Who really said, ‘The four most frightening words in the English language are “Mike Wallace is here” ‘?

Myron Leon “Mike” Wallace died Saturday. He was 93. “60 Minutes,” which will dedicate next week’s show to Wallace, has a collection of some of his most notable interview clips. Howard Kurtz ponders: “Perhaps our mourning for these titans of yore reflects a longing for a simpler time, when right and wrong was as clear-cut as Mike Wallace chasing a bad guy down the street.” Martin Lewis says Wallace was indirectly responsible for Beatlemania. And Seymour Hersh remembers getting soundly scooped by Wallace. Josh Gerstein was scooped by him, too.

An interesting question: Who really said “The four most frightening words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace is here’ “? The Los Angeles Times attributes it to Joseph Coors. “Wallace had such a fearsome reputation as an interviewer that ‘Mike Wallace is here to see you’ were among the most dreaded words a newsmaker could hear,” writes David Bauder. In the Washington Post, Adam Bernstein wisely goes with the passive tense: “For anyone hiding a secret, it was often said, four of the most dreaded words in the English language were ‘Mike Wallace is here.’” In an AP gallery: “His reputation preceded him: ‘The four most dreaded words in the English language: Mike Wallace is here,’ as the saying goes.” Someone get an investigative journalist on this pronto!

His college newspaper, The Michigan Daily, remembers its famous alum, including a great story about him confusing his parents with a job announcement, and a couple of campus controversies involving him.

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  • Anonymous

    There was an ad for 60 Minutes that I am sure you are well familiar with, “The four most dreaded words in the English language: Mike Wallace is here.” Is that flattering?
    Mike Wallace: Of course it is, for a reporter. It’s asinine, but it’s flattering.

    “Hey, tell the truth,” that’s what it says, “Because this guy and his team (and his team is very, very important) probably has the goods on you. He probably knows a good deal of what you don’t want them to know, so play straight with them. Tell the truth.” I can not tell you how many people, as a result, decided to tell the truth. The Coors Brewing Company ran that ad. We were going to do a piece about the Coors Brewing Company and [their] use of lie detectors without the knowledge of some of the people that they were detecting, and their employment practices and things of that nature, browns and blacks and women and so forth. At the time, they were being boycotted by AFL-CIO because of some of these practices, and I told the PR guy from Coors Brewery, “We are going to do the story whether you like it or not, so why not cooperate and tell the story?” He finally made the decision, and the Coors brothers, the two older guys, conservatives, said, “Yeah, let’s tell the story.” So, we told the story. Those lines were used when we repeated the story that summer. They took out an ad saying, “The four most difficult words” or whatever, “60 Minutes is here, Mike Wallace is here.” They said, “If you like the truth and good beer, watch 60 Minutes.”

  • Anonymous

    FOLLOWUP? or am i on a lonely crusade again? HELP!

  • Anonymous

    Dear Dan Bloom:
    Or at least we didn’t totally fall for it (see previous email).
    Thanks,
    – FW

  • Anonymous

    Dear Dan Bloom:
    Our editorial in our newspaper did not report that Coors said it. It reported that “as legend has it,” heoriginated the phrase.We also wrote “regardless of whoever actually first uttered it” — clearly casting doubt onwhether Coors was the first.So no, we didn’t “fall for it.”
    Thanks,–FW

  • Anonymous

    a little birdie in NYC, well placed to know what he is talking about, tells me just seconds ago: ”Dan, A copy of the 1983 ad was on the wall in Mike Wallace’s office. CBS aired another copy in its Wallace obituary on the evening news the other night.” SO THE AD EXISTS. Now: how can we locate a photo or copy of said ad with the creative copy from the creative copywriting team, who PUT THE WORDS in Joe Coors’s mouth, alhtough in fact, Joe never quipped or spoke those words at all. THAT is how all great faux quotes are born in the Internet Age.

  • Anonymous

    In 1983, Coors beer ”reportedly allegedly is said to have taken or” took ads out in major newspapers WHICH ONES? after Wallace’s 60 MINUTES investigation found little truth to rumors the company was racist.  “The Four Most Dreaded Words in the English Language: Mike Wallace is Here,” ran atop PRINT? ads boasting that the firm had passed muster with the “grand inquisitor” himself. – ANYBODY got pics or links top those ads then? DISH! and if it was just AD COPY, then Coors himself never said those words, that was his clever savvy ad copy writers who write that as creative copy. So not a realy quote from Mr Coors at all. case closed?

  • Anonymous

    Coors Brewing Company once REPORTEDLy ALLEGEDLY SHOW ME THE AD COPY AND JPG touted Wallace’s investigative clout in an ad …AN ADVERT!…. claiming: CLAIMING?….”The four most dreaded words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace Is Here.’ . NOTE: but that is very different from other stories saying Mr COORS SAID or COORS QUIPED.  bc Coors never quipped or said that. Period.

  • Anonymous

    Andrew, re ”Someone get an investigative journalist on this pronto!” — When I read your very good way over here in Taiwan, I smelled a rat sort of but when i read this line again, ”Someone get an investigative journalist on this pronto!” — i realized YOU were on to something BIG here….and I am on the gumshoe beat now….in fact, Coors never said that, never quipped that, is incorrectly credited with saying a cute quote he in fact never said…….so how did this faux quote thing get started? This story has legs, yes. SOON, wait!

  • Anonymous

    Bill, the problem here is you and everyone else in lazy media is saying ”Beer baron Joseph Coors is credited with first saying, “The four most frightening words in the English language are, ‘Mike Wallace is here.’ ” — the weasel word here is ”IS CREDITED WITH” , others put it as ”’IS SAID TO HAVE QUIPPED” or ”QUIPPED”…but nobody looked it up to see if it was trrue. In fact, Coors never said that. Just as Sartre never said Hell is other people at breakfast, as the internet now says he said. Google it. Maybe ”Hell is other people not fact checking their eulogies…”
    Read more here

  • Anonymous

    Sharon Shahid, online managing editor, repeats the fib.
    Even David Bauder of the Associated Press falls for the legend: [When a Wallace story found little to back up rumours that Coors beer executives were racist, the relieved company took out newspaper ads trumpeting that it had survived. The ad's top: "The four most dreaded words in the English language: Mike Wallace is here."] OH YEAH? Where is the ad? Where is the ad copy? And Joseph Coors never said those words? His ad copy writers did. Big difference!

    even Valerie Nelson at the Los Angeles Times fell for the faux quote too:

  • Anonymous

    Item: Coors Brewing Company once touted Wallace’s investigative clout in an ad claiming: “The four most dreaded words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace Is Here.’ BUT…the ad copy does not mean Joseph Coors ever said that. It’s just clever advertising copy and the quote stuck. But Joseph Coors never said that.

  • Anonymous

    Coors Brewing’s Joseph Coors did not say the famous faux quote: “The four most dreaded words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace Is Here.’

    It’s another urban newsroom myth, and in an online world, faux quotse travel fast.

  • Anonymous

    The Los Angeles Times attributes the QUOTE UNQUOTE to Joseph Coors. My gumshoe team is investigating.
    Something in my files tells me this is another faux quote. Will dish when evidence appears. SOON.

  • Anonymous

    Jewish? Who knew? re: ”Myron Leon Wallace ……was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Frank and Zina Wallace. His father ran a wholesale grocery business.” Most likely, the name in Russia was something like Wallechinksky, like that famous trivia book author David Wallechinsky out in Los Angeles. RIP Zadie Wallechinsky, we hardly knew ye, but that Streisand interview was tough love , yes!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/emerson.schwartzkopf Emerson Schwartzkopf

    The ironic bit about the Joseph Coors quote is that the Adolph Coors Co. managed to use a Mike Wallace report to its advantage, and the strategy became a business-school case study. 
    http://mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/pdf/2001-1-0028.pdf