- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Just shy of his 88th birthday, CBS veteran newsman Mike Wallace announced yesterday that he will step away from the “60 Minutes” cameras and assume the more comfortable duties of “correspondent emeritus.”

Mr. Wallace has been there since the beginning, reporting intense accounts of corruption and human foibles since September 1968, punctuated by the signature ticktock of a stopwatch. His overall broadcast career in radio and television, however, spans six decades.

“I’ve often replied, when asked, ‘I’ll retire when my toes turn up.’ Well, they’re just beginning to curl a trifle,” Mr. Wallace said.

“It’s become apparent to me that my eyes and ears, among other appurtenances, aren’t quite what they used to be. And the prospect of long flights to wherever in search of whatever are not quite as appealing,” he added.

The suave octogenarian relished his role of gutsy interviewer, and managed to outlast younger colleague Dan Rather, who retired from the CBS anchorman’s chair last year after producing a bogus story for “60 Minutes” claiming President Bush compromised his Vietnam-era National Guard service. The story aired during a pivotal moment of the 2004 election campaign.

The embarrassed network was forced to issue a retraction, and fired four producers.

Still chasing down evildoers with a video camera, Mr. Wallace also outlasted NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who quietly retired in 2004, and ABC’s Peter Jennings, who died of lung cancer last year.

Like an old soldier, Mr. Wallace will fade away — sort of.

“CBS is not pushing me. I’ll be in a comfortable office on the same floor,” he said, and still at the ready for any “chore” some producer might have in mind for him. Longer vacations are an incentive, too.

The network got downright effusive over Mr. Wallace’s impending change of circumstance.

“Mike Wallace is one of a few giants of broadcast journalism,” CBS News President Sean McManus said yesterday. “Mike has completely embodied what good, tough, fair journalism should be.”

The executive producer of “60 Minutes,” Jeff Fager, called him “the heart and soul of this broadcast.”

Mr. Wallace, who began his career as a radio correspondent for the Chicago Sun during World War II, joined CBS in 1951. Over the years, he has interviewed such luminaries as former Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan, China’s Deng Xiaoping, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and TV’s Johnny Carson, among many others.

He has written three books, received 20 Emmy awards and three Peabody Awards. His son, Chris Wallace, currently anchors “Fox News Sunday.”

The CBS News online message board buzzed with affectionate commentary about the senior Wallace yesterday.

“I have always regarded him as fair and balanced even when the sirens of the left seduced Rather, [Andrew] Heyward and many others off the path of dispassionate journalism,” one visitor noted.

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