A seasoned journalist and the president of the Church faced each other in front of television cameras Dec. 18, and both came away from the experience with deeper mutual respect.
President Gordon B. Hinckley was interviewed by hard-hitting journalist Mike Wallace of CBS's "60 Minutes" - an interview expected to be part of the first-ever such program featuring a Church president on prime time national television.The information gathered will be broadcast as a segment of the popular news magazine program sometime in February, said Robert G. Anderson Jr., producer. President Hinckley and Mr. Wallace met at a luncheon in New York City Nov. 13 where the journalist expressed interest in doing a story about the Church and its president.
"He asked incisive questions, yes," said President Hinckley upon emerging from a nearly two-hour question-and-answer series. "That's his business. That's his way. But he's a very able reporter."
President Hinckley said later, "The whole matter is now in their hands and we'll await the outcome, which we hope will be positive and helpful."
Mr. Wallace, in turn, used superlatives as he described President Hinckley:
"He compares well with others [he has interviewed]," he told the Church News. `Generally speaking, he's first rate, but compared with other 85-year-olds, he is incredibly responsive. There was no question that he found difficult or unpleasant. He came to talk."
Mr. Wallace explained that the segment of "60 Minutes" will tell "a story [about the Church] that really has not been told out of the mouth of the president of the Mormon Church on [prime time] television, as far as I know, ever."
Mr. Wallace arrived Dec. 17 in Salt Lake City and viewed the lights on Temple Square that evening. The next morning the interview began in President Hinckley's office at 9:30 and continued until after 11 a.m. Then the Church leader accompanied the journalist to Temple Square for more taping as he told him about the temple, the Tabernacle and other attractions there.
In the afternoon, Mr. Wallace and a six-man taping crew attended a conference of the Utah Salt Lake City Mission where President Hinckley addressed missionaries. After the meeting, President Hinckley joined the television journalist in a group interview of a dozen or so young men and women serving full-time missions.
Mr. Wallace's wide-open style is well-known to television viewers of the nation's longest running news magazine program. The 27-year program has been described as the "most popular, most profitable, most watched news program in television history."
Mr. Wallace said that despite the fact that the Church has 9 million members, "there isn't that much that is really known in the general American populace about the Mormon Church." The program was a profile of the Church in general.
How the program will portray the Church remains to be seen. However, those who saw the interview said President Hinckley was prepared and handled questions well on such subjects as racism, polygamy, finances, and women. Mr. Wallace also said he asked the prophet about his relationship with Jesus Christ.
A spiritual context for the taping was evident at the missionary meeting and the group interview following it. In the meeting, conducted by mission Pres. David A. Christensen, the enthusiasm of the missionaries sparked often. The crew taped President Hinckley shaking hands with missionaries, who came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tonga and the United States. For many of them, meeting President Hinckley was an opportunity of a lifetime.
At the meeting Pres. Hinckley encouraged missionaries to gain "10 gifts" during their missions. (See related story on this page.)
At the group interview following the conference, Mr. Wallace - who by then was carrying a copy of the Book of Mormon a missionary had given him - asked Sister Heidi Terry of Westminster, Calif., why more sister missionaries were not serving and whether she wanted to hold the priesthood.
She told the journalist that women had other opportunities for service. She said priesthood is a service responsibility that men have so they can learn to serve others. She expressed her view that serving others comes more naturally to women.
Elder Girishana Rajaratnam of Columbo, Sri Lanka, told how he had been converted to Christianity. While serving a mission he shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with his mother.
She was soon baptized. Later she wrote to him about an experience she had. One day a spiritual prompting led her to call an ambulance shortly before she suffered a heart attack. The ambulance arrived in time to take her to the hospital where she recovered.
"The gospel of Jesus Christ provides a way for my family to return to Jesus Christ, and to be together for eternity," said Elder Rajaratnam.
"Do all of you believe this?" asked Mr. Wallace. "Are none of you skeptical?"
"We know it is true," said a missionary. Others nodded.