What is it about tyrants that gives media types goose flesh?
The question came to mind while pondering "60 Minutes" thug Mike Wallace’s transformation into Barbara Walters in an interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Wallace’s reputation is as an ambush interviewer — the tough guy who’s not afraid to ask any question of anyone.
He’s the eternal cynic who won’t buy anyone’s lies. He’s the emotionless inquisitor. He’s the media’s version of Torquemada.
What a match-up! Wallace vs. Ahmadinejad.
How many rounds would a bout like this last?
Would Wallace ever make it out of Tehran alive?
How long would it take Wallace to reduce this maniac to foaming at the mouth?
Well, it didn’t turn out that way, as we all know. I’m not surprised, really.
With Ahmadinejad, Wallace had a chance to go after a guy who is being compared by many to Adolf Hitler in 1939 — with one exception, of course: Hitler did not have nuclear weapons. It could have been a historic opportunity. It could have been the capstone of Wallace’s career.
Instead, like others before him in his profession, Wallace was smitten by the little dictator.
Some of Wallace’s observations of the Iranian madman who has denied the Holocaust while doing everything in his power to foster a new one:
He called Ahmadinejad a "reasonable" man.
He said the Iranian president is not anti-Jewish — just anti-Zionist. How does he know? Ahmadinejad told him so.
Ahmadinejad told Wallace there are even Jews in the Iranian Parliament — many, he said. Of course, he did not name any. Nor was he asked to do so.
Wallace concluded that Ahmadinejad was sincere in his hope for peaceful coexistence between Iran and the West. (Translation: Right after they nuke us, they think we’ll get along just fine.)
He found himself "troubled" by comparisons to Hitler.
He marveled at Ahmadinejad’s civil-engineering degree, his intellect, his savvy.
He told Americans not to bring "prejudices" to the viewing of the interview Sunday night.
And he said the discussion was sincere and not about propaganda.
What planet has this guy been living on? Has he been listening to what Ahmadinejad has been saying to others for the past year? Has he not heard him call for the eradication of the Jewish state? Has he not heard him threaten the United States?
But, if you live long enough, you see history repeat itself. This little episode involving the 88-year-old Wallace reminds me of another "newsman" who fell in love with a dictator — one with even more blood on his hands than Ahmadinejad.
The "newsman" — and I use that term loosely — was Walter Duranty, who would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for The New York Times. The dictator was Josef Stalin.
It’s hard for me to refer to either Duranty or Wallace as newsmen. They don’t deserve the label. After all, Wallace is a former game-show host. With him it was always about show business, not news business. Duranty, meanwhile, was a propagandist for the most evil and deadly force on the planet — Soviet totalitarianism under, quite possibly, the ruler who killed more human beings than any other.
While Stalin was killing millions of Ukrainians by mass starvation in the terror famine, Duranty was writing about the bold new achievements of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
His fellow Soviet Union correspondent, the estimable Malcolm Muggeridge, called Duranty "the biggest liar I have seen in 50 years as a journalist."
Of course, Muggeridge didn’t live to see Sunday night’s shameful episode of "60 Minutes."