Veteran CBS newsman Mike Wallace said Tuesday that he plans to make this his last season on “60 Minutes,” but is stopping short of complete retirement as he wraps up 38 years on the venerable Sunday-night newscast.
“I’ve often replied, when asked, ‘I’ll retire when my toes turn up,’ ” Wallace said in a phone interview, reading from a statement he had just written and relayed to CBS News executives.
“Well, they’re just beginning to curl a trifle,” he added, “which means that as I approach my 88th birthday, it’s become apparent to me that my eyes and ears, among other appurtenances, aren’t quite what they used to be, and the prospects of long flights to wherever in search of whatever are not quite as appealing.”
While the television news industry he helped pioneer has been undergoing significant changes, Wallace remains decidedly old school. When he dictated his statement to a reporter on Tuesday, he noted the punctuation and paragraph marks in the style of a reporter reading his copy from the scene of a story.
Wallace will retain the title of “correspondent emeritus,” but stressed that he will never officially retire, adding that the best way to describe what he’s doing is “slowing down, but not to a halt.” The longtime broadcaster -- who became a CBS News correspondent in 1963 -- said he has a couple more pieces that he plans to do for the show before the end of this season, as well as a few in the fall.
CBS News President Sean McManus called Wallace “one of a few giants of broadcast journalism for whom a list of endless superlatives can’t and don’t do justice.”
“From his genre-creating early days in radio to his standard-setting work on ’60 Minutes’ for the past 38 years, and from datelines all over the world, Mike has completely embodied what good, tough, fair journalism should be over the course of his 60-plus years in the business,” McManus said in a statement.
Wallace emphasized that CBS “is not pushing me,” noting that he’ll retain an office at the news division’s West 57th Street headquarters and will be available for “whatever chores” the network has in mind for him.
“There comes a time,” he said of his decision, calling his nearly four decades on the program “wonderful, fulfilling, satisfying. I can’t think of a better job for a reporter. It’s been a joy.”
The gravelly voiced correspondent got his start as a radio news writer in the 1940s and has been on “60 Minutes” since it premiered in September 1968. An unrelenting interviewer who has faced off with a slew of newsmakers, Wallace is regarded as an institution in television news at a time when many of his contemporaries are no longer on air.
Wallace had already lessened his workload at “60 Minutes” in recent years. So far this season, he’s had half a dozen pieces on the air, including interviews with former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, tennis pro James Blake and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). His most recent story, which aired on the program’s Feb. 12 edition, explored the fate of soldiers wounded in combat.
Nevertheless, his departure from the program marks a significant turning point for “60 Minutes,” which has maintained a roster of veterans such as Morley Safer and Andy Rooney on staff at a time when younger broadcasters are getting the top jobs on other newscasts.
On Tuesday, executive producer Jeff Fager called Wallace “the heart and soul of this broadcast.”
“I’m glad he’ll be around to do an occasional interview,” Fager said in a statement. “He’s had such a powerful impact on all of us who work here, on how we conduct interviews and how we report stories, that there will always be a piece of Mike in everything we do.”