Former White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater fled a taping of a Comedy Central talk show Tuesday after “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace confronted him with a string of obscenities.
Wallace, 77, apparently was angry at the 52-year-old Fitzwater’s comments about Wallace and “60 Minutes” in his new book, “Call The Briefing!”
Reached at his home in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday night, Fitzwater said he was “dumbfounded” by the barrage from Wallace and “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt.
Fitzwater was waiting to tape “Politically Incorrect” in the studio the Comedy Central cable channel rents from CBS when Hewitt and Wallace both telephoned him.
“They started swearing at me - together. I just couldn’t figure out why anybody would be upset about what I wrote,” Fitzwater told The Associated Press.
“I started laughing.”
But the former press secretary to Presidents Reagan and Bush said Wallace got angrier.
“I’m laughing, and he says, ‘This is serious.’ I listen, and he starts swearing at me … with Hewitt listening and cheering him on.”
But it didn’t end there - Wallace showed up 10 minutes later at the studio, and a “Politically Incorrect” producer stood between the two as Wallace continued his tirade.
“Wallace started shouting at me again: ‘This is an outrage. You owe me an apology.’ I was dumbfounded by the whole thing. I was so upset, I asked the producer if I could skip the production. I’m befuddled by the whole business.”
Fitzwater, who said Wallace called him so many things he can’t remember them all, flew home on the next available plane.
In his book, Fitzwater labels “60 Minutes” as “liberal” and said “every show was good-vs.-evil.” He also criticizes the privileged background of Wallace’s son, ABC reporter Chris Wallace.
On Mike Wallace himself, Fitzwater writes: “As a small boy on the farm, when we got our first Admiral TV set, I would watch Mike Wallace late at night as he insulted his talk show guests, drove women to cry and performed his pioneering version of talk show extremism.
“It amazed me, years later, to find that he was actually respected by his colleagues and a successful ‘60 Minutes’ veteran.”
Late Tuesday, “60 Minutes” spokesman Kevin Tedesco confirmed the confrontation but called Fitzwater’s sudden exit a “publicity trick” to raise interest in the book.
“The reputation of Mike and the show were on the line, and Mike went down and verbally rebutted and demanded an apology,” Tedesco told The Associated Press.
“Politically Incorrect” spokeswoman Laura Nelson said that when the show’s producers tried to get Wallace to sit in for the guest who had been sent packing, he refused.
Fellow correspondent Morley Safer agreed to come in his place.