In December of last year, veteran journalist Chris Wallace stunned the media world by leaving Fox News after 18 years to join CNN+ — CNN’s news streaming service that launches this week.
Wallace’s decision to leave felt like a major blow to Fox News. Not only is Wallace a solid journalist with a good reputation, he was someone Fox News would hold up whenever it was slammed for having a right-wing agenda or crossing journalistic lines of objectivity. Every time Fox News was called out for something incredulous said on air, you would hear, “Yeah, but what about Chris Wallace?”
In some ways, Wallace just being on the network provided some cover for Fox News.
Now Wallace has broken his silence about why he left Fox News, and it’s pretty much what you expected. He told The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum, “I just no longer felt comfortable with the programming at Fox.”
Wallace went on to explain, “I’m fine with opinion: conservative opinion, liberal opinion. But when people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.”
The interview with the Times is Wallace’s first extensive one about why he left Fox News. He said he felt good about being at Fox News all the way until November 2020 — when Donald Trump lost the election. Of course, one could reasonably argue that Fox News’ political leanings, especially in prime time, were evident well before the 2020 election.
Even Wallace admits that.
“Some people might have drawn the line earlier, or at a different point,” Wallace told the Times, adding, “I think Fox has changed over the course of the last year and a half. But I can certainly understand where somebody would say, ‘Gee, you were a slow learner, Chris.’”
Wallace revealed that he did complain to management at Fox News about Tucker Carlson’s “Patriot Purge” series on Fox Nation — Fox News’ streaming service.
Certainly, Fox News’ overall ratings have not taken a hit since Wallace left. There probably are even some Fox News viewers who are fine with Wallace leaving, given that he simply isn’t a mouthpiece for Trump.
As far as Wallace? His new show hasn’t started yet, but he told Grynbaum that since his exit, “there has not been a moment when I have second-guessed myself about that decision.”
A real plus to news
Wallace’s new show — “Who Is Chris Wallace Talking To?” — and the streaming service (CNN+) it will appear on both launch on Tuesday. The service costs $5.99 a month, but if you sign up now (or within the first month), you can lock in for a lifetime rate of 50% the regular cost.
At its heart, CNN+ will be an extension of CNN and that means, first and foremost, a news service. It will cover breaking news, and there is plenty of that at the moment, especially with the war in Ukraine. But CNN+ will be more than that, too.
The Associated Press’ David Bauder writes, “While news is the core, and CNN+ will have the ability to go live on big stories, the service is also relying on a growing library of original series and films, such as ‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown’ and ‘RBG.’ CNN+ will also emphasize programs featuring people who have a specific, devoted following, like Alison Roman in cooking, Scott Galloway in business and Jemele Hill and Rex Chapman in sports and culture. CNN’s Anderson Cooper will have a show on parenting, and Jake Tapper, a seven-time author himself, will have a program focusing on books.”
There’s plenty more, as Bauder writes. There’s live programming, as well as on-demand coverage and interactive tools, which include the ability for viewers to ask questions of anchors and guests in real time. CNN+ also has the advantage of sticking with stories instead of going to commercials, allowing for more in-depth coverage.
Alex MacCallum, CNN’s head of product and the general manager for CNN+, told CNN’s Brian Stelter, “We want people to be able to watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it, where they want to watch it.”
The big question, of course, is who is going to pay for this? With TV viewers already paying for a slew of streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Hulu, etc.), will they be willing to add another channel just for news and news-like entertainment and information?
Andrew Morse, executive vice president and chief digital officer at CNN, told Bauder, “We believe fundamentally the future is incredibly bright if we can build a global subscription product that values incredibly important journalism. If we can do that, that will be really important to the future of CNN, but also really important to the future of the news business.”
Back to the Big Lie
As I mentioned earlier, part of the reason Chris Wallace said he left Fox News was how some at the network reacted to the 2020 presidential election.
Incredibly, here we are nearly 18 months later, and we’re still talking about the Big Lie. Former President Donald Trump won’t stop talking about it. At a rally in Georgia over the weekend, he told the crowd, “The truth is I ran twice, I won twice and I just did better the second time. And now, we just might have to do it again.”
Now we’re finding out more about the Big Lie beliefs and activism of Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Cue the abrupt sound of a record scratching!
Stop and think about this for a moment. The wife of a Supreme Court justice was in communication with the White House in an effort to stop the legal results of the 2020 presidential election. In a blockbuster report from The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and CBS News’ Robert Costa, Ginni Thomas sent at least 29 text messages to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the days and weeks after the election, pressing Meadows to keep pursuing avenues to overturn the election.
In one text, Thomas wrote, “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”
At one point, Meadows wrote to Thomas, “This is a fight of good versus evil. Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”
Thomas wrote back, “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”
It’s not known who she was referring to when she wrote “best friend.” But check out this passage from a story in The New York Times from Danny Hakim, Jo Becker and Alan Feuer: “The Thomases have been a fiercely close couple for decades. In his memoir, Justice Thomas wrote that they were ‘one being — an amalgam’ and called her his ‘best friend.’ She often uses similar language to describe her husband.”
At another point, Ginni Thomas texted Meadows, “We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the VP and are in listening mode to see where to fight with our teams. Those who attacked the Capitol are not representative of our great teams of patriots for DJT!!”
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Ramesh Ponnuru, a Bloomberg opinion columnist and National Review senior editor, said, “Well, this is a conservative activist who went pretty far down the rabbit hole of conspiratorial thinking and apocalyptic thinking, and was encouraged by then President Trump to believe a lot of nonsense about what had happened in the 2020 election.”
Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” New Yorker writer Jane Mayer said Ginni Thomas’ activism has been known for a while now, but these texts show that she has “crossed a new line.”
Mayer went on to say, “What we’re looking at is potentially a tremendous conflict of interest for Clarence Thomas to sit on key cases that have to do with the protection of our democracy, in which his wife apparently has some kind of a major role that she’s playing.”
It would seem clear that Clarence Thomas needs to recuse himself from any case having to do with Jan. 6 or the 2020 presidential election.
So how is this a media story? The right-wing media has helped push lies about the 2020 election, and Ginni Thomas was clearly influenced by such media. In one of her texts to Meadows, she wrote, “Listen to Rush. Mark Steyn, Bongino, Cleta” — appearing to refer to conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Mark Steyn and Dan Bongino.
CNN’s Oliver Darcy boiled down the seriousness of this, saying, “Either Clarence Thomas believes the stuff that Ginni Thomas, his wife, is pushing or he, her husband, can’t actually get through to her and tell her that these are lies being pushed by right-wing media organizations and are not true.”
Either way, it’s not good.
The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote, “The messages once again show how former president Donald Trump’s conspiracies, lies and obsessions infected the Republican Party (and in many quarters still do), from its rank-and-file base to some of its most establishment figures. The more that is known about the events between Election Day 2020 and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the clearer it is just how extensive the efforts to overturn the election were and how high up they went.”
But this latest story — the spouse of a Supreme Court Justice pushing to overturn an election for U.S. president — is beyond disturbing.
Balz wrote, “The text messages have put Justice Thomas in an uncomfortable ethical position. Once again, partisan politics has splashed onto the high court. He was the lone dissenter in the court’s ruling that Trump had to turn over documents to the House committee. His reasons for the dissent were never publicly explained. He is now under much greater pressure to recuse himself from any future decisions related to these matters, and some Democrats are calling on him to resign.”
The latest journalism of note from Russia-Ukraine
- A deeply reported and remarkably penetrating profile. New York Times Paris bureau chief Roger Cohen with “The Making of Vladimir Putin.”
- The Washington Post’s Paul Sonne and Robyn Dixon with “‘Diminishing returns’: What can change Putin’s course in the Ukraine war?
- Michele A. Berdy, a writer and editor at The Moscow Times, writes for Politico Magazine: “‘The Dots Were All There. We Just Couldn’t Connect Them.’ One of the last American journalists in Moscow recounts how she — and her dog — escaped Russia as Putin’s new iron curtain fell.”
- For The Toronto Star, Evan Gravelle with “A sports writer in Ukraine fights for freedom with a laptop, and clings to hope.”
- The Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus with “The elements of a peace deal in Ukraine are clear — but the two sides can’t get there yet.”
- USA Today columnist Jill Lawrence with “Biden stated the obvious: Putin must not remain in power, free to destroy Ukraine.”
- The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols with “Biden’s Comments About Putin Were an Unforced Error.”
- Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan with “The Kremlin tries to stifle Radio Free Europe — and its audience surges.”
- NBC News and MSNBC will air a special investigative series over the next two weeks starting today that will reveal how the U.S. government’s spending during the two years since COVID-19 has led to historic fraud. It’s called “The Fleecing of America” and will feature reports across several platforms including the “Today” show, the “NBC Nightly News,” MSNBC, NBCNews.com and NBC News NOW. “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt kicks off the reports by interviewing Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Department of Justice, who is overseeing the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
- Joe Ferullo’s latest column for The Hill: “Eliminate television coverage from Supreme Court confirmation hearings.”
- For The New York Times, Neil Genzlinger with “Dirck Halstead, Photojournalist Who Captured History, Dies at 85.”
- The Oscars were Sunday night. I’ll have more from that in Tuesday’s newsletter. But here’s the full list of winners.
- Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins died over the weekend while on tour with the band. He was 50. Here’s the obit from The New York Times’ Caryn Ganz and Joe Coscarelli. And, last June, Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt spoke with Hawkins for an extensive interview in: “‘We Don’t Know How to Phone It In’: A Final Visit With Taylor Hawkins.”
- The 19th’s Candice Norwood with “As Ketanji Brown Jackson testified, Black women saw themselves reflected.”
- Boston.com columnist Chad Finn with “When high school sports end, it’s tough on parents, too.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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