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How Mike Wallace Changed Politics

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Mike Wallace attends the Henry A. Grunwald Awards Luncheon on Sept. 19, 2007, in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Mike Wallace attends the Henry A. Grunwald Awards Luncheon on Sept. 19, 2007, in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The passing of Mike Wallace this weekend brought many comments of how he pioneered the art of the intense and hard charged interview. Indeed, Wallace’s work on 60 Minutes redefined the television interview and helped to redefine investigative journalism.

Wallace’s style created a new method of interviewing that could be combative, intrusive and incredibly revealing. But another byproduct of Wallace’s style of interviewing is that the audience began to expect a higher level of information from journalists and from political leaders.

The trends in investigative journalism that 60 Minutes brought to the forefront changed both local and national media forever. Television media at all levels began to do more stories about politicians and refused to accept the idea of ignoring the “man behind the curtain”.

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Investigative journalism existed before Mike Wallace, but Mike Wallace took it from the newspaper page to the TV screen and made it compelling enough to make 60 Minutes one of the most popular and longest running TV series of all time. No other news program can come close to the impact and longevity that 60 Minutes has attained.

And while Mike Wallace was not alone in creating 60 Minutes, he was its face and voice. His name was the one national leaders feared. It was his style that journalists wanted to emulate.

Once 60 Minutes and Mike Wallace changed the way politicians could be investigated and interviewed, changes in political campaigns followed. Results from interviews that were inspired by Wallace helped to create negative campaign ads and the perfect “gotcha” clips featured in many 30 second commercials.

The style of reporting that Wallace helped to pioneer also raised the general expectations of American voters. We now expect more out of our candidates and elected officials. We expect them to not only be able to earn our vote, but to also withstand blistering interviews from potentially hostile journalists.

Elected leaders now know that they need to be able to perform with much higher expectations, thanks to what Mike Wallace created on 60 Minutes.

Mike Wallace did not bring this new age of investigative journalism into existence on his own, but he was its poster child and ambassador. He helped not only make it effective, but make it profitable and popular. That’s the trifecta in the media business.

Not only is it the trifecta in the media business, it is just one of the many reasons why the legacy of Mike Wallace will live on for generations.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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