NEW YORK, N.Y. – Sunday host Chris Wallace generally lives in peaceful co-existence with Fox News Channel’s opinion folks, except when he hears some of them echo President Donald Trump’s criticism of the news media.
Fake news? He’s fighting back.
“It bothers me,” Wallace said in an interview. “If they want to say they like Trump, or that they’re upset with the Democrats, that’s fine. That’s opinion. That’s what they do for a living.
“I don’t like them bashing the media, because oftentimes what they’re bashing is stuff that we on the news side are doing. I don’t think they recognize that they have a role at Fox News and we have a role at Fox News. I don’t know what’s in their head. I just think it’s bad form.”
Wallace, who turned 70 last week, speaks from a position of strength. He just signed a contract extension that commits him to keep questioning politicians for Fox until well past the 2020 election. Now the dean of Sunday morning political talk hosts, he moderated his first presidential debate last year and drew generally high marks.
He doesn’t call out press-bashing colleagues by name. It’s no secret that prime-time star Sean Hannity is the president’s fiercest defender on Fox, with frequent references to the “destroy Trump media.” Hannity criticized the press in 90 per cent of his monologues from May 15 to Sept. 1, according to the liberal media watchdogs Media Matters for America, and used the term “fake news” 67 times.
Wallace generally steers clear of Fox News Channel’s opinionated shows when he makes appearances outside of “Fox News Sunday,” which is on the Fox broadcast network and is repeated on cable. He doesn’t go on the “Fox & Friends” weekday morning show, for instance, after he scolded that show’s hosts on the air in March 2008 for distorting remarks made by Barack Obama and giving excessive attention to them.
As president, Trump has given interviews to Fox News more than any other outlet, but he has favoured Hannity and other supportive hosts like Jeanine Pirro and Jesse Watters. News anchors Wallace, Bret Baier and Shepard Smith and chief White House correspondent John Roberts have been shut out. Wallace spoke to Trump when he was president-elect.
“Ultimately, any White House decides who they want to go out and talk to,” Wallace said. “Would I rather they talk to me? Well, if that’s what they’re going to do, that’s what they’re going to do.”
But he said the White House has been fair in delivering other administration officials and, despite their boss’ attacks on the press, “the guests that are there are very professional and answer questions.”
Wallace said there were periods when the Obama administration did not keep “Fox News Sunday” on the same rotation with ABC, CBS and NBC shows in terms of offering interview subjects. President Obama went two years without giving Fox an interview before appearing with Wallace in April 2016.
Wallace refers to “Trump Sundays” for the days he’s hurriedly had to revamp his show in the hours before going on the air to respond to something the president has done or said. Such changes on the fly were rare before this year.
“When you’ve been covering the White House since 1980, you get a little bit jaded,” said Wallace, who followed the Reagan administration for NBC before moving on to ABC and, in 2003, to Fox. “I’ve seen it all. Now I feel like a cub reporter, because I’ve never seen anything like this.”
With Fox News the preferred network for conservatives, journalists there will often hear it from viewers about stories that don’t toe a party line. Wallace said he does, too, like when he hears grumbling about someone on his show who does battle with Trump, like Sen. John McCain.
For the most part, the people who recognize him on the street support his efforts to ask tough questions of everyone, he said.
“When I go out and when I’m with people, people feel a tie to you because I’m an anchor at Fox News that I’ve never felt anyplace else,” Wallace said. “There’s a sense of kinship, if you will. That doesn’t mean they want it one way. I’m not one of the opinion guys … They know I’m not going to sell a party line, and the people who come up to me respect that.”
Both during former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes’ reign and after, Wallace said management has not second-guessed his show’s content.
Wallace and his wife recently bought a second home on the water in Maryland, where he happily retreats after each Sunday show is done. He’s starting to appreciate the experience of his father, the late “60 Minutes” legend Mike Wallace, who did some of his best work in his 70s and even beyond.
“I actually feel like I’m coming in to my own, as a journalist, as an interviewer, as a debate moderator,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a really good stage in my career, not at all like I’m on the way out.”