A new documentary on the legendary US reporter Mike Wallace, who interviewed many world leaders and set new journalistic standards with his “tough” investigative style, has rekindled interest in Wallace’s enduring legacy, yet if falls dreadfully short of doing justice to Wallace, who was critical of US wars abroad and received much heat for exposing Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians.
“Mike Wallace is Here,” by an Israeli producer Avi Belkin, omits these important dimensions of Wallace’s legacy, focusing instead on his (rather controversial) technique of conducting interviews, which is already a well-known fact.
As a result, as refreshing as it is to see this new film homage paid to Wallace, who passed away in 2012, its egregious flaw in failing to cover Wallace’s left-of-center political conviction and his anti-war sentiment, which caused him trouble with, among others, General William Westmoreland over Vietnam and then, subsequently, with the veterans at a WWII memorial in Washington, D.C., when Wallace, a veteran himself questioned Bush’s war on Iraq, simply means that this documentary ought not to be taken as the final word on Wallace.
Approved by his right-wing son, Chris, host of Fox TV’s Sunday News Program, this documentary indirectly serves to promote Chris, even though the father and son were politically oceans apart and Mike once openly lamented Chris’s decision to move from ABC to Fox.
Clearly, Chris has inherited some of his father’s attributes, reflected in his recent debunking the Trump officials on his racism, but none of Mike’s gallant bravery to criticize Israel’s inhumane policy toward the Palestinians, such as when Wallace exposed the Israeli forces for shooting unarmed Palestinians in the back in one episode, eliciting a huge denunciation by the pro-Israel groups.
In another interview with Rabbi Meir Kahane, Wallace showed the violent and intolerant nature of Jewish extremism.
On a personal level, this author who worked closely with Wallace as a CBS “60 Minutes” consultant, was always moved by Wallace’s willingness to take huge risks for the sake of unbiased, truth-seeking, TV journalism.
I recall a conversation with Wallace when he recounted the horror of being nearly shot in the head by a deranged Iranian soldier at the Iran-Iraq war front in 1987, a subject which he never talked about publicly but has been confirmed by a Canadian reporter who witnessed the incident.
Wallace, who visited post-revolutionary Iran numerous times, was sympathetic to the Iranian people and favored a US-Iran rapprochement. I once sat next to him at a UN hotel in New York listening to Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami and watched him walk out in disappointment when the moderate Khatami for some reason took an unusual hard line, this after a breakfast meeting with Khatami who told him he had watched Wallace’s interview with China’s leader, hinting that he was interested in being interviewed by him, but Wallace somehow never showed any interest in Khatami, yet was somewhat impressed by Khatami’s hard-line successor Ahmadinejad, who bluntly stood up to Uncle Sam.
But, what impressed me most about Wallace was his true grit to support me in my ‘David and Goliath’ battle with Harvard University, which went to a 10-day jury trial in 1999, featuring several luminaries as my character witness, including Wallace, filmmaker David Mamet, historian Howard Zinn, and M.I.T. linguist Noam Chomsky. Mamet after extensive communication with Wallace wrote an article about my situation with Harvard that was pulled at the last minute by a Harvard-graduate editor of Harper’s magazine, to the dismay of both Mamet and Wallace.
I have written extensively about Wallace’s involvement in my book, Looking For Rights At Harvard, which carries a generous blurb by Wallace, who also gave a video deposition in my defense prior to his court testimony, available on the internet, in which he recounts our efforts to resolve the death threat against the author of Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, who has also written on this subject in his autobiographical book, Jospeh Anton.
With respect to Wallace’s court appearance, which was covered back then by local and international media, suffice to say that he withstood tremendous pressure by the Harvard administration to prevent him from coming to Boston and testifying on my behalf. “Look Kaveh, it’s unbelievable they’ve gone to the president of CBS News and even to the president of CBS to keep me from testifying,” Wallace told me on the phone a couple of days prior to his testimony and, yet, was unwilling to let the powers that be dictate his action.
“I admire Dr. Afrasiabi. He is innocent enough to think he can prevail over the resources of Harvard…the cannons of Harvard are lined up against a pea shooter,” Wallace was quoted in the papers the next day.
My own attorney had walked out on me on the eve of the trial and I was forced to represent myself against a horde of Harvard’s attorney, and Wallace’s cynical premonitions proved on the mark as the judge reversed himself on key handwriting evidence that proved the Harvard defendants on trial had concocted fake charges in order to silence me.
Undeterred, I appealed and ultimately reached the altars of the US Supreme Court, which denied my appeal in a close 5 to 4 vote. Wallace tried to console me by reminding me that I had made legal history by taking mighty Harvard to US Supreme as a pro se. He then introduced me to his son Chris, with whom I worked on an Iran program subsequently aired on ABC’s 20/20.
Before his death, we met a few times in New York and Boston, and at one point at Boston’s Copley Plaza Hotel I had brunch with Wallace and the historian Howard Zinn, who had previously been unhappy with Wallace’s interview with him over Boston University’s autocratic president John Silber.
Since then, Wallace in his politics had turned more critical of US foreign policy and was visibly happy to meet Zinn again, who gave Wallace an autographed copy of his famous People’s History of the United States. Both Wallace and Zinn had summer homes in Cape Cod and made plans to meet again at the Cape and I am not sure if they followed up.
Nonetheless, the new friendship between Wallace, a cultural icon of America, and Zinn, the “old soldier of the left” to paraphrase the New York Times, was a natural development born by Wallace’s political evolution.
If Wallace were alive today, I have no doubt contrary to his son, who has been critical of the four ‘colored’ Congresswomen known as the “squad” vilified by Trump, Wallace would have regarded them as heroines deserving full respect. The critical spirit of Mike Wallace lives on.