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Journalism vs. Hollywood

In the currently running movie "The Insider," which re-creates a battle to get a whistle-blower's indictment of tobacco on the air on CBS's "60 Minutes," several persons have called my attention to what may be an allusion to me.

In the film, the actor portraying Mike Wallace, explaining to the actor playing producer Lowell Bergman why he's not fighting the corporate veto, says, "I don't plan to spend the end of my days wandering in the wilderness of National Public Radio."

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It happens that I gave up a lucrative job in CBS News after 25 years on a matter of principle, and, since 1985, I have been with National Public Radio.

Further complicating this story is that in February 1996, I interviewed Mike Wallace for a PBS "Frontline" documentary about the battle over Jeffrey Wigand, the cigarette company whistle-blower whose sensational interview was first suppressed under corporate pressure, then aired by "60 Minutes" only after The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal broke the story.

Walter Cronkite told me, in an interview in his CBS office, that "60 Minutes," in buckling under to legal pressures, "violated a journalistic imperative" and dealt a blow to all investigative reporting.

Mr. Wallace, in his interview with me, said he had fought to save the Wigand piece, but it had never occurred to him to say, "Either you quit or you can't respect yourself ever again." In conversation, Wallace was cordial, asked how I was getting along and said nothing about my being in any wilderness.

Indeed, there's some question whether the real Wallace actually spoke those exact words to Mr. Bergman.

The moviemakers say that cinematic license was taken with the lengthy narrative that Bergman had dictated in order to dramatize certain points. As an analogy, they cited the famous line "Follow the money!" spoken by the Watergate source called "Deep Throat" in the movie "All the President's Men." The line does not appear in the book from which the movie was adapted.

What's true, said Bergman, who left CBS and now works for PBS's "Front-Line," is that Wallace and executive producer Don Hewitt customarily spoke with scorn of those like Fred Friendly, Bill Moyers, and me, who had parted company with CBS over issues of principle.

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I think it may be Mike Wallace who is wandering in the wilderness, affluent though that wilderness may be. I think that I found the Promised Land.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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