On Friday night, I ran into "60 Minutes" veteran Mike Wallace and his lovely wife Mary at an all-star screening of a documentary about John Kerry's Vietnam service.
Wallace confirmed for me the long-running rumor/open secret that Dan Rather has kept Walter Cronkite, his beloved predecessor, from appearing on CBS News since his retirement after 19 years on the job in 1981.
Instead of becoming an éminence grise or a Yoda for the network like the late Eric Sevareid, who appeared at the end of each of Cronkite's broadcasts with an editorial, Cronkite was sent to network Siberia.
Cronkite was forced to start his own production company, syndicating feature news shows. He's appeared all over cable, even on CNN. A "60 Minutes" spokesman says Cronkite appeared on a "Walter Cronkite Remembers" special, as well. But CBS News itself has simply ignored him.
Rather was always said to be the man behind it, afraid that Cronkite's immense popularity as "the most trusted man in America" would hinder his own position.
Why was that, I asked Wallace? Was it just insecurity? He hunched his shoulders.
"You said it. And stupidity," he said.
Cronkite will not be defending Rather. And Wallace won't either, from what I can tell.
"We have this independent panel that's going to look into it," he said when I asked what would happen to Rather in the long run. "They're doing their job."
What Wallace told me about Rather should speak volumes for what's going to happen to the CBS Evening News anchor: He's going to be hung out to dry.
"First of all, people should stop saying this is ‘60 Minutes,’" Wallace said. "It's not."
Rather's memo broadcast came on what was until recently known as “60 Minutes II.” The folks at “60 Minutes” classic had nothing to do with that show and didn't consider it part of their program.
I asked Wallace what if this had happened in the good old days when Edward R. Murrow was their leader? What if Charles Collingwood had gotten himself into such a mess? Wouldn't the news department have closed ranks behind him?
"It wouldn't have happened to Charles Collingwood. He was too professional," Wallace replied.
As for CBS still being known as the 'Tiffany' network, Wallace narrowed his eyes and said, "That doesn't exist anymore."
Wallace, by the way, told me that this was the first president of the United
States that he hasn't even met. That's since Harry Truman, in case you were wondering.
While we talked, we met George Butler, the Kerry friend who produced and directed "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry." Wallace reminded him that Kerry had appeared on "60 Minutes" long ago with Morley Safer. Wallace wondered: Had Butler thought of including that footage?
"I wanted to," the director said. "I went over to the office and even got the footage… Morley wanted to use it, but CBS refused. I guess they thought it would be partisan or something."
Although Butler made Arnold Schwarzenegger famous in “Pumping Iron,” movie stars like him, Ben Affleck, Sharon Stone and Richard Holbrooke failed to show even though they were listed on the invite as hosts. Leonardo DiCaprio, however, took time from his busy schedule to at least attend the screening. He skipped the party — there were no supermodels or rappers. Wallace was one of many media types who attended, along with actor Richard Belzer and Slate editor Jacob Weisberg.
Even if you're not a Democrat or a John Kerry supporter, "Going Upriver" is a must-see document. For one thing, Butler was able to use a huge amount of archival footage from Kerry's Vietnam tours and from his appearances on TV in the early 1970s as leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He's 27 years old in the footage and remarkably composed. A speech he made before Congress in 1971was so moving and eloquent that it drew applause from the audience at its conclusion. Many of the people at the party later commented that they wished that version of John Kerry was still around.
But you will find a lot of other archived moments in "Going Upriver" interesting for their historical value: An audio tape of Richard Nixon and the cunning H. R. "Bob" Haldemann discussing young Kerry's anti-war efforts; plus a tape from the famous "Dick Cavett Show" in which then Nixon representative John O'Neill — now the author of the Swift Boat Vets’ book “Unfit to Command” — debates Kerry.
Anyone who lived in this country in 1971 will immediately have an opinion about O'Neill. There is no question that he comes across as creepy, even if you were in favor of America's involvement in Vietnam.
As for Wallace, he looks and sounds amazing at 86. And no, he has no plans for retirement. He used a hand gesture to indicate "feet up" would be the way they would have to carry him out. And that's just as it should be.
Remember Ben Barnes? He's the major Democratic contributor from Texas who appeared with Dan Rather on "60 Minutes II" when Rather showed the now infamous memos about George Bush's National Guard service. Since the memos came under fire for their veracity, Barnes has vanished. And believe me, there are a lot of people who want to talk to him.
Well, he turned up on Saturday night at a John Kerry fundraiser in Washington, D.C. The event was held at the Old Post Office Pavilion. Former California Governor Gray Davis was also there and the mood was said to be buoyant after the release of a “Newsweek” poll in Kerry's favor. Barnes was stashed in a VIP room, but he still managed to run into a Fox411 source with whom he had a very nice chat.
But Barnes has a lot of questions to answer about those memos, especially since they may now affect Dan Rather instead of George Bush.
On Saturday morning in New York, Rather defended his position at a “New Yorker” symposium hosted by Ken Auletta. Rather's only peers, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw, were on the panel and defended him. Rather said he had no plans to step down from the anchorman's desk at CBS.
The box office figure of $49 million for "Shark Tale" can only be comforting to the folks at DreamWorks. Jeffrey Katzenberg put a lot on the line to make this animated “Shrek”-like film a hit. It should now turn a nice profit. On top of “Shrek 2,” Katzenberg has really had his revenge on Disney, where he made “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” among others.
When Katzenberg left Disney in 1995, he systematically gutted the company's animation department. Now Disney is dependent on Pixar, with whom they do not have a deal. My guess is that Disney will try to make deals with both Pixar and Miramax soon, even though Disney president Robert Iger recently announced the company wants to stick with family friendly films. Hey, they have to make some kind of movies — better let Miramax get the Oscars for them and Pixar bring in the revenue from kids.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, kids. I'm going to tell you about a little adventure I had concerning a big new studio movie that is sure to have everyone angry about something.