Legendary broadcast journalist Mike Wallace is getting his due respect at hundreds of media outlets in the wake of his death this past weekend. And then there is Gawker. Judging by the way Nick Denton's popular media gossip site trashed Wallace's memory a day after he died, one would think the staff had a personal grudge against him — or they're rabid for attention, or both.
The John Cook piece, "Mike Wallace Was an Icon of Television, Not Journalism," wasn't a typical, sharp Gawker-as-provocateur offering. It was as clever as a clubbing — and came complete with an insulting image of Wallace's head superimposed over the body of a stage performer getting the hook.
The piece refers to Wallace as "a failed soap actor and vaudeville hack named Myron who just wanted to be on television. He was as much a journalist as Ryan Seacrest." Here's a momentary pause, to allow the absurdity of that statement to sink in as we recall Wallace having the nerve to go to Iran two weeks after the U.S. Embassy takeover in 1979, and to ask Ayatollah Khomeini to his face what he thought of being called a disgrace to Islam and a lunatic.
It continues, "Glossed over in most of Wallace's obituaries is the fact that his pre-60 Minutes career — he didn't join the show until he was 50 years old and on his third wife — was little more than a desperate and sustained attempt at achieving celebrity."
The implication that Wallace landed in news after failing at other professional pursuits is wrong. In fact, according to Wallace, his decision to devote himself entirely to journalism caused his income to fall to about a quarter of what he'd been making as a multi-career man — for a while. As those who are familiar with Wallace's story will recall, the death of his older son, Peter, during a 1962 mountain climbing excursion, was a pivotal event for him. As Wallace told Marilyn Beck: "It turned my life around, in a strange way...I decided, 'How do I make something useful out of this tragedy? What can I do that he would have been proud of?'...To me, news stood for substance, social usefulness and integrity. I decided to limit myself to news."
That's not to say Wallace's career was unblemished. Cook writes of the scandal over his handling of the 1995 story involving tobacco company whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand. To criticize his actions would be one thing. But to say he was never a newsman at all is preposterous.
He reportedly wanted his epitaph to read "tough but fair." RIP, Mike Wallace, you strove to live up to that credo and inspired countless others as well. Which is more than we can say for this cowardly smear job of a dead man — a follow-up to Gawker's post-mortem smears of Steve Jobs and Andrew Breitbart. Time for the hook, indeed.
MOURNING SERIAL: After 32 years of daytime royalty playing Victor Newman on "The Young and the Restless," so far, Eric Braeden doesn't mince words when he talks about how it feels to be on one of the last soaps standing. "Not very good, to be honest. They're replacing the soaps with bull#[email protected]! crap. It's what happens when huge corporations take over, things are reduced to the lowest common denominator," blasts the actor, who is being seen on the big screen now as "Titanic's" wealthiest passenger, John Jacob Astor.
"You cannot tell me that all of a sudden, people who have been used to the novelistic form of entertainment, soap operas, have suddenly lost interest," he goes on. "This form of serialized storytelling goes back to radio, to serialized novels. Dickens was essentially a soap opera writer. The desire to see, to be part of that has not died suddenly. I think it has died in the minds of some executives."
Braedon's last contractual go-round in 2009 was so difficult that, for a while, it appeared he might be ending his run with the show. He finally wound up with his current three-year deal that runs into the fall. His feelings about his future on "Y&R"? "To be honest with you, I don't know. I don't," he says. "It depends on how hostile an environment the negotiations are carried out in. If it's as adversarial as it was, I have no interest."
And yet, his love of the work itself continues, he is quick to add: "I love acting and the challenge of making something real...I think soap actors are the most disciplined lot of all. Of course, all the way to work, I reflect on the idea that I am still one of the few people working. I'm deeply grateful to be able to do that."
SPEAKING OF SOAPS: They might be disappearing from daytime, but soaps are proliferating in prime time. Several soap writers have migrated to ABC Family, grinding out serialized fare for the younger set. TNT's upcoming "Dallas" continuation is already causing big excitement months before its June 13 debut. A network press mailing of the first seven episodes already has many viewers hooked. Wait until you see that hot younger generation of Ewings! And what could be soapier than the probable return of Judith Krantz' "Scruples" as an ABC series starring beautiful people Claire Forlani, Chad Michael Murray and Boris Kodjoe? Shooting this month, the "Scruples" pilot boasts a script from Bob Brush and Mel Harris, who are executive producing along with Tony Krantz (the elder of author Judith and the late Steve Krantz' sons), Annette Savitch and Natalie Portman.
To find out more about Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and read their past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.