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Mike Wallace in the hot seat

By Michael R. Shannon
web posted April 16, 2012

Mike WallaceThe journalism establishment exemplified, by the mainstream media, does not believe in American exceptionalism. That's reserved for the rubes in flyover country. Their admiration is reserved for themselves and the lofty position the "4th Estate" holds in contemporary society. What's more, members do not respond positively when anyone questions this self–assessment.

An interesting tidbit buried deep in the Associated Press obituary for television journalist Mike Wallace proves this is not a recent phenomenon. Over 26 years ago Wallace and CBS were jointly sued for libel by retired Gen. William C. Westmorland after the broadcast of a documentary entitled "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception."

The program alleged that Westmoreland deceived President Lyndon Johnson and the American public by orchestrating a conspiracy that fraudulently underestimated the size of the North Vietnamese Army.

According to Wallace and CBS, Westmoreland arbitrarily established a maximum estimate of 300,000 NVA troops and during the infiltration prior to the Tet Offensive; he discounted the number of soldiers (estimated as high as 20,000 per month) who were coming south in preparation for the attack.

The goal was to convince the public that progress toward victory was being made and shore up support for continuation of the war.

It was a devastating portrayal of command deception at the expense of the lives of American soldiers in the field. Westmoreland sued in an effort to restore his reputation.

But that's not the interesting part.

During his career on 60 Minutes Wallace popularized the "ambush interview" where unsuspecting targets were surprised by Wallace and his video crew. The confrontation would occur without warning. Wallace would pepper the totally unprepared victim with questions while the crew taped the interviewee's obvious discomfort and shock.

What's interesting is that during the libel trial Wallace found himself the target of questions and accusations regarding his work. Instead of "Mike Wallace crusading investigative journalist," he was characterized as a liar and unscrupulous propagandist.

For the first time in his life, Wallace was subject to the same kind of unrelenting pressure, accusation and vilification to which he routinely subjected his interview subjects.

And when the kitchen got hot, Wallace couldn't take the heat.

At the conclusion of the trial he was hospitalized for over a week with "depression." Or in his words, bringing irony to an entirely new level, "Imagine sitting day after day in the courtroom, hearing yourself called every vile name imaginable."

Yes, do tell.

For Wallace and the mainstream media, Westmoreland should not have been surprised when he was targeted. And the same went for businessmen, bankers, conservatives, Republicans and all the rest of the usually suspect bad guys. Benefit of the doubt did not exist for those outside of the media's list of approved occupations, causes and thought processes.

When the camera's red light came on you were guilty. But a reporter being criticized in the same way he filleted his victims was simply unheard of in 1985.

So Wallace was completely unprepared when the situation was reversed. I suppose in different circumstances Wallace could have asked Westmoreland what he did to recover his equilibrium after being called a liar on nationwide TV.

Today the mainstream media still believes it is an exception to the rules governing the rest of us. Recurring controversies surrounding civilian police review boards prove my point. It's a given that reporters and editorial page writers strongly favor these kangaroo courts where individuals with zero background in law enforcement -- and who are often actively hostile to the police -- sit in leisurely judgment of working cops who have to make life or death decisions in fractions of seconds.

Internal police investigations are not good enough. The mainstream media demands an independent body to oversee law enforcement. But on the other hand when there are calls for an outside organization to evaluate bias and unfair coverage on the part of monopoly newspapers or TV stations, outsiders suddenly become unqualified to evaluate the decisions of reporters made on deadline and in fast moving circumstances. Why, it would be like asking Gen. Westmoreland to approve the news!

Journalists assure us the public doesn't have the background or experience to sit in judgment. Instead, the media offers the "Ombudsman" who just happens to be an employee. Somehow this internal investigation passes muster, while the police internal investigation is hopelessly tainted.

The mainstream media knows what's good for the public and your job is to shut up and read it. Just ask George Zimmerman if you disagree.

Ann Curry, one of the Today Show's set of shiny teeth, said after Wallace died, "Tough questions are being asked in heaven today." Which is certainly true, but once again Wallace won't be the one doing the asking. ESR

Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at michael-shannon@comcast.net.

 

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