Mike Wallace: The Interrogator

Steve Kroft Looks At Mike Wallace's Legendary Interviewing Style

In this age of shock jocks, screaming matches on cable TV and radio call-in shows that thrive on rumor and speculation, Mike Wallace looks positively saintly.

True, he's tough and sometimes rough. But as correspondent Steve Kroft reports, he's always in command of the facts — and often knows them better than the person he's interviewing. There are some journalists who have learned, or stolen, from Mike Wallace much of what they know about the business, particularly: asking the impertinent question.

For a refresher course, Kroft sat down with Wallace in Studio 33, where 60 Minutes is put together every week. They watched the tape of some notables who've been caught over the years in the Mike Wallace meat-grinder.

In 2005, for instance, Wallace interviewed Vladimir Putin; Putin may be president of Russia, but it was clear that in this interview, it was Mike who was in charge.

"Corruption is everyplace in Russia. Agreed? Why? To get anything done: money," Wallace told the Russian president.

"I've never seen the situation or seen an interview that you did not dominate, in terms of personality, in terms of force of personality. How do you do it?" Kroft asked.

"I'm nosy and insistent and not to be pushed aside," Wallace explained.

Wallace is also an equal opportunity offender. Six years ago, he interviewed Jiang Zemin, then the president of China.

"You are the last major communist dictatorship in the world," Wallace said to Zemin. "Am I wrong?"

"Of course. This is a big mistake," Zemin replied.

"You are," Wallace said.

"Very frank speaking, I don't agree with your point I'm dictator," Zemin responded.

"I know you don't. I know that you don't," Wallace said. "But there's an old American phrase that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and so forth, it's a duck."

That kind of audacity is something Wallace perfected long before 60 Minutes.

Exactly 50 years ago, he did a local New York interview show called "Night Beat."

"Up to Night Beat, I was utterly anonymous. Night Beat was the one," Wallace recalls.