‘Mike Wallace Is Here’ shows how we got here

Political Theater podcast, Episode 80

“Mike Wallace Is Here” documents the career of the legendary journalist — as well as his role in creating the political and news world we live in now. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images file photo)

The new film “Mike Wallace Is Here” shows how legendary journalist Mike Wallace pioneered holding the powerful accountable, be they politicians, celebrities or real estate developers. But today’s world is one where journalists are in danger and the credibility of its practitioners is constantly called into question. What happened?

On the latest Political Theater podcast, the documentary’s director, Avi Belkin, discusses the arc of Wallace’s career and where things started to shift. In the course of compiling the movie — from thousands of hours of archival footage from CBS’ “60 Minutes” program that made Wallace a star — Belkin says he noticed just how much richer and articulate conversation was among journalists and the subjects they covered. And he argues that the audience bears a responsibility in all this too. 

“The audience is a big part of what makes journalism what it is. If people don’t demand a higher level of discourse, if they don’t demand from the president higher levels of answers, then he’s not going to give them. And that’s it. If he’s winning the next election with those answers, why should he make more complex answers?” Belkin says. 

That sentiment comes through loud and clear in a segment of the movie in which Wallace interviews a 37-year-old New York tycoon, Donald Trump. In addition to Wallace’s hunch that his guest might eventually turn to politics, the interview shows how different Trump came across back then, from speech patterns to bearing, compared to his current lot in life as president of the United States. 

The film also makes the case that Wallace inspired many of the journalists and television stars who have arguably contributed to a coarsened political atmosphere. For instance, it kicks off with an eye-opening exchange between Wallace and former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. Their conversation takes Wallace, and the audience, aback. 

It’s also a platform to witness a master practitioner, and complicated human being, work his craft. It opens in Los Angeles and New York on July 26, and wider release on Aug. 2, including in Washington

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