Before arriving at a TV studio Thursday for an interview to promote his memoir, Mike Wallace had a feeling that hundreds of people who had sat across from him with the cameras rolling would find familiar.
“I was intimidated ahead of time, I have to say,” he said. “Who knows what he really had in mind?”
His interrogator was his son, Chris. Their talk, taped for “Fox News Sunday,” represented the first time father and son had crossed paths professionally in careers that together stretches three-quarters of a century.
For Chris, 58, it felt unusual primarily because cameras were rolling. Their personal conversations would often reflect a father-son rivalry, as they engaged in a sort of loving trash talk. Their expression for it was more profane.
Every fall before he started another year in college, Chris said his dad would put him on the spot asking how much money he needed.
“It was like being interviewed by Mike Wallace,” he said.
When Mike, 87, walked in on a waiting Chris in the Fox News Channel green room, they warmly gripped each other’s right hands. They talk frequently, but hadn’t seen each other in months. Even Fox News Channel chief Roger Ailes stopped by to see this summit.
Dad still didn’t give Chris the scoop, however: he’d already submitted to interviews on his book, “Between You and Me,” with Katie Couric and Larry King.
Father and son sparred over BushAs they waited for cameras to roll, Mike complimented Chris’ tie. “You’re wearing your $40 watch still,” Chris replied.
During the interview, Chris Wallace said he often got e-mails from people who say, “you’re just like your father,” and they didn’t mean it as a compliment. Does Mike Wallace understand why people feel a disaffection from the mainstream media?
“They think they’re wide-eyed commies. Liberals,” he replied, a notion he dismissed as “damned foolishness.”
“Even a liberal reporter is a patriot, wants the best for this country,” he said. “And people, your fair and balanced friends at Fox, don’t fully understand that.”
The two men sparred over the aftermath of CBS’ botched investigation into President Bush’s National Guard service. Chris said the people working on the story were quicker to believe a memo critical of Bush’s service, and therefore were sloppier about checking it out, than they would have been if it concerned John Kerry.
“I don’t believe that for a moment,” his father said.
Then they turned personal. Mike Wallace talked about how he did cigarette commercials (“sent me to college,” Chris remarked) but stopped and devoted himself to journalism after the death of his older son, Peter, in a hiking accident in Greece in 1962.
“Do you hate getting old?” his son asked.
“I had my hearing aid fixed today so that I could properly hear you,” Mike said. “I can’t see as well. I now have — this has stopped me from smoking — a pacemaker, have for about the last 15 years. No, I don’t like getting old.”
A film clip was flashed of a future interview subject: Mike Wallace’s great-grandson, now 3 weeks old.
Father looked son straight in the eye.
“I love you,” he said. “And I’m proud of you.”
Replied Chris: “All right, we don’t want to cry. We’re done.”