Great America

Chris Wallace and the Weekly Standard-ization of Fox News

Tolerance for betrayal, especially among Trump supporters, doesn’t last long.

What is happening to Fox News Channel?

With the exception of its primetime lineup and a few regular contributors, Fox News increasingly is indistinguishable from its cable news competitors. The network, once considered the sole antidote to dominant left-wing news organizations—both print and broadcast—is making a fatal brand mistake: Alienating its customer base.

For nearly 25 years, conservatives have depended on Fox News to report the news in a way that represents their views. Conservatives knew issues, like those surrounding the pro-life movement, could count on fair coverage from the network rather than the scorn and derision they get in mainstream media. 

Even recently, Fox News was the only outlet pursuing the biggest scandal in U.S. political history—how Barack Obama used his government henchmen to infiltrate the Trump campaign and then sabotage his presidency after the election.

But there is a noticeable change in the tone at Fox News. Loyal viewers were outraged by the hiring of Clinton lackey and debate-fixer Donna Brazile last year. Other partisan harpies such as Marie Harf and Jessica Tarlov help “balance” Fox News’ political commentary. And Trump haters on the Right—folks who long ago burned their credibility with rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives—continue to earn air time on the network. I mean, Chris Stirewalt? Really?

Once-trusted anchors now are openly hostile to President Trump. In a dramatic repudiation of Trump’s comment that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, Neil Cavuto ranted that the drug is deadly and not effective. 

“If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventative way to ward off the virus or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you,” Cavuto warned his viewers on May 18. “I can’t stress this enough. This will kill you.” Cavuto insisted he wasn’t making a political point but rather a “life-and-death point.” (Cavuto, who is not a doctor, was referring to one non-peer reviewed, retrospective analysis of 368 Covid-19 patients in VA medical centers.)

The president, in response, is ratcheting up his criticism of Fox News, often urging his supporters to switch to One America News Network. “@FoxNews is no longer the same,” Trump tweeted after Cavuto’s tantrum. “We miss the great Roger Ailes. You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!”

No one on the network raises the hackles of Trump’s base more than Chris Wallace. For the past 15 years, Wallace, son of legendary CBS News journalist Mike Wallace, has hosted “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Thanks to his Fox News calling card, the 72-year-old newsman can easily snag any top Trump official or Republican lawmaker to appear as his guest.

But his palpable animus toward the president, his advisors, and by extension, Trump’s supporters, is sullying Wallace’s reputation as an objective journalist; his on-air demeanor is more akin to Rachel Maddow’s, as he acts the part of the shrill antagonist playing a game of “gotcha” rather than inform the audience about the week’s news or moderate a vigorous political debate. Wallace gets in the weeds of arcane Beltway dramas, often portraying Trump as the villain. 

Before the release of the Mueller report, Wallace accused Attorney General William Barr of “acting as the counselor for the defense, the counselor for the president, rather than the attorney general,” a common refrain of the Left. In a testy exchange, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Wallace, who claimed the administration was ignoring Russian election interference, that the peevish journalist was “fixated” on Robert Mueller.

Twice-married Wallace rudely asked Kellyanne Conway about her marriage and her four children during a confrontational interview last year with the president’s longtime confidant. “What are you, Oprah now?” Conway replied. “I mean, what am I, on a couch and you are a psychiatrist? I think it’s a really inappropriate question.” 

In a heated confrontation with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Wallace repeatedly accused him of “lying” about an alleged quid pro quo between the president and the Ukrainian president, the pretext for the Democrats’ impeachment crusade. Wallace started a near-screaming match in November with U.S. Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.), repeatedly talking over the House minority whip while suggesting the Trump Administration released financial aid to Ukraine only after the so-called whistleblower filed his report.

In February, as the administration recovered from a grueling impeachment trial, Wallace interrogated Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, about an alleged intelligence leak that claimed the Russians were—you guessed it!—planning to interfere in the 2020 election to help Trump keep the White House. Wallace referred to acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell as “a Trump partisan who has almost no intelligence experience.”

Wallace didn’t lose his manners, however, during a December 2019 interview with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Introducing Schiff as a “frequent target of the president” instead of “the biggest liar on Capitol Hill,” Wallace let Schiff ramble uninterrupted to make his impeachment case against Donald Trump without once accusing the House Intelligence Committee chairman of lying to the American public for three straight years about evidence of Russian collusion. 

Rather than give him the Scalise treatment, Wallace only asked Schiff two tepid questions about the Justice Department inspector general’s report that refuted nearly every claim Schiff has made about James Comey’s corrupt FBI. “Given what you know now, are you willing to admit you were wrong?” Wallace gingerly asked Schiff. Hardly the sort of browbeating Wallace routinely inflicts on Trump associates. 

He recently has defended the unmasking of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. “I don’t have any problem” with numerous Obama officials unmasking Flynn’s name in intelligence reports, Wallace said on May 14.

Wallace does, however, have a problem with Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s new press secretary. 

After playing clips of McEnany chiding the White House press corps for their interest in keeping churches closed and their lack of interest in the rigged trial of Michael Flynn, Wallace expressed shock and horror. “I spent six years in the White House briefing room covering Ronald Reagan. I have to say, I never, and in the years since, too, I never saw a White House press secretary act like that,” a flabbergasted Wallace whined to panelists Donna Brazile and The Dispatch’s Jonah Goldberg. 

(Goldberg, a washed-up pundit clearly on the edge who nonetheless continues to get hits on Fox News, called McEnany, a Harvard Law grad and young mother, a “Twitter troll” and that her behavior was “indefensible and grotesque.” No pushback from Wallace.)

Even after much blowback from conservative media, Wallace isn’t retreating; he told Brian Kilmeade on Thursday that McEnany was “questioning [the reporters’] religious faith.”

Wallace clearly has taken sides with the anti-Trump news media, Democrats, and NeverTrumpers as the 2020 election approaches. This week, Wallace disputed Trump’s concerns over absentee voting, claiming there’s “no history” of voter fraud by mail-in voting.

But his bosses at Fox News, for whatever reason, are allowing Wallace to go rogue. Wallace’s partisan preferences coupled with his petulant Chuck Todd-level tirades against Republican lawmakers and officials can only, and should only, be viewed as a slap in the face to the network’s loyal audience.

If Fox News thinks this is a sustainable business model, perhaps the network’s honchos should recall the fate of the Weekly Standard, the one-time prominent conservative magazine that folded in 2018. The Standard’s owner shuttered the publication after its readership fell and political influence waned amid nonstop, anti-Trump coverage.

Fox News isn’t invincible. Tolerance for betrayal, especially among Trump supporters, doesn’t last long.