For years now, Fox News has been criticized for its pro-conservative, anti-liberal, pro-Trump coverage. Personalities such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro have been part of a network that has often voiced dangerous misinformation and unproven conspiracies about topics such as the 2020 election, COVID-19 and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Whenever critics pointed out such alarming propaganda or compared Fox News to state-run TV, defenders of the network would clap back. Instead of denouncing much of the indefensible garbage being spewn by the likes of Carlson and Bartiromo, Fox News executives would defend themselves by lifting up some of the legitimate journalism done by respectable journalists at the network.
And, almost always, that defense started with one name: Chris Wallace.
“But what about Chris Wallace?” you would hear from Fox News defenders whenever the network was accused of being nothing more than a megaphone for Donald Trump or a public relations machine for the Republican Party.
That excuse, however, is now gone. In a stunning move, Wallace announced Sunday that he is leaving Fox News and will be joining CNN+ — CNN’s streaming service that will launch next year.
During his time at Fox News, Wallace was more than just a solid journalist and skillful interviewer. He was a shiny object that Fox News would hold up and dangle in an attempt to distract from many of the ridiculous things said on air, particularly during prime time.
One could argue that having Wallace on its roster gave people such as Carlson and Hannity and Ingraham even more of an excuse to say outrageous things. And it gave Fox News executives a reason to dismiss valid criticisms of the network.
Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” S.E. Cupp said Fox News “used” respected journalists such as Wallace and Shepard Smith, who left Fox News in 2019, to say, “Look, we have a news division. Yes, we have our entertainment side, but we also have news people. Except, the news side was reporting on stuff that the entertainment side started contradicting and calling ‘fake news.’ Then the entertainment side started openly attacking people like Chris and Shep for their reporting of the news. That’s unsustainable.”
Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, said in a statement, “Fox executives routinely pointed to Chris Wallace in defending themselves from criticism that the network is a dangerous propaganda channel. Wallace gave Fox News a thin veneer of respectability; and now, the veneer is gone.”
MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan tweeted, “For years, defenders of Fox have pointed to Chris Wallace on Sunday mornings as (the only) evidence that they’re not a far-right propaganda channel and that they do actual journalism, too. Now they’ve lost that fig leaf as well.”
It’s true that Media Matters and MSNBC, a Fox News competitor, are fierce critics of Fox News, but Carusone is correct in suggesting that Wallace’s departure disarms Fox News of its favorite defense of its biased programming.
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi, Amy B Wang and Jeremy Barr wrote, “Wallace’s departure is a coup for CNN and a blow for Fox. Along with fellow anchor Bret Baier, Wallace was the face of Fox’s news coverage, whose talents as a skeptical and probing newsman the network brass frequently pointed to as proof of its journalistic bona fides when it came under fire in recent years for an increasing reliance on opinion-driven coverage — led by hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity — that boosted former president Donald Trump and his allies.”
Who’s left for Fox News defenders to offer up now as trusted and fair journalists? Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto, maybe Martha MacCallum and, uh, let me get back to you.
But there’s no question that Wallace was a big reason — maybe the biggest of all — why Fox News couldn’t be lumped in with the likes of Newsmax and OAN as networks that would rather rile up viewers with opinions than inform them with facts.
Now that Wallace is gone, so is Fox News’ best defense against its critics.
Why did Wallace leave?
According to several reports, Wallace’s four-year contract was about to expire and it was his decision to leave. Reports are that colleagues were stunned. In making his announcement on “Fox News Sunday,” Wallace said he had a “great ride” at Fox News, but that he was “ready for a new adventure.”
In a release from CNN, Wallace said, “I am thrilled to join CNN+. After decades in broadcast and cable news, I am excited to explore the world of streaming. I look forward to the new freedom and flexibility streaming affords in interviewing major figures across the news landscape — and finding new ways to tell stories. As I embark on this adventure, I am honored and delighted to join (CNN president) Jeff Zucker and his great team. I can’t wait to get started.”
Wallace will host a daily weekday program on CNN+ and CNN said it will “feature interviews with newsmakers across politics, business, sports and culture.”
While Wallace made it sound like he’s running to something new and different like CNN and streaming, was he running away from anything? In other words, was he looking to get out of Fox News?
Wallace praised his Fox News bosses for allowing him to do the kind of journalism that he wanted to do, saying they never stopped him from booking any guest or talking about any topic. But he wasn’t naive either. He is sharp enough to know what goes on during prime time on Fox News.
Last month, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reported that Wallace and Bret Baier “shared their objections” with top news leaders at Fox News over Tucker Carlson’s three-part series on the Fox Nation streaming service about the Jan. 6 insurrection.
No big deal
How will die-hard Fox News viewers take to Wallace leaving the network? Honestly, I don’t think they’ll be broken up about it. Many will even see it as a good thing. To them, Wallace was not a part of the cause, so to speak. To them, it’s probably a case of good riddance. Again, just my opinion, but those who regularly watch the likes of Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham probably had little interest in Wallace’s fair-and-balanced journalism.
As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “For much of the country, though, Wallace’s job change will sink into the partisan muck, with Fox News devotees sure to argue that it merely confirms the anchor’s liberal leanings.”
CNN+ is making moves
While the major news was that Wallace was leaving Fox News after 18 years, let’s not overlook that CNN+ picked up another big name. Kasie Hunt announced in July that she was leaving MSNBC and NBC News for CNN+. And could we see Brian Williams, who just left MSNBC, end up there, too?
In a tweet Sunday, Hunt said, “I could not be more excited to have Chris Wallace as a colleague — it’s going to be an honor to be part of the lineup alongside him @CNNplus.”
Wallace, 74, is a big get for CNN+. The son of legendary “60 Minutes” reporter Mike Wallace, Chris Wallace worked at The Boston Globe and a Chicago radio station before joining NBC News. After working at NBC for 14 years and ABC News for 14 years, Wallace joined Fox News in 2003.
A year ago, Wallace received the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.
Who replaces Wallace?
So who will replace Wallace as moderator of “Fox News Sunday?” Fox News said in a statement that it will “continue with our star journalists, many of whom will rotate in the position until a permanent host is named.” That rotation is expected to include Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, John Roberts and Neil Cavuto.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote, “Good luck, Fox News, trying to find someone to replace Wallace. The Sunday political shows are places where the networks have traditionally slotted broadcasters with established credentials. It’s not a tryout sort of gig. That means the network must attempt to find a heavy hitter who has compiled years of experience in Washington — meaning, someone who’s fully aware of Fox News’s descent into anti-democratic Carlsonian madness. Perhaps a nine-figure contract will help that someone look the other way.”
Wemple added, “Or it could turn to Baier, the veteran host of the nightly ‘Special Report.’ Beyond that, the Fox News payroll is thin on potential successors — which is what happens when you fork over your corporate identity to a flamboyant conspiracy theorist.”
Horrific scene in Kentucky
The images in Kentucky — buildings and homes destroyed as if picked up and crumbled by giant hands — are the stuff of nightmares. At least 80 were killed in Kentucky by tornados and that number is likely to rise in the coming days.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear had this grim assessment: “One of our challenges is we’re losing so many people in this, most of our morgues aren’t big enough, so our coroners from all over the state are coming in.” He added, “There’s not a camera lens big enough to show the path of absolute destruction. People have lost everything.”
Beshear told CNN “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper, “This is the deadliest tornado event we have ever had. I think it’s going to be the longest and deadliest tornado event in U.S. history. We know that one of these tornadoes was on the ground over 227 miles. And, Jake, 200 were in Kentucky. I have got towns that are gone, that are just, I mean, gone.”
David Muir anchored ABC’s “World News Tonight” from Mayfield, Kentucky, on Sunday and will do so again tonight. Lester Holt will anchor the “NBC Nightly News” and Norah O’Donnell will anchor the “CBS Evening News” from Kentucky tonight. O’Donnell was already on the ground Sunday and had an on-the-scene interview with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that aired on Sunday.
For stories like this, local journalism is critical. Much of it is behind a paywall, but check out the Louisville-based Courier-Journal, including Morgan Watkins with “’Don’t recognize this place’: Storms cut unprecedented line of destruction across Kentucky.”
And here are two notable graphic/visual pieces: The Washington Post’s Dylan Moriarty, Bonnie Berkowitz, Zach Levitt and Laris Karklis with “Deadly path: How tornadoes ripped through states”; and The New York Times’ Matthew Bloch, Keith Collins, Lazaro Gamio, Eleanor Lutz, Jugal K. Patel, Scott Reinhard and Anjali Singhvi with “Maps: Where the Tornadoes Struck, Destroying Buildings and Homes.”
Meanwhile, my Poynter colleague Al Tompkins, who is in Kentucky, has this piece: “Exhausted journalists are rising to the Kentucky tornado disaster.” He also has this outstanding work: “Reporters and photojournalists share stories from the 60-mile path of tornado destruction in Kentucky.”
Be sure to check back at Poynter.org for more from Tompkins.
CBS News’ Sharyn Alfonsi had a compelling piece out of Afghanistan on Sunday evening’s “60 Minutes.” She had an exclusive interview with the Taliban Health minister in English, the first time he’s spoken to American media.
After the U.S. military pulled out of Afghanistan in August, the Taliban immediately took over. The result has been one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet. Alfonsi talked with one of the new Taliban ministers, as well as suffering families and humanitarian groups trying to negotiate with the Taliban. The story was troubling, heartbreaking and important.
Alfonsi, along with producer Ashley Velie, also has another worthwhile piece of this story on “60 Minutes Overtime.” The piece looks at how Alfonsi and Velie landed their interview with the Taliban. It’s good behind-the-scenes stuff.
- This week, NBC News will focus on the latest advancements in cancer detection and treatment. The series, Chasing The Cure, will air across TODAY, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, NBCNews.com and NBC News NOW.
- The Guardian’s Edward Helmore with “CNN mess over Cuomo shows dangers of news-as-entertainment.”
- The latest episode of the Washington Post podcast “Please, go on” with James Hohmann is about the late Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt: “‘The house that Fred built’: The life and legacy of Fred Hiatt.”
- The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger with “Anne Rice, Who Spun Gothic Tales of Vampires, Dies at 80.”
- The New York Times’ Ben Smith writes about Adam McKay’s new movie in “A Comedy Nails the Media Apocalypse.”
- For The New York Times Magazine, Matthieu Aikins with photographs by Jim Huylebroek: “Inside the Fall of Kabul.”
- The Ringer staff with “The Best Performances of 2021.”
- Finally, a little feel-good video for you. ESPN’s Dick Vitale, who is battling cancer, was given clearance to call Sunday’s Baylor-Villanova college basketball game. Here is the ovation he got from fans.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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