60 Minutes ticks off prosecutor

It is not altogether uncommon for journalists to be subpoenaed to testify before grand juries as a result of something they publish or air.

Veteran 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace, along with former executive producer Don Hewitt and producer Bob Anderson, were called as witnesses in the mid-1990s in connection with a story they aired about Tyson Foods honcho Don Tyson, according to media attorney Kevin T. Baine of Williams & Connolly.

A grand jury was investigating whether then-Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy had received illegal gifts from Tyson. The prosecutor wanted to know whether Wallace had gathered any incriminating information on Tyson that was not broadcast, Baine said.

“In effect, all Wallace had to say was, ‘I put together my piece. Anything that was interesting was on the air,’” Baine recalled. “In essence the answer was, ‘I don’t have any information that I withheld from the public that was of interest on the subject. What I got, I put on the air.’

“It was a nonevent,” he added. “It was interesting simply because Mike [Wallace] got to see how the grand jury worked.”

Baine said Anderson created a fuss when he started taking notes during the proceedings so he could tell the lawyer what went on. Annoyed, the prosecutor went outside to talk to Baine, who saw nothing wrong with the practice.

“But he’s a TV producer,” the prosecutor complained.

“Maybe you should have thought about that before you called him into the grand jury,” Baine replied. “And maybe you should let him go.”

60 Minutes never reported on its involvement with the Espy grand jury, Baine said.

“I think really the government wanted to call Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt for the star quality of having them before the grand jury, to be honest with you,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, I don’t think their testimony was that critical. I don’t think it was critical at all. I don’t think the prosecutor regarded it as particularly helpful — which is why their grand jury appearances were pretty short.”