As everyone knows, Mike Wallace, son of Friedan
Wallik, he of the Old Country, was a mensch. He was
also a tough-talking TV reporter and an investigative sleuth who never
gave up until he found what he wanted. Long live
Mike Wallace, the Brookline boy who made good in
America.

You’ve read the obituaries about him,
and you know what he achieved, even going so far as to make
Barbra Streisand cry on TV once when he asked some tough love
questions based on some inside dope he got from her mother.

But there’s another part of Mike Wallace’s life that needs examining
and it has little to do with Mike, and much more
to do with how in the Internet Age, false quotes spread like wildfire
and become part of new urban legends, and in this case,
a new urban newsroom legend.

And as this new urban newsroom legend has it, never fact-checked of
course, which
is par for the course, of course, beer magnate Joseph Coors reportedly
originated the alleged maxim
when he allegedly quipped, although there is no recording of him
saying it: “The four most dreaded words in the English language —
‘Mike Wallace is here.’ ”

Most likely,
Coors never said that.

True, there was a newspaper ad that Coors took
out in 1983 that used that line as part of the ad copy, but Mr Coors
himself never
quipped those exact words, never said those words, never uttered those
words. They were put in his mouth by a savvy team of Madison Avenue
copywriters. Welcome
to another faux quote making the rounds of the Internet in this Age of
UnFactCheckable/UnFactChecked Facts.

Whoever actually first uttered that Coorsian phrase, it wasn’t
Jean-Paul Sartre, that for sure, nor was it Sartre-joker Jonathan Rauch, but you
can bet that plenty of big shots believed it,
and when Mike Wallace passed at the age of 93 recently, newspapers
and wire services and TV eulogies and websites and blogs were
inundated with the faux Coors quote as if it was a real quote.

Joseph Coors never said that. When I asked a top newspaper editor,
whose newspaper had also used that faux quote, he wrote
back to me in a very nice way and said: “The editorial about Mike
Wallace and Joseph Coors in our newspaper did not report that Mr.
Coors said it. It reported that “as legend has it,” he
originated the phrase. We also were diligent to note that “regardless
of whoever actually first uttered it” — clearly casting doubt on
whether Coors was the first. So no, we didn’t “fall for it.””

But hundreds of newspapers and blogs and websites did fall for the
faux Coors quote and it’s now part of urban newsroom legend, which no
amount of digging or
investigative legwork can undo. What’s done is done. Coors said it,
make no mistake about it. Mike Wallace knows the truth, but he aint
talking now. Gone
with the wind, Mike took the truth with him. Long live Mike Wallace!

Andrew Beaujon at Poynter asked in a headline: Who really said, ‘The
four most frightening words in the English language are “Mike Wallace
is here” ‘?

Beaujon asked in his short item on the faux quote, if faux it really
is, and the jury is still out to a three-martini lunch on this one:
“[It’s 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 of the Associated Press. 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!”

Investigative journalists around the country are now looking into this
tempest in a Coors can.

A top newspaperman in New York, well placed to know what he is talking
about, tells me: ”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. The copywriters really did put those words in Joseph
Coors’ mouth. But he never really said it. Not in real life. Only on
Madison Avenue. Coors is now
credited with the famous faux quote, he is said to have quipped the
quip, and whether we like it or not, in this Age of Internet
Gullibility, the fake Coors quote is here to stay. And ”hell really
is other people at breakfast, as John Paul Sartre once quipped in
2003. Not.