The most consequential score for any journalist – bar none – is to nail down a one-on-one interview with the president of the United States. One would think that what the president has to say during this sit-down would be of utmost importance. So, when Chris Wallace of Fox News turned the cameras on President Trump, it came as a shock that the veteran newsman would use a generous portion of his precious time with the leader of the free world to discuss himself.
Ego, Error, Effrontery
To be clear, that’s Wallace on the topic of Wallace. In an exclusive, hour-long interview aired on Sunday, July 19, 2020, the Fox journalist who has wearied conservatives with his continual effrontery to Mr. Trump could not tamp down his ego long enough to keep to subjects that interest the average American.
It was breathtaking to watch as the newsman perfectly captured the old one-liner: “But enough about me, now what do you think of me?” Mr. Trump tried to demur while staying true to himself as Wallace began to expound on his journalistic integrity, sense of fairness, and non-biased methodology.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a J-school class; it was an interview with the president in a year when a virus shut down the country, and civil unrest is occurring at an alarming rate – not to mention that the presidential election is less than four months away.
Of course, Wallace did manage to cover these subjects in his usual style. It’s a formula he’s perfected over the years: Take a Democratic talking point or begin with a question from a globalist perspective and fire away. However, you must not permit the person interviewed to finish his or her thought; you must incessantly interrupt in an argumentative manner.
Playing “gotcha” is another favorite Wallace technique, but the president was at the ready with his White House Press Secretary standing in the wings. In fact, Kayleigh McEnany had to make a couple of cameo appearances to clear up errors in the questioning. One involved the U.S. COVID-19 mortality rate. Trump said it was the best in the world. Wallace said it ranked seventh worst. It turns out both were right; it was just a matter of different sourcing.
Another one of these “gotcha” moments occurred when the subject of Joe Biden came up. The question was whether the former vice president supports or opposes defunding the police. Since Campaign Biden has said one thing and its candidate another, this too was an area of disagreement. In a devotional in the Liberty Nation Daily Briefing, Graham Noble perfectly captured why this became a contentious point:
“The official Biden campaign line is that the former VP opposes defunding the police, but is this a case of plausible deniability? The candidate appears to have surrounded himself with people who want to defund the police, such as Sara Pearl, who produces videos for Biden’s campaign. Pearl recently tweeted ‘#DefundPolice’ and, later, a meme displaying the words: ‘Please stop calling cops “pigs” … Pigs are highly intelligent and empathetic animals who would never racially profile you.’ In a recent interview, when asked whether he agreed with ‘redirecting’ some police funding, Biden responded: ‘Yes. Absolutely.’ So, the Democratic Party nominee has campaign staff who want to defund the police, has pledged to bring into his administration people like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who want to defund the police, and states in an interview that he favors redirecting funds away from the police. But he opposes defunding the police. OK. Got it. Good thing we were able to clarify that.”
For much of the interview, Mr. Trump appeared grounded and forthcoming but still responded to Wallace with his usual pluck. When directly asked whether he believed Joe Biden senile, the president deflected. But he did proffer: “Biden can’t put two sentences together. They wheel him out. He repeats. He reads a teleprompter, and then he goes back to his basement. You tell me the American people want to have that?”
Missing the Headlines
Unfortunately, Wallace was too busy focusing on his bona fides as a newsman to pick up on some real headlines that Trump dropped between the soup and the salad. In the next two weeks, the president said he plans on rolling out healthcare and immigration plans based on the recent Supreme Court decision involving the DACA program. This either went over the newsman’s head, or the information interrupted his prepared interview script.
Anyone in the news business will tell you that to be a first-rate interviewer, you must be an exceptional listener. When you come to the table, as Chris Wallace so often appears to do, with your own set of suppositions – trying to bring more heat than light, not to mention the attention to yourself – you thwart the purpose of an interview. Thus, the viewer of this hour-long Fox exclusive was likely left feeling as though he or she had just devoured a whole heap of junk food.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.