Innocent Americans Abroad: Mike Wallace Gives a Foe a Pass

A couple, both aged sixty-five, go to a beach resort to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Sure enough, while laying out their blankets on the sand, they find a lamp which, when rubbed, yields a grateful genie. “I wish,” says the husband. “That my wife were thirty years younger than me.” And the genie, pliant after the manner of his breed, promptly grants the request… and turns the man 95.

The moral of the story is that when one seeks in elder years to adopt a pretense of youth, one is most often made to look more pitiably aged than otherwise. Mike Wallace, famous bulldog interviewer of years past, would have done well to heed this nugget of wisdom. As an eighty-eight year old retiree, he can sit on his somewhat faded laurels without them growing the thorns that render sitting uncomfortable.

Instead, he took the senior citizen bus to Iran to interview President Ahmadinejad. The reasons why it is asinine in the extreme to conduct a serious interview with him are too numerous to enumerate, but let’s just sprinkle a few to garnish our point. One, he is a whack-a-doodle. Two, he probably is a puppet without real power under the imams. Three, to the extent that he has power he is a menace. Four, his regime is currently fighting a proxy war through Hezbollah and it is critically important to avoid conferring legitimacy. Five, he is being told by the UN that if he does not stand down on his nuclear program, he will be forever banned from polite company; some American news agency has no business sending the opposite signal.

As if the act of conducting the interview were not egregious enough, Wallace manages to return from the encounter besotted and smitten by the man’s charm. Why, he is strangely attractive, quoth Mike sagely. Short, yes; gnomish and gnarled like a Dickens frontispiece, certainly; beady-eyed and predatory, undeniably; yet lovable in an indefinable way. The E.T. of genocidal dictators. One can almost envision him making a magnanimous tour of the assembly line that produces rocketry for Hizbollah, whispering gentle words of encouragement into the ear of the young lady jamming just a few extra ball bearings into the warhead.

Mike goes on cooing after the wooing. He is so intelligent, that Ahmad! He has a civil engineering degree! The interview was sincere and not for propaganda purposes! Oy, oy, oy, Mike, Mike, Mike. How could you? How could you become so small, so shallow, so superficial, so naïve, so unworldly, so gullible? And why were you wandering around off the grounds on the night we had your favorite Jello for dinner?

True, this brand of “useful idiocy” is not reserved to superannuated has-beens. Plenty of left-leaning anchors have been coaxed and hoaxed this way in the past. The puff pieces on Lenin and Stalin, even Hitler, are before my time, but I have witnessed it with the likes of Mao, Castro, Brezhnev and Gorbachev. And it would not do to forget Dan Rather’s exclusive chat with Saddam Hussein which featured old Dan looking as proud of himself as a centipede on a tightrope.

Yet it is particularly gruesome to witness the wizened but not wise-ned Wallace wallowing in his witlessness. (Funnily enough, Ahmadinejad mentions at one point that he thought Wallace had retired. We had thought so too, Mr. A, but no such luck.) To see one of our national icons nod thoughtfully when this misbegotten miscreant proves his righteousness by citing President Bush’s low poll numbers is to reach reflexively for the barf bag. When, oh when, will these journalists learn to stop being used as foils by these foul fellows?

One would imagine that especially one who had lived these particular eighty-eight years, in which charismatic figures with all sorts of charm and advanced degrees and phony earnestness had wreaked havoc on the planet, would be less disposed to buy the inch-deep slickster charm of the malevolent President Ahmadinejad, but one would imagine wrong. Liberal blindness to evil is not enlightened even by rays of clearest truth.

The Jewish joke has two elderly women discussing their children’s education. “My son Marty has multiple degrees,” one mom exclaims. “In psychology, economics and politics.” Her companion naturally wonders which field he chose as the basis of his livelihood. “Actually he can’t get a job… but at least he understands why.” Ahmadinejad has his job because he knows how to engineer an impression with a degree of civility. It’s Wallace who has no job anymore and, sadly, does not understand why.