Mike Wallace, who took fire on Manhattan television this season as a taboo-smashing interviewer (TIME, Jan. 7), had been trying for three weeks to strike similarly bright sparks with his new ABC network show on Sunday night. Last week, bringing "reformed" Los Angeles Racketeer Mickey Cohen into the U.S. living room, Wallace struck up a blaze that threatened to make things hot for him and his network despite all efforts to douse it.
Squat, pudgy Mickey Cohen, 45, proved a man of few words when pressed on his friendliness for Billy Graham ("I just hope and feel the feeling is likewise between Billy and I")* or his past weakness for killing people ("I have killed no man that in the first place didn't deserve killing by the standards of our way of life"). When Wallace urged him to name the crooked politicians who protected his gambling rackets, Cohen demurred: "That is not my way of life, Mike."
Nothing But. But he warmed up to the subject of how the Los Angeles police were making it tough for him to go straight as a florist. "I have a police chief in Los Angeles," he said, "who happens to be a sadistic degenerate." After a few minutes, Wallace returned to the subject of the "apparently respectable" Chief William Parker in an attempt to lever Cohen into naming bribed politicians. That touched Cohen off again: "I'm going to give him much to bring a libel suit against me. He's nothing but a thief that has beena reformed thief . . . This man here is as dishonest politically as the worst thief that accepts money for payoffs . . . He is a known alcoholic. He's been disgusting. He's an old degenerate. In other words, he's a sadistic degenerate of the worst type ... He has a man underneath him that is on an equal basis with him." While Cohen ranted on about the "man underneath," Wallace broke in three times to ask his name, apparently unaware that he might be pinning down a libelous label. "His name," said Cohen, "is Captain James Hamilton [chief of the department's intelligence squad], and he's probably a lower degenerate than Parker "
At one point, referring to Chief Parker, Interviewer Wallace said: "Well, Mickey, you're a reformed thief just as he's a reformed thief. Isn't it the pot calling the kettle black?" But at the end of the interview, after wishing him long life and happiness, Mike announced solemnly that
Cohen's views on the Los Angeles police were exclusively Cohen's own.
Next day the network offered its "sincere apologies for any personal distress resulting from this telecast," scrapped kinescopes that would have carried the interview to eleven of the 79 stations handling the show, gave Parker and Hamilton an offerwhich they scornedof equal time on Wallace's show. Parker and Hamilton, shrewd cops with good records (whose names are familiar to viewers of Jack Webb's Dragnet), filed complaints of criminal libel against Cohen and his TV hosts both in Los Angeles and Manhattan. Parker announced that he would sue all concerned, including sponsor Philip Morris. Also ready to sue: ex-Mayor Fletcher