October 20, 2016

Despite saying he wasn’t going to do any “truth-squadding” at the final presidential debate, Chris Wallace was a vocal, dogged and above all fair moderator in Wednesday’s contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The “Fox News Sunday” host pressed Trump to take a position on Roe v. Wade. He fact-checked Clinton when she claimed she never called for “open borders.” He even insisted he would not be a “potted plant” before asking Trump a series of follow-ups regarding his stance on Russian election meddling.

On top of that, he was strong-willed with the candidates as they each went over their allotted time and handled a sometimes boisterous crowd when things got out of hand. At every turn, he asserted himself as a surrogate for the American public, including at the conclusion when he urged viewers to vote.

How good was his performance? Even before the debate concluded Wednesday, praise for Wallace began rolling in on Twitter from all sides: left, right and center.

Moderating a debate is notoriously hard. Appearing to interrupt one candidate more than another or dispensing fact checks disproportionally could spur accusations of favoritism. With employers, two candidates and the American people to please, the job also represents a colossal balancing act that could be upended by a single errant fact-check or ill-timed interruption.

But Wallace succeeded, in part because he kept his cool. He followed up on controversial lines of inquiry and occasionally asked candidates about their blatant falsehoods.

Wallace’s turn behind the moderator’s desk is sure to buoy spirits at Fox News, which has of late weathered the departure of its chairman and whispers that marquee host Megyn Kelly is leaving her options open for a possible exit.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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