Mike Wallace at the Harvard Kennedy School, 1995

by Jason Ong

[caption id="attachment952" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href="http://bostonlocaltv.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/mikewallace.png">Mike Wallace Mike Wallace at Harvard Kennedy School, 1995 Courtesy CCTV[/caption]

Broadcast journalist Mike Wallace died this month. Although he had a career of about 70 years in radio and TV, he was probably best known for his work at CBS News, particularly on "60 Minutes."

In 1995, he received the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Harvard Kennedy School. He came to the School to accept the award and to give a short speech. I watched CCTV's footage of the event, and some interesting points came up.

At the time, polls showed that the news media didn't have a very good impression among the American public; a lot of people considered it untrustworthy. In his speech, Wallace proposed the reformation of the National News Council (which had last operated in the 1970s and 1980s before being disbanded) as an independent, objective organization that would look into complaints that any news story was unfair or biased. Wallace believed that this would increase public trust in the news media. However, things have turned out differently.

Both Fox News Channel and MSNBC launched the next year, in 1996. Over time, they've become known as the "conservative" and "liberal" news channels, respectively. Some people say that having news channels that are so diametrically opposed guarantees that people will only watch (and trust) the one channel that they think fits their views, and will automatically distrust the other (or perhaps any other) channel.

Wallace might not have predicted this much of a schism, but he did briefly touch on the rise of conservative media outlets. There was a perception even back then that the mainstream media had a liberal bias, and talk radio was starting to grow in popularity among conservatives as a sort of retaliatory measure. He mentioned Rush Limbaugh in passing, to describe him as a vaudevillian figure, but compelling enough to draw an audience.