Chris Wallace: A Hen In The Fox House

Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, was interviewed by Stephen Battaglio of TV Guide. His performance reveals an ineffectual spokesperson struggling to embrace his network’s prejudices. Many of the questions dealt with the Democrats’ rejection of Fox News as a host for their presidential primary debates. If Wallace’s answers represent the Fox viewpoint, Democrats should consider rejecting appearances on his program as well – though not because they would have anything tangible to fear.

Some excerpts:

TVGuide: Why do you think the Democratic candidates for president have pulled out of the debates cosponsored by Fox News?
Wallace: I think there is a sense of empowerment on the part of the Democrats. They won [the House and Senate] and they’re feeling their oats. In addition, I think the left wing of the party – and I’m talking about the “net roots” – have decided to try to put Democratic candidates through a kind of loyalty test.

Wallace doesn’t bother to explain how rebuffing Fox’ invitations translates into either loyalty or a demonstration of empowerment. The only way for his assertions to make sense is if he is conceding that Fox deserves their reputation for bias. Why else would there be a benefit for Democrats to snub the network? And while his answer includes a baseless swipe at the party’s “left wing/net roots,” he nimbly avoids stirring any substance into his response. For instance, admitting that Democrats may have an aversion to handing over their intra-party debate to an overtly hostile network.

TVGuide: Why do you think they are trying to marginalize Fox News? It really seems like some of the party activists are trying to make Fox News seem less legitimate.
Wallace: I don’t think it’s the presidential candidates. Frankly, I think they are pandering to that constituency […] It will end when they need us. They’ll need us when we get closer to the general election and [they] are going to want to reach the independents, moderate Republicans and Democrats who watch Fox News routinely and form the majority of our audience.

First of all, it is Fox News that is making Fox News seem less legitimate, not Democrats. And in support of that effort, Wallace makes an utterly absurd declaration as to the composition of the majority of the Fox audience. Democrats do not need Fox and the evidence of that was documented in this poll by the Mellman Group who found that…

“Fox News viewers supported George Bush over John Kerry by 88 percent to 7 percent. No demographic segment, other than Republicans, was as united in supporting Bush. Conservatives, white evangelical Christians, gun owners, and supporters of the Iraq war all gave Bush fewer votes than did regular Fox News viewers.”

TVGuide: Do you think they have a case, in terms of feeling that Fox News Channel has been unfair to them?
Wallace: No more than I think Republicans have a case in saying that the mainstream media has been unfair to them.

There are three very profound revelations in that brief response. First, just who does Wallace think the “mainstream media” is when Fox News is the #1 cable news network in the country and its parent, News Corp., additionally owns multiple newspapers, magazines, Internet sites and TV and radio stations? Secondly, it should be noted that Wallace is not making a distinction between Fox News and some other news entity. He is positioning Fox against all other news entities that he ambiguously labels mainstream. That confrontation illustrates his perception of Fox as a beleaguered outcast amongst its journalistic peers which means, by extension, that it espouses a unique (i.e. biased) point of view. Thirdly, he doesn’t actually answer the question as to whether Democrats’ objections to Fox are justified. He merely insinuates that the other kids do it too.

TVGuide: Do you think the popularity of Fox’s conservative commentators overshadows the straight news reporting?
Wallace: The people who want to misunderstand Fox will use some of the prime-time conservative commentators as an excuse.

Of course they can also use Brit Hume, Carl Cameron, Jim Angle, Neil Cavuto, and the former Fox anchor, Tony Snow, who has since been transferred to the Fox division at the White House. The premise of the question assumes facts not in evidence – i.e. that Fox is capable of “straight news reporting.”

Wallace (cont’d): Over the last three years we’ve had Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean repeatedly – I think they are able to distinguish between Fox News and the opinion shows. We don’t have a problem booking Democrats at all. It didn’t work out the way anyone expected, but we had Bill Clinton in September.

It’s rather astonishing that Wallace actually brings up, without any hint of irony, the Bill Clinton interview, of which the highlight was Clinton’s withering accusations of bias on the part of Wallace and Fox. However, he fails to grasp that Democrats, by not participating in Fox-sponsored debates, are not engaging in a boycott of all appearances on the network. There is big difference between routine media availability and party-specific events.

In the end, I suppose we all should be grateful for Wallace’s inadvertent transparency. It makes it that much easier to prove that Fox really does deserve to be marginalized as an illegitimate news source. Thanks, Chris.