls. I'm Howard Kurtz. Ahead, our wide-ranging interview with Mike Wallace about his long and controversial career at "60 Minutes," and he is as opinionated as ever.

But, first, the controversy over the Bush administration tracking millions of phone calls took an ominous turn this week, when ABC's Brian Ross reported that authorities are specifically cataloging the calls made by correspondents for that network and other news organizations.

We spoke earlier with ABC's chief investigative correspondent.


KURTZ: Brian Ross, welcome.

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: How did you find out that the administration is tracking your phone calls and those of other journalists?

ROSS: Well, a confidential source and a leak, and a very good tip that was surprising to us. Someone told -- a senior federal official told my colleague, Rich Esposito, that "We know who you are calling; you should get some new cell phones and quick."

That's what we know, Howard. We don't know how it is they know who we're calling. We've been trying to figure that out. But this source is so good that we take it very seriously.

KURTZ: Just on a personal level, how did you -- what was your reaction to learn that law enforcement officials, according to this source, are analyzing the numbers that you dial -- presumably in an effort to track down your other confidential sources?

ROSS: You know, I guess as an abstract, we always thought that was likely or possible, but once I actually heard this specific information -- and this person knew a couple of specific calls -- it was truly alarming and made you think, well, my gosh -- what are we going to do about this? It means a lot more in-person visits.

I'm working on a big story now with people who are confidential sources inside the Federal Air Marshal Service. They were all alarmed that they might be exposed as talking with me in violation of rules. So it's of great concern.

KURTZ: What other news organizations are being -- having their phone calls tracked, according to your informant?

ROSS: We were told reporters at "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," and it seemed consistent with the information we know, that the CIA has made several criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, the FBI, based on stories that the "Post" and the "Times" have run about CIA secret prisons and the Jim Risen story at "The New York Times" about NSA wiretapping. In both cases, those agencies have confirmed that criminal investigations have begun. And when we checked with the FBI, they put out a statement that essentially said, we take logical investigative steps, starting with the phone records of the government agencies. And then you sort of read through and parse out what they say, it seems that if they go after reporters, they say they do it in a legal fashion.

KURTZ: Not exactly a hard denial. Were you given any names of journalists who might be on the receiving end of this?

ROSS: Other than Esposito and Ross, no. But I'm assuming your colleague, Dana Priest, and Risen and others at the "Times," who have done a lot of important work that involved information that the CIA, I assume, presumes to be classified and they see that as a violation of the law. And that starts the process by which they essentially can use provisions of the Patriot Act if they chose, or just a grand jury, to pursue it.

And it makes me feel, in a way -- and this is, I think, the disturbing part -- as if we are drug dealers or terrorists trying to traffic in information, and should we be using bags full of quarters like old Mafia capos to avoid having our phone calls traced? I don't think I'm doing anything wrong; I don't think any other reporter is, either. We're trying to cover these stories, which are difficult, but which are very important.

KURTZ: In those old movies, reporters would go to phone booths to make the calls. But there aren't that many phone booths anymore!

ROSS: You can't find them anymore, right.

KURTZ: But now let me take the other side. If sources are leaking classified information, which is illegal on their part, why shouldn't the government be able to investigate and track down which reporters they're talking to?

ROSS: I think they should be able to investigate, if they feel there's a crime. But I think going after reporters' phone calls and phone records is a way of chilling and preventing us from doing our job. And by -- if you are chilling reporters, you are chilling the First Amendment. And I think that the public's right to know in this case supersedes these issues. If, on their own, they can figure it out, I think that's fair game, in a way.

Going after our phone calls, tracking them -- we've received no notification formally from the phone companies and from the government that our records have been pulled. If, in fact, they have done that and we don't know about it, that's very upsetting.

KURTZ: And the federal government doesn't need a warrant in order to do this?

ROSS: Well, I checked on that. There are two ways. They have something called the National Security Letter, which is a provision of the Patriot Act, in which, essentially, it's a FBI desk subpoena -- an FBI agent can write it up and send it off. And the phone companies have to turn over the records, and they are prohibited from divulging the fact to the customers. The FBI says they don't, as a practice, do that involving reports.

The other way is to use a sitting grand jury and issue a subpoena, or go to a judge and get a warrant, but there we're told that the FBI sometimes will ask for a stay of notification so you don't find out until afterwards. They do that in the case of a drug dealer. They don't want him to know they're investigating him.

But in our case, there should be reason for us to be able to challenge it, and that, in fact, actually is underway now in New York, Howie. As you know, "The New York Times" got word that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was after the phone records of several of its reporters.

KURTZ: Right.

ROSS: They have fought it in court ...

KURTZ: Let me just jump in here because we're short on time. That "USA Today" story which said that the big telecommunications companies were cooperating with this National Security Agency monitoring of calls: first Verizon issued a denial, now BellSouth has demanded a retraction. Is that story falling apart?

ROSS: I don't think it's falling apart. I think there may be an issue with the word of whether there was a contract between the phone companies and the government, and that seems to be what they're hanging their hat on. But the bare bones of it was certainly confirmed to us and to others. The outline of the program was confirmed to us by senior officials. I think the story stands up. There may be some details that aren't quite right, and they're hanging their hats on that.

KURTZ: "USA Today" is standing by its story as well.

Now, you wrote on your blog on ABC's Web site about the fact that your calls and the calls of other journalists apparently are being -- not eavesdropped upon, but certainly tracked and monitored. Why did you not report this on the air?

ROSS: We have created this new ABC News Blotter we call -- we don't call it a blog -- but where we have put out a number of stories that we break as we come across, and this has become an important way for us to communicate stories as they're developing. We sort of post them. It's like an old-fashioned police blotter. As things happen, we note them and put them there.

And we're still working on a number of stories for "World News Tonight" on that issue. But that takes sometimes a more sophisticated and -- pulling those stories together sometimes takes a bigger reporting effort than the blotter, which is an accurate way, but sometimes it's as it happens, we're putting it out and watching it develop.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I guess I'll have to add that blotter to my daily media diet. Brian Ross, thanks very much for joining us.

ROSS: Well, thank you, Howard. I hope you do.


KURTZ: Up next, the new guy at the podium. How long will the honeymoon last for FOX commentator turned White House spokesman Tony Snow?

And still to come, Mike Wallace sounds off on everything from ambush interviews to Dan Rather.


KURTZ: Welcome back. After a decade as a Fox News commentator, Tony Snow faced the cameras this week for the first time as White House press secretary, and quickly displayed a more freewheeling style than his predecessors as when he discussed the immigration bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you know, that is a topic of debate right now before the United States Senate, and I guarantee it's going to go to conference.


KURTZ: Snow later backed off that prediction. A few minutes later, though, he choked up when the subject turned to his recent battle against cancer.


SNOW: Having gone through this last year, and I said this to Chris Wallace, was the best thing that ever happened to me. It's my Ed Muskie moment.


KURTZ: By the second briefing, Snow was giving as good as he got.


SNOW: Jessica, how many times do I have to answer the question same? I've answered the same question the same way eight times now. It's not going to change.


KURTZ: So are Snow's performances helping an embattled president?

Joining us now, Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for Bloomberg News. Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of "The Chicago Sun-Times." And CNN's Ed Henry, who joins us this morning from the White House. Welcome.

Roger Simon, Tony Snow seems to be acting like a human being up there. What's the strategy behind that?

ROGER SIMON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I think the overall strategy is that he's doing exactly what the president wants him to do. We're discussing Tony Snow's effectiveness instead of President Bush's effectiveness.

KURTZ: Changing the subject?

SIMON: Changing the subject, and that may be his first job. And also, human being plays well on television, even when he choked up there. As long as the public think you are sincere, raw emotion is just fine. That's why politicians have learned how to fake sincerity.

KURTZ: It's one of the first requirements of the job.

Lynn Sweet, do reporters have a sense that Snow is willing to engage with them, at least, and bat things around rather than just recite talking points?

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, right. At the end of week one, you know, sure. Though he was very -- at the edge of argumentative in the gaggle on Friday, which is the off-camera briefing, where he told reporters, I question the premise of your question, and he was a little more challenging. But, you know, look it, he's on a honeymoon, and because a lot of people know him, he may get an extra one for two days than normally.

KURTZ: Ed Henry, Lynn Sweet says the honeymoon may only last another, what, 48 hours, but isn't it possible that it will last longer in this sense, that Snow has lightened the mood at the White House press room, which we've seen so many combative moments there? Particularly in recent months?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, he used humor to some effectiveness. After that clip you played about talking about his personal battle with cancer, he lightened it up -- it was so tense in that room -- he lightened it up by saying that his doctor has told him he's not likely to get cancer in this job, but he's going to get heartburn from all these White House reporters. When he was asked by Helen Thomas, pressed about the status of Karl Rove and the CIA leak case, Snow said, I know bupkis, which of course is Yiddish for nothing. Brought a lot of laughter. But obviously, humor can only take you so far, and as Roger and Lynn are noting, this is a good first week for Tony Snow, but that does not make a good White House press secretary. It's going to be a long haul for him.

SWEET: Well, you see, at this point right now, he could say, I don't know. It's easier and nicer then to say no comment repeatedly, but you can only do that so long.

KURTZ: And I want to thank Ed Henry for that translation of bupkis.

Roger Simon, you talked about Tony Snow doing what the president wants. He's the boss.

SIMON: Sure.

KURTZ: Has Bush, by bringing in Snow, decided that he needs better relations with the press because he's struggling politically?

SIMON: Oh, sure. I mean, they have to stop the freefall in the polls. I mean, pretty soon, if they didn't stop the freefall -- actually, he's bounced up a few points this week -- he'd be down to Richard Nixon's level, and that would cause a spate of Richard Nixon story.

But I should say that Tony Snow's predecessor, Scott McClellan, didn't fail because he was a bad messenger. He had a bad message. He had a tough message. What was the positive spin on the Dubai ports deal? Or what was the good news about Harriet Miers or the Iraq war?

KURTZ: Not to mention Hurricane Katrina. But by that standard, Snow may be more glib, he may be more artful, but he is going to still have to deal with the same political realities.

SIMON: Precisely the point. I mean, we are concentrating on the messenger. We know who is behind the messenger, and that is the critical factor in American life, not who sells the message.

KURTZ: Scott McClellan seemed to stand up there day after day and take the slings and arrows from the press. And he had sort of two or three ways of saying no comment -- ongoing investigation, legal matter, personnel issue, hasn't been decided. Do you see Snow from our brief exposure here as ducking the same number of questions but a little more smoothly?

SWEET: Well, I would just urge you to look for a de-emphasis of the on-camera briefing in terms of getting information. This is the sense I have of where he's going to go. That if what you need is information, Howie, by the end of the day, reporters will get it. And it might not be trans -- this on-camera briefing. I don't predict it's going to end, but I think there will be a de-emphasis as this is the end-all of information, and that would be...

KURTZ: Well, why hire a polished television performer like Tony Snow and then not use him to put out information...

SWEET: Oh, they'll use him, but for some of the stuff that's a little more complicated, might be the sparring that Scott couldn't figure out a way to get himself out of the hole -- if you just say, Howie, let me talk to you later about this, and I'm going to get you everything you need. And Roger, what's your question.

KURTZ: Ed, Lynn says that Snow might de-emphasize the briefings, but, of course, he's also talked about the possibility of pulling the plug on the televised aspect of this.

Now, I had a couple of reporters on this program a couple of weeks ago from "The New York Times," "Washington Post," who said they'd love to get the cameras out of there, because they think it turns it into a gong show. How do you as a TV guy -- how valuable is having the cameras there for you?

HENRY: Very valuable, because obviously, that's a chance to get the administration on record. Not just for us in the TV business, but for our viewers all around the world to be able to see what they are saying. It's rare that you get the president speaking on camera. To have a daily briefing is important. I agree sometimes it gets out of hand on both sides, but I think you're right as well, Howie, that Tony Snow, part of the thing that he brings to the table are these skills as a former radio talk show host, as a former TV commentator, and you can bet the White House is going to use that.

And looking beyond the humor and some of the stylistic stuff, there is some substance there that the White House is looking forward to. I talked to some Democrats this week who their report card of Tony Snow was they thought he was pushing back harder than Scott McClellan, and putting aside the style, was making some good points for the administration. They don't agree with those points that he's making, and you're right as well that he has a tough hand to work with right now, but they think that Tony Snow could be effective. So I don't think Tony Snow is going to want to get rid of that effective tool.

KURTZ: Right. Now, President Bush on the airwaves a lot this week. There was the prime-time speech on immigration on Monday, and then when he went to Arizona the other day to the border, suddenly the White House offered five different networks, five-minute interviews with the president. Let's take a look at some of that, and the questions were about immigration, but a number of the questions were about the reporters' favorite subject. Let's watch.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: In the most recent survey, your disapproval rating is now one point lower than Richard Nixon's before he resigned the presidency.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: Clearly it is your lowest approval ratings at this point, and congressional Republicans are going in their own direction.


KURTZ: Roger Simon, are reporters obsessed with polls, or is that a must question? Is that a must -- you're laughing. Is that a must question when a president is struggling at 30 percent?

SIMON: This would be an easy one for Tony Snow. Yes. Reporters are obsessed with polls. The nation has become obsessed with polls.

Polls are a tool. I mean, we used to call reporting, reporting. You used to make phone calls and ask people what they thought, and now we just sort of glibly repeat polls, because we think we're knowing magic things. We think we can know the unknowable, what the American people really think at any moment. Anecdotally, do people think -- what we call reporting -- do people think that George Bush has had a tough year and that he's less popular now than he was a year ago? Sure, he is. Do we know that it's 36 percent this week and it was 31 percent last week and it may be 34.5 percent next week?

KURTZ: Such a precise science. Now, Snow told me that he hopes to make the president available for more interviews than in the past. Would that be a smart strategy?

SWEET: Absolutely. Because the most effective message could probably come from the messenger himself, and that also helps Tony because then he's not left to guess what's happening more. You know, he said, talk to the president yourself.

Also, the president has been so cloistered from reporters during these years that it would be welcome.

I want to point out, we're almost six years into the presidency, though. No matter who the messenger is, or, you know, PR alone can't change the situation, and Roger noted that when started talking here. What the circumstances are, the stories that come out, are really what is what Tony has to work with. He can't change the course of events. He can only help probably to explain them better.

KURTZ: Right. But it seems to me that a president is always the best salesman for his own policy. Ed Henry, we've got about half a minute here. Bush was known for doing few news conferences and relatively few when he was in his first term. Why the new approach, in your view?

HENRY: I think clearly given the state of where the president is right now, it might be, as you're noting, that he's the best messenger for that. He also tried a few months ago some off-the-record chats with reporters. I think it's partly an acknowledgement that this White House, which had been almost disdainful of the press, had not wanted to reach out, is realizing that there is some give-and-take here, and it might suit them better in the long run if they start working with the press a little bit more, Howie.

KURTZ: All right. You get the last word. Lynn Sweet, Roger Simon, thanks very much.

And tomorrow, don't miss Ed Henry as he sits down with the king of talk, special political roundtable, live from D.C. on LARRY KING LIVE, Monday 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Only on CNN.

And just ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, our "Media Minute." The BBC expert who wasn't, and Paul McCartney's relationship with the media hits a sour note over his marital break-up.

And stick around for our sitdown with Mike Wallace, still ticking, still feisty at 88.


KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the world of media news.


KURTZ (voice-over): The BBC looked bloody silly when a man named Guy Goma showed up for a job interview and got mixed up with another guy named Guy and found himself on the air as an expert on a court case between Apple Computer and the Beatles' Apple Records.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, Guy Kuehne (ph) is the editor of the technology Web site NewsWireless. Hello, good morning to you.

GUY GOMA: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you surprised by this verdict today?

GOMA: I'm very surprised to see this verdict, to come on me, because I was not expecting that.

KURTZ: But a funny thing happened after the Beeb's blunder. The great mixup made Guy Goma a celebrity in the British press, and so now he gets interviewed on television as if he really were an expert on, well, just about everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While we've got you here, EU membership for Bulgaria and Romania, do you think that's a good thing?

GOMA: Not really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think interest rates are going to go up or down in the next four weeks?

GOMA: Uh...

KURTZ: It's true, television loves people who become famous no matter what the reason.

And speaking of the Beatles, you would think that Paul McCartney, who has been in the public eye for four decades, would be used to all the media attention by now. But when the former Beatle announced this week that he's separating from Heather Mills after a four-year marriage, the couple's statement said that intrusive media coverage had made it, quote, "increasingly difficult to maintain a normal relationship."

It's too bad the press couldn't just let him be. But in the end, tabloids and paparazzi aren't responsible for failed marriages. And McCartney has long reaped the benefits of global publicity that turned so many of us into fans.


KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, my exclusive sitdown with "60 Minutes" veteran Mike Wallace. The pioneer of the ambush interview talks about the current state of gotcha TV news, Katie Couric at the CBS anchor desk, and much more. That's just ahead, after the check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.




KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Tonight, "60 Minutes" is paying tribute to the man who helped launched the CBS news magazine, along with producer Don Hewitt back in 1968 and has been there, stirring up controversy ever since. It's hard to imagine "60 Minutes" without Mike Wallace, who says he is finally giving up his full-time spot on the program, although, as you'll see, he won't fade away completely. I sat down with him in his CBS office in New York, and I began by asking him about the ambush interviews he conducted in the '70s, and '80s surprising some allegedly bad guy on the street with a camera crew.

WALLACE: We were the first people who did investigative stuff, who asked occasionally abrasive, occasionally confrontational questions and when we had tried to get somebody to go on the air and they had turned us away and turned us away. Then we tried occasionally to catch them unawares, coming out of their offices or on the street or whatever. And Hewitt and I came to the conclusion that that was more heat than light came out of that. We weren't getting a lot of information from those so-called ambushes. So, we quit.

KURTZ: You write in your autobiography, there were times we got so caught up in the investigative fever that we adopted a sort of crusade mentality.

WALLACE: That's probably true. That's probably true.

KURTZ: You also were among those who pioneered the use of hidden cameras in investigations.


KURTZ: Do you think that led to what we see today with "Dateline: NBC" using hidden cameras to catch sexual predators and all these local stations using hidden cameras to find people who park in handicap spaces?

WALLACE: I have no doubt that what we started has become a plague. Because - and that's a million years ago but we got caught up in the drama more than we caught up in going after the facts.

KURTZ: Why do you say it's a plague?

WALLACE: Oh, because it's too much. Self conscious, confrontational, ambushing and news, as you know, has turned into that kind of thing. There's a lot of info-tainment in it and there's a lot of tabloid in it and ...

KURTZ: Let's talk about some of the more famous interviews you've done over the years. This one really struck me. Lyndon Johnson, after he left office you went down to interview him. You said you wanted to talk about Vietnam. He said no way was he going to talk about Vietnam.

WALLACE: Listen, I've talked to Cronkite about that and I'm going to send you boys packing if you keep about that Vietnam.

KURTZ: So what did you do?

WALLACE: What we did was we - he said, I'm not going to talk about it. So I said, OK. So Hewitt and I went downstairs and thought to ourselves, how do we get him to talk about Vietnam and - so in any case, he had gone away and had written down - I mean he wrote a wonderful, a wonderful one-minute thing about - not just about Vietnam, but about the Civil War and about World War II, et cetera, et cetera. And he said, unfortunately presidents who are presidents during wartime have their names attached to certain wars. It was a wonderful declaration by LBJ.

KURTZ: That year in 1968, Richard Nixon won and you seriously thought about becoming his press secretary.


KURTZ: Let me put this delicately. What the hell were you thinking?

WALLACE: What are you talking about?

KURTZ: For one thing you were a life-long journalist. Obviously you had no way of knowing at that time that Nixon was going to get into a major corruption scandal ...

WALLACE: Oh no, of course not. But listen, I'd never worked in Washington. I'd worked in Washington coming down from New York. But I never lived in Washington and it occurred to me, what a way to learn, inside the White House. And then of course along came Hewitt with his notion about something called "60 Minutes" and I forgot about going to work for Richard Nixon.

KURTZ: You were very friendly over the years with Nancy Reagan. And you interviewed her after the Reagan left the White House and you asked one of those questions about a junket, basically, that they were taking to Japan for which they would be paid $2 million. She did not like that question. How did that affect your friendship?

WALLACE: It - for a while, she was mad. Now you didn't really need that question, she said. But it only took a little while. Larry King was talking to me, I guess, on his show. And he said your friend Nancy is not talking to you anymore? And I said, oh, come on. I don't know if she's not talking, though I haven't talked to her for a while and I said Nancy, call me. I said it into the camera, call me. Because we were old friends and her mother and I were friends and she called me the next day.

KURTZ: That's one way to patch things up. An interview I've seen replayed a couple of times with Ayatollah Khomeini.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.


WALLACE: President Sadat of Egypt, a devoutly religious man, a Muslim, says that what you are doing now is, quote, a disgrace to Islam. And he calls you Imam, forgive me, his words not mine, a lunatic.


KURTZ: Were you nervous?

WALLACE: You know something? I wasn't really. I mean, what are they going to do? Take me hostage? We went over the questions ahead of time with his people.

KURTZ: I bet that wasn't on the list. Huh? I bet that wasn't ...

WALLACE: No, that was not on the list, so when I asked him about it, he hadn't been paying a lot of attention to me up to that time and I got his attention. A lunatic? Well, Sadat is not much of a Muslim and I don't predict much of a future for Sadat, and so forth. I had no idea. Sadat must have known at that time that Khomeini was doing lunatic things. He was sending kids out to explode mines with their bodies to get in the way of Iraqi - this is during the Iraq-Iran war.

KURTZ: Right.

WALLACE: And it was - I mean, that is a lunatic thing to do.

KURTZ: A harbinger of things to come. You also knew Shirley MacLaine. You dated Shirley MacLaine for a while ...

WALLACE: I didn't date her.

KURTZ: You ...

WALLACE: I went out with her. Yes. But mostly I triple-dated her with a lady that I was about to marry. We really did. We had dinners together the three of us.

KURTZ: And when you interviewed Shirley MacLaine she talked about her previous lives.


WALLACE: You really believe that you've lived lives before and..

SHIRLEY MACLAINE: Oh yes Mike, I know, there's no doubt in my mind about it.


KURTZ: You asked her, what about people who think you're a nutcase? Did that affect your friendship at all?

WALLACE: Not at all. I love her, loved her then, love her now. She knows - she believes some of these nutty things, probably still does.

KURTZ: All right.

WALLACE: And we're friends still.

KURTZ: The big libel suit you faced, General William Westmoreland, over your Vietnam documentary which finally withdrawn just before it went to trial. Looking back on it now some decades later, any lesson that you draw from that whole difficult episode?

WALLACE: Well, that's the thing that put me into a depression.

KURTZ: You've been very candid in talking about taking medication ...

WALLACE: Yeah. Yeah. KURTZ: What about journalistically?

WALLACE: Look. The piece about Westmoreland was accurate.


WALLACE: The fact is that we Americans were misinformed about the nature and the size of the enemy we were facing.


WALLACE: He put a phony top on enemy troops. Why? Because if the American public knew that there was 600,000 enemy out there instead of 300,000 and it was an unpopular war to begin with, who knows what might have happened? "The Uncounted Enemy, a Vietnam Deception." And, look, he cheated. He lied to the American people. I can't believe that he lied to Lyndon Johnson about I ...

KURTZ: Back in the 1950s when you were doing a talk show, Mike, you used to do commercials for Phillip Morris.

WALLACE: Mm-hmm.

KURTZ: It was common then for talk show hosts to smoke on the air and so forth.


KURTZ: So then in '95 you famously interviewed the tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and CBS management blocked that story from airing and you accused Larry Tisch, then the head of the network of tarnishing CBS. Was that perhaps one of your most difficult ...

WALLACE: It was difficult but look -- public health, no one denied that cigarettes - by this time, no one denied but all of the sudden we had somebody from the inside who said, effectively that all these guys who - the tobacco executives who had testified under oath and said tobacco is not addictive were lying.

KURTZ: And you couldn't get that story on the air.

WALLACE: That's correct. But eventually we knew that we would eventually get it on the air if we hung in there. We knew eventually we were going to get it on the air and as soon as the "Wall Street Journal" published the same stuff that we had, and they weren't - if the "Wall Street Journal" can do it then we can do it and we didn't have any trouble persuading the management at CBS News.

KURTZ: You write that your relationship with Don Hewitt, the founder of "60 Minutes," the longtime executive producer of the program ...

WALLACE: And a good friend.

KURTZ: ... and a good friend of yours personally was never quite the same. You could not forgive him, your words, for not standing up to the corporate muzzling.

WALLACE: That's true and he and I are still friends. I still am grateful to him for originally coming up with the notion for "60 Minutes." Effectively, Hewitt was out of a job at the time of - he came up with the notion for "60 Minutes" and it was a genius idea, changed the face of a lot of television journalism and made conservatively more than a billion dollars for CBS along the way.

KURTZ: Was there any resistance to you, a guy who had hosted a game show, to be a marquee player on this new television news magazine.

WALLACE: By that time I think that I had - in the old days, I as a newsreader too, I did game shows, I did interview shows, I did talk shows, I did commercials, I did acting. But all of that was a million years ago and if you were to do a piece, Howard, about some of the things that a lot of very, very prestigious reporters did before they couldn't do it anymore ...

KURTZ: Did you ever want to be anchor?

WALLACE: Not really. I don't think I had the demeanor. I don't think I have the face - may have the voice but not the demeanor for an anchor. And I defied it. Something about all of us didn't seem to be anchor and also my nature is not that. My nature is to - what I wanted to do was carve out a little piece of the territory for myself when I found out what it was and I found that out when I did Nightfeed (ph) back in the '50s and that was quite satisfying.

KURTZ: The incoming anchor of "CBS Evening News" is breaking the mold a little bit, Katie Couric. How do you think she'll do?

WALLACE: I'll be very curious. Look, I have nothing but admiration. I know her. I have admiration for her. She's a damned good reporter. She's been a street reporter. She's talked to everybody in the world and she's going to have Bob Schieffer as her Eric Severeid and that's going to have ...

KURTZ: People say it's a difficult transition from the lighter - morning ...

WALLACE: From perky to sort of - she'll do it. Whether anybody is going to really tune in, we'll see. We'll see.

KURTZ: CNN's Anderson Cooper joining "60 Minutes" as a part time contributor. Is that a good fit?

WALLACE: I think he's an excellent reporter. He has all kinds of energy. He's - I know Anderson and I have great admiration for Anderson.

KURTZ: Chris Wallace, your son ...


KURTZ: ... a couple of years ago joined the Fox News Channel became the anchor for "Fox News Sunday." Were you surprised at all that he would leave one of the broadcast networks and go to work for an operation that some people think is on the conservative side of the street.

WALLACE: I don't know what his politics are and he's not on the conservative side.

KURTZ: You don't talk politics around - over dinner?

WALLACE: Oh sure. And he's a dispassionate reporter. But he was at ABC and the damn fools - honestly, I mean, he's so good at what he does. I mean he really is better than I ever was. So ABC didn't understand - I mean, they must be gnashing their teeth now because he's proved - he's done such a great job with FOX NEWS SUNDAY.

KURTZ: You don't think that ABC fully appreciated his talents?

WALLACE: Somebody at ABC didn't.

KURTZ: When we come back, Mike Wallace on media mistakes, what he really thinks about Dan Rather and the Bush National Guard story that embarrassed CBS and whether he's actually giving up his day job.


KURTZ: And welcome back, more now of my interview with Mike Wallace, his view of the media and whether "60 Minutes" producer Jeff Fager might still utilize his services in the future.

Criticizing the media has become a national sport. These days talk radio, bloggers, you name it, everybody takes a whack at people like you and me.


KURTZ: In recent years, what event do you think has damaged the media's reputation the most of the various missteps and mistakes, what's ...

WALLACE: Well, when the "New York Times" has a Howell Raines who is seriously arrogant in the way that he handled certain things that happened at the "New York Times" and when this network does a piece about George W. Bush's military record that is obviously flawed. They have been waiting for us - when I say they...

KURTZ: They?

WALLACE: The public, they have been waiting for us ...

KURTZ: To do what? To fall on our faces?

WALLACE: We love - we as people - Americans, Europeans whatever, we love to see the people up top - get past the facade and find out we too are fallible human beings.

KURTZ: And that - that story you referred to, Dan Rather's piece on Bush in the National Guard aired on "60 Minutes II." Not the same as "60 Minutes" but obviously you shared a name. Do you think that that tarnished the brand a little bit?

WALLACE: No, I don't, because there was - it didn't seem to, in any case. We've been on the air for what, 35 years? It's - I think that "60 Minutes" - really believe that "60 Minutes" is as good a broadcast as it's ever been still today.

KURTZ: You came on after that episode which resulted in several people losing their jobs and said that Dan Rather should have resigned over that story.

WALLACE: Look. I told that to Dan before I told it to anybody else. Look, it's a collaborative undertaking, what we do here.

KURTZ: Producers, staff.

WALLACE: Exactly, researchers and all that. And they broke their pikes (ph) getting that piece on the air. Rather, who took something of a beating, had he said to management, if you're going to fire these people, I worked with them all the way. They knew just exactly what was going on, I knew what was going on. Why do I stay on and they're fired? And I believe that had he done it, had he resigned, or had he said, if they go, I go, they would have named journalism schools after him.

KURTZ: He would have done more to preserve his reputation ...

WALLACE: Absolutely.

KURTZ: ... by walking out the door. Because he would be seen what, as taking full responsibility for what happened?

WALLACE: Absolutely. In the final analysis we guys who are the anchors - we're not really anchors, but we're the people on the air.

KURTZ: You're the public face of the news division.

WALLACE: That's correct. And it's a collaborative undertaking, as you well know. So if the people who helped us are fired, what else can you do? You say well, if they're fired, the hell with you. I'm going too.

KURTZ: After nearly, what, half a century with CBS I picked up the paper one day and read that you are flirting with NBC. Why would you ...

WALLACE: Well, NBC was flirting with me.

KURTZ: But you were flirting back.

WALLACE: Yes. I was having lunch, yeah. No, I thought about it. I thought about it and I finally decided two things. I didn't - to go over to NBC News at my age and with my - I didn't have enough psychic energy left to close up this office and move across and then I talked to people here and said - and all of the sudden, they said hey, this is the mother church (ph) and it is the mother church and I've been here forever so why would I want to go?

KURTZ: You're 88 years old this month. And we had heard before you are cutting back, you're going into semi-retirement. Now you never seem to do it. Is this just another stop on the farewell tour?

WALLACE: It could be. It could be. They have some plans, Jeff Fager has some plans and we'll see.

KURTZ: What's you're intention? Will you still be occasionally on the air?

WALLACE: Oh. Absolutely. Absolutely.

KURTZ: You're going to be doing fewer stories than in the past?

WALLACE: Mm-hmm.

KURTZ: Your son says that you can't help yourself.

WALLACE: That's correct. And my son knows me quite well. So no - look, 88, give me a break. How long am I going to hang around?

KURTZ: Why didn't you hang it up 10 years ago? Most people would have been out of the business by now.

WALLACE: Because I wouldn't have known what else to do, Howard, truly. This wasn't work. This was a joy to come to this office every day and see people buzzing up and down the halls and doing stories and reading a Kurtz column and saying he's full of - no.

KURTZ: There's some things you still can't say on television. Mike Wallace, thanks very much for sitting down with us in your office.

WALLACE: Howard. Thank you.

KURTZ: Mike Wallace, still going strong at 88. I don't think he's going anywhere. Up next, the latest search for Jimmy Hoffa. Is it front page news or just another figure me, dead end?


KURTZ: The FBI is still searching for Jimmy Hoffa, 31 years later. How great a story is that? As agents dug up a horse farm in suburban Detroit, the latest wrinkle in the Hoffa mystery got page one play in the "Detroit News," but not in the "Detroit Free Press." And Caesar Andrews (ph) told "Editor & Publisher" that too many past Hoffa searches quote, have led to a big fat nothing. Now if the diggers find some sign of the union leader's body, that might just make the front page everywhere in the world.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us against next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.