In April 1958, the American Broadcast Company (ABC) began a special 13-part series of The Mike Wallace Interview devoted to “discussing the problems of survival and freedom in America.” Wallace’s first guest in the series was Reinhold Niebuhr, who Wallace introduced as “a Protestant minister, one of the most important and challenging religious thinkers in the world.”
During the interview, much of the discussion centered on the intersection of religion and the possibility of nuclear war and the spread of communism. Niebuhr also answered questions about the separation of church and state, the possibility of a Catholic president, and the religious revival that America was then experiencing.
At the conclusion of the interview, Wallace summarized Niebuhr’s appearance: “Dr. Niebuhr would seem to be saying that if a nation would survive and remain free, it’s citizens must use religion as a source of self-criticism, not as a source of self-righteousness.”
Materials in The Mike Wallace Interview collection offer insight into the development of the program and its reception. A draft script reveals how the questions for Niebuhr were edited, eliminated, and reordered and how Niebuhr’s answers were anticipated based on published statements and what appears to have been a preliminary interview. Among the questions that did not make it to the broadcast: “…if you see the seeds of evil in everything we do, even the best of us, what hope is there? What’s the solution? If we want to survive and stay free?”
The collection also includes a pamphlet of the transcribed, condensed interview published by ABC and The Fund for the Republic (which had funded the series) and a positive review that appeared in Broadcasting. The reviewer observed, “Mr. Wallace, fangs removed and radiating a respect for his guest that has sometimes been found wanting in the old Mike Wallace Interview, comported himself extremely well.”
The Mike Wallace Interview with Niebuhr aired April 27, 1958. Nearly 60 years later, the Harry Ransom Center and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary will host a screening of the film An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story (2017) on Tuesday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m. in the Charles Nelson Prothro Theater. The screening will be followed by a discussion of Niebuhr’s ongoing relevance with filmmaker Martin Doblmeier; Eric McDaniel, Associate Professor, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin; Cynthia L. Rigby, The W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Seminary; Asante Todd, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Austin Seminary; and moderated by Rev. Lana Russell, Trustee, Austin Seminary.
Copyright of The Mike Wallace Interviews is held by Mike Wallace, who generously agreed to allow the Ransom Center to digitize and make them available online. Any further use of this material requires the permission of both the Mike Wallace estate and the Ransom Center.