July 20, 2020

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Late last week, Fox News teased Chris Wallace’s interview with President Donald Trump by running a brief clip — a testy exchange between the president and Wallace.

In the clip, Trump said that his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, wants to defund the police. Wallace interrupted, “Sir, he does not.”

Trump pointed to the unity platform that Biden signed with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Wallace quickly — and correctly — pointed out that it “says nothing about defunding the police.”

Then Trump halted the interview after saying, “Oh really? It says ‘abolish.’ It says ‘defund.’ Let’s go!” He turned to a staff member off-camera and said, “Get me the charter, please.”

During an appearance with Fox News colleague Bill Hemmer, who aired the clip, Wallace said, “But he couldn’t find any indication — because there isn’t any — that Joe Biden has sought to defund and abolish the police.”

At that point, you knew the “Fox News Sunday” interview was going to be a whopper of an interview. And it most certainly was. It was a masterful performance by Wallace, who was extremely prepared, was quick on his feet and did not hesitate to call out the president.

Wallace pushed the president on a number of issues that likely will play a key role in deciding the November election.

A big issue is the coronavirus, another topic where Trump called on staff to bring him numbers that were different than the ones presented by Wallace. Trump insisted that cases are up because testing is up, but Wallace smartly noted that testing is up 37%, while positive cases are up 194%. “It isn’t just that testing has gone up,” Wallace said, “it’s that the virus has spread.”

In another bizarre exchange, Wallace asked, “You said our children are taught in school to hate our country. Where do you see that?”

Trump said, “I look at school. I watch, I read, look at the stuff. Now they want to change — 1492, Columbus discovered America. You know, we grew up, you grew up, we all did, that’s what we learned. Now they want to make it the 1619 Project. Where did that come from? What does it represent? I don’t even know, so.”

Wallace said, “It’s slavery.”

Trump, incredibly, said, “That’s what they’re saying, but they don’t even know.”

Around and around it went, including another exchange about mental fitness and Trump’s claim that he recently aced a cognitive test. When Wallace quoted polls that showed Americans believe Biden is more competent than the president, Trump said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, let’s take a test. Let’s take a test right now. Let’s go down, Joe and I will take a test. Let him take the same test that I took.”

Wallace said he took the test online and said, “It’s not the hardest test. They have a picture and it says, ‘What’s that?’ and it’s an elephant.”

Trump said, “No, no, no. You see, that’s all misrepresentation. … Because, yes, the first few questions are easy, but I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions. I’ll bet you couldn’t, they get very hard, the last five questions.”

That’s just a few examples. Watch for yourself. Ultimately, how the president did is your call. But there’s not much debate about how Wallace did. He was excellent.

Veteran newsman Dan Rather tweeted, “A tip of the Stetson to Chris Wallace. A consummate pro. Tough. Prepared. Fair. Always ready with a fact check and a follow-up question. I imagine there is quite a scene at the White House trying to contain the fallout.”

Axios’ Jonathan Swan tweeted, “I think I’ve watched every television interview Donald Trump has done since announcing his candidacy in 2015. Chris Wallace just did the best one, and by some distance.”

In today’s wild news cycle where something seems to be happening every day and what happened yesterday is quickly forgotten, Wallace’s interview might actually have staying power. It was a disastrous interview for Trump, but for Wallace it was a shining moment — mostly because he did what a good journalist does by asking tough questions, calling out his subject if they say something incorrect and doing it all in a professional way.

More on this: Chris Wallace earned near universal praise for his interview with President Trump. But was he just doing a journalist’s job?

Not a Fox fan

Chris Wallace’s interview with President Trump produced a lot of viral moments, including this comment from Trump: “I’m not a big fan of Fox, I’ll be honest with you.”

Remembering Rep. John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis speaks during an event in 2016. (Courtesy: mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX)

Rep. John Lewis, an icon in the civil rights movement, died Friday at the age of 80. There’s no way to do justice to his impact, legacy and influence in just a few paragraphs here.

But here are some of the outstanding stories that stood out from the weekend’s coverage:

Los Angeles Times columnist LZ Granderson with “John Lewis’ Legacy of Good Trouble: Building Bridges, Destroying Walls.”

The Undefeated’s Kevin Merida with “John Lewis Lived a Life of Grace and Humility.” Also from The Undefeated, Michael A. Fletcher writes, “I Didn’t Understand John Lewis At First.”

The Atlantic’s Adam Harris with “The World John Lewis Helped Create.”

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson with “How to Remember John Lewis.”

Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders who traveled across the South in 1961 to fight against segregation in public transportation. The New York Times’ Derrick Bryson Taylor with “Who Were the Freedom Riders?”

And, finally, a look back at a special moment. In 2016, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes, Poynter hosted an event that focused on civil rights. Lewis made the keynote speech, which you can watch here.

Strongest comment

Strongest comment from the Sunday morning news shows? Here’s how NBC “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd opened his show:

“We are the richest country in human history with an unmatched medical infrastructure and a literate, educated populace, yet today we stand uniquely helpless among industrialized countries in the fight against COVID-19. A world that once looked up to us to do the impossible now averts its eyes over our failure to do the possible.”

To back up his claims, Todd criticized comments made by Vice President Mike Pence, when he wrote an op-ed in June that said, “Such panic is overblown … We are winning the fight against an invisible enemy.”

Todd said, “No, we’re not.”

Todd noted that NBC News averaged World Health Organization numbers from Monday to Friday of last week. France averaged 455 news cases. Germany averaged 408 cases. Italy averaged 182. And the U.S.? 69,060.

The Daily Beast story on Fox News


(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

In an explosive story bylined by five staffers, The Daily Beast reports Fox News is dealing with internal strife as Black staffers are upset with what they claim is racism at the network. It all boiled over in a June call between Fox executives and Black staffers.

One staffer told The Daily Beast, “They created a cell — they created a white supremacist cell inside the top cable network in America, the one that directly influences the president.”

The staffer went on to say such behavior is excused by Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch. The Daily Beast also wrote, “Over the past month, the network’s Black employees, including on-air talent, have begun to openly confront management over Fox’s anti-Black rhetoric — especially that of the network’s biggest stars, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson.”

The latest example is Carlson’s head writer, Blake Neff, leaving the network after CNN’s Oliver Darcy revealed Neff was writing racist and sexist posts online under a pseudonym. Carlson hardly squelched that controversy when he spent very little time on his show addressing the matter. While he did condemn the message behind the posts, he never specified what was in them, showed no contrition, attacked those he felt were celebrating Neff’s own-doing demise and then immediately went on a trout fishing trip after the show.

The Daily Beast wrote, “Murdoch personally approved what Carlson would say in his defensive Monday remarks addressing the exit of his top writer. Despite demands from Fox News executives that he pre-tape the segment and strike a conciliatory tone, Carlson barely sounded apologetic, knowing he had the full backing of the Murdoch heir.”

An anonymous Fox News insider told The Daily Beast, “How hard would it have been to say sorry? That being said, I’m not surprised.”

Covering the media or not?

For the second week in a row, Fox News’ “MediaBuzz” pretty much ignored one of the bigger media stories of the week. Last week, host Howard Kurtz only briefly mentioned that Carlson’s head writer left Fox News after his online racist comments. Then, on Sunday, “MediaBuzz” did not mention The Daily Beast story about racism at Fox News. However, it did have commentary about CNN’s Chris Cuomo going off on the president and Ivanka Trump both shilling for Goya Foods even though that story barely made it beyond a tweet or two in media circles.

“MediaBuzz” also did a lengthy section on conservative writer Bari Weiss resigning from The New York Times in a controversial resignation that was highly critical of the Times. Kurtz, also, oddly said that CNN had not covered that story. He said, “No mention of this at all on CNN or MSNBC. Imagine if this had been a conservative publication.”

As he said that, guest commentator and Fox News radio host and political editor of conservative website Townhall Guy Benson said, “Huh, isn’t that interesting.”

Well, it was interesting because it was wrong. CNN’s website had written extensively about Weiss, and CNN’s own media show, “Reliable Sources,” talked in depth about the Times story — almost at the exact time Kurtz made his comment that CNN wasn’t talking about the story. And while he didn’t talk about the toxic atmosphere at Fox News as described by The Daily Beast, Kurtz did address the harassment problems inside the Washington NFL team, as reported by The Washington Post.

Instead of directing flat-out wrong criticism at CNN for stories it actually did cover, perhaps Kurtz should be more concerned about what big media stories his media show has not covered.

Voices of dissent

(Courtesy: The New Yorker)

Above is a sneak peek at the cover of The New Yorker, which is available today. The issue is “Voices of American Dissent.” The New Yorker calls it “a special archival issue which explores dissent as an essential component of the American story and the American future.” It’s a collection of past New Yorker stories.

You can check out New Yorker editor David Remnick’s column that introduces the issue here.

The issue also includes Michael Specter’s 2002 profile of the late AIDS activist Larry Kramer; Hilton Als’ 2003 profile of legendary writer Toni Morrison; a 2009 story by Elizabeth Kolbert about climatologist James Hansen; and a 2016 piece by Jelani Cobb about the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement. Plus, much more.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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  • *While not why

  • Why it’s ugly and repellent that Carlson’s head writer, Blake Neff, posted racist comments, and certainly appropriate that he resigned, exactly what was it that Carlson was supposed to apologize for? Did he have knowledge of Neff’s racist activity? Is he responsible for what staff do on their own time? Just wondering.