Mike Wallace: A Class Act

When CBS debuted Sixty Minutes on Sept. 24, 1968, one of the co-hosts was Mike Wallace. Last week, he announced that he would retire from the show this spring, in deference to his 88 years and a remarkable career that shows no signs of flagging. Broadcast journalism is literally impossible to imagine without him; his profound and far-ranging impact is matched by his decency and natural dignity. If New York City is the broadcasting capital of the world, then he is arguably our king.

Mike Wallace embodies the virtues of this city: He is tough-minded, straightforward, eloquent, relentlessly curious and street smart. In addition to being an investigative reporter with few if any peers, he has also been America’s most compelling and provocative interviewer—a format he virtually invented when he hosted Night Beat, and then The Mike Wallace Interview, on CBS and ABC in the late 1950’s. His style—disarming, charming, abrasive yet affectionate—was a tonic for the new medium. Since then, the shelf of Emmy Awards he’s accumulated—20 at last count—barely reflects the magnitude of his achievement. Mike Wallace came to stand for the best of CBS, when CBS stood for the best of what television news could be.

His rare combination of tenacity and humility lets viewers know that they are watching a truly decent man go about the necessary, not always pleasant business of confronting the world’s most powerful and stubborn characters, people like Richard Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Menachem Begin, Yasir Arafat, Ronald Reagan, Kurt Waldheim, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Vladimir Putin—not to mention scores of personalities like Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett and Morgan Freeman.

Born in Brookline, Mass., he studied broadcasting at the University of Michigan and began a career as an actor and radio announcer. After serving in the Navy, he broke into early television in Chicago, then moved to New York in 1955 and never left. Throughout his career, he has endured the slings and arrows inherent in big-time broadcasting—the CBS/Westmoreland libel trials, his own network’s caustic treatment of his colleague Dan Rather—and dusted himself off and come back stronger, more clear-eyed, than ever. Personally, he has shown courage and compassion in speaking openly about his struggle with depression, so that the stigma might be reduced and those suffering silently might seek help.

For the past few years, Mike Wallace kept claiming he was reducing his 60 Minutes workload, but of course he never did, and viewers loved him for his refusal to slow down. If anything, he’s become sharper, more vigorous, an elder statesman with a youthful glow. It’s a glow that will continue to illuminate the high road of broadcast journalism for years to come.

A Confused New York G.O.P.

In fewer than eight months, New York voters will go to the polls to choose a new Governor. The Democratic nominee will be either State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer or Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi. The Republicans have no idea who their nominee will be. You’d think having held the Governor’s office for nearly 12 years, they’d have some plan to keep the job in the party’s hands.

Instead, they’ve sunk about as low as they can go: Rather than focus their energy and funds on finding and supporting a credible candidate to succeed George Pataki, they’re trying to subvert the Democratic Party’s nomination process. Republican donors, activists and even potential G.O.P. nominee William Weld are singing the praises of Mr. Suozzi. The Nassau county executive has become the Republican Party’s favorite Democrat.

Why? Because the G.O.P. is so bad off, they need Mr. Suozzi, an aggressive campaigner who clearly loathes Mr. Spitzer, to do their dirty work. Few people give Mr. Suozzi a chance of beating Mr. Spitzer. But he certainly could do some damage if the Democratic primary turns ugly—as Democratic primaries are wont to do.

A wounded Mr. Spitzer would pose less of a challenge for the eventual Republican nominee, assuming the party gets around to producing one. That’s the G.O.P. strategy—chat up Mr. Suozzi, because he is the best weapon the Republicans have at the moment. What a sad commentary.

Of course, this is hardly the first time that one party has sought to influence the outcome of a rival party’s primary process. Richard Nixon and his Committee to Re-elect the President sought to manipulate the 1972 Democratic primaries to make sure that the weakest challenger, George McGovern, emerged victorious. It worked like a charm—although the victory was short-lived.

New York’s Republicans would be well advised not to follow in the footsteps of Nixon and CREEP. They ought to mind their own business, close though it is to bankruptcy. They ought to be telling us less about Thomas Suozzi and more about Mr. Weld and his potential challengers, John Faso and Randy Daniels. They ought to figure out who is running against Hillary Clinton. And, having gotten Jeanine Pirro out of the Senate race, they ought to figure a way to get her out of the State Attorney General’s race as well. Her presence in Campaign ’06 has become a joke, regardless of which office she is seeking on any given day.

If it’s true that Thomas Suozzi, Democrat, is the Republican Party’s best hope, the G.O.P. doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Toussaint’s Overdue Departure

New Yorkers can rightly ask why there’s still no contract between the Transit Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The answer is Roger Toussaint, the union’s arrogant and ineffective boss, who has lost the respect of the city and the loyalty of his members. Having failed in January to get his union to ratify the M.T.A.’s solid offer of annual 3.5 percent wage increases and retirement with full pension at age 55, Mr. Toussaint now wants a new vote on the same contract, whining that the first vote failed not because of his own poor leadership, but because of Governor George Pataki and the evil New York Post.

The M.T.A. has dismissed the idea of another vote, instead asking the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to impose binding arbitration. The union’s lawyers have filed papers objecting to such arbitration, because it would deny the union a perk which the rejected contract had offered: reimbursal of 20,000 workers with as much as $130 million for prior pension overpayments. At the same time, the M.T.A. is also taking a risk, because the board might decide to absolve the union of the authority’s (perfectly reasonable) requirement that union members contribute 1.5 percent of their salary toward health-insurance premiums.

Mr. Toussaint is in no position to make demands for a revote. Just look at his sterling record: In December, at the height of the holiday season, he broke the law by leading his 34,000 members on a pointless strike that endangered the safety and economic well-being of millions of New Yorkers, particularly low-income workers. Even the union’s international president, Michael O’Brien, did not support the strike. Meanwhile, the riding public turned against the union. Then, when the M.T.A. came forward with a decent contract, Mr. Toussaint was unable to rally his workers behind it. As a result of his “leadership,” his union faces $3 million in fines, as well as a move by State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to make it more difficult for the union to collect dues.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that this union’s boss is also its worst enemy. The union’s executive board should wise up and send Mr. Toussaint packing.