There were some loose ends remaining when we last left the story of "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace and his appearance at a birthday party for columnist Art Buchwald -- a party that just so happened to also be a fundraiser for the Brady Center, a prominent advocate of gun control laws. We'll tie up those loose ends below.
First, some quick background. Wallace's appearance raised questions for CBS News from some quarters, most notably from Cam Edwards, host of the Cam and Company show on nranews.com. At issue were comments made by Wallace at the event and the fact he showed a 47-second video of a past "60 Minutes" segment that, by Wallace's own admission, cast former NRA President Charlton Heston in a less-than-favorable light.
We were asked what CBS News standards are on appearances such as these. Linda Mason, senior vice president for standards and special projects at CBS News at the time informed us that if a CBS correspondent becomes identifiable with one side of a controversial issue, that correspondent would no longer be allowed to cover that issue. When we asked if Wallace's appearance in this case made him "identifiable" on this issue, Mason said CBS was looking into the matter to determine that.
I spoke with Mason late yesterday and she told me how CBS News will deal with this issue in the future. Mason said that if Wallace "suggests a story that we feel is a potential conflict, we'll look at it and if we see a conflict, we'll turn it down." I take that to mean we won't be seeing Mr. Wallace doing any more stories involving Second Amendment issues.
When I first addressed this issue, it was with mixed feelings. I sympathized with Wallace and the explanation he provided me for his appearance. He emphasized what he saw as his humorous approach to his comments and his focus on his very good friend's 80th birthday party. But I also found the fact he had brought a video addressing the gun issue to be troubling.
I have since seen some of Wallace's remarks and am far less conflicted. In introducing the video, Wallace calls Heston the "self-righteous enemy of the Sarah and Jim Brady bunch." Coming out of the video, he mocks Heston's widely-seen comments that the government would take away his gun only from his "cold, dead hands." And he referenced, we assume, the relatively unknown position on gun control of Chief Justice John Roberts, calling him part of "the legions of the already convinced."
Wallace told me his appearance was "meant to be and was received as a joke." If so, it was one that was out of my range of humor. Others present at the event stressed to me the relative lack of discussion over gun control or the Second Amendment, saying the primary focus by far was Buchwald's birthday. I have not seen a tape of the entire event but have no reason to doubt that. Even so, Wallace did make reference to the gun debate in a way that made him identifiable with one side of this issue.
I trust Mason and CBS News to carry through with the pledge to turn down a Wallace story if there is a conflict involving his Brady Center appearance. It is the right thing to do. And I have no doubt that we'll hear about it if that does not happen.