No matter how absurd, irresponsible or dangerous the likes of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham could get, Fox News had this to fall back on: At least they had Chris Wallace.
Not any more.
Wallace dropped a bombshell Sunday as the show he hosts, “Fox News Sunday,” drew to a close: “After 18 years, this is my final ‘Fox News Sunday,’” he said. “It is the last time — and I say this with real sadness — we will meet like this.”
Wallace said in his farewell that no one at Fox News ever interfered with which guests he booked or what questions he asked, and that he was proud of what his team had built there. But after 18 years at the network, it was time to move on.
“I want to try something new, to go beyond politics to all the things I’m interested in,” he said. “I’m ready for a new adventure.”
That new adventure involves working as an anchor for CNN+, a streaming subscription service scheduled to debut in 2022.
Chris Wallace leaving may be good for him, but it's bad for Fox News
Good for him. Bad for journalism. This isn’t just the end of an era. It’s also the end of a trusted voice in a place not always known for them.
Wallace famously nailed Jell-O to the wall when interviewing President Donald Trump in 2020, calling Trump out on lies and dodges. In recent weeks on “Fox News Sunday” Wallace has thoroughly questioned those who have lied about the 2020 election or defended the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and democracy, even more so than his colleagues at the so-called liberal networks.
After the election, seemingly inspired by Trump’s badgering and the rise of far-right disinformation factories like One America News Network and Newsmax, Fox News steered further right. The threat from the smaller networks was short-lived, but in President Joe Biden, Fox News hosts found a reliable punching bag.
This is understandable to some degree. The Fox News audience does not necessarily tune in to hear people talk about Biden succeeding, nor to hear a host expose the lies that fuel the unfounded discontent with the 2020 election results.
In the short term that gets you ratings. In the longer term, history won’t be as kind as Nielsen.
Still, they had Wallace.
It’s always important to note that Carlson and that ilk are personalities, not journalists. But their presence permeates Fox News. They get the ratings, they grab the headlines — they’re the faces of the network.
Wallace is a journalist, and a good one. And he stood as a solid defense against whatever it is Carlson and those clowns are doing.
Wallace’s work angered both conservatives and liberals. That’s a sign that you’re doing your job really poorly or really well. It was the latter for the most part for him.
The Trump interview bruised the fragile feelings of the former president and his supporters, who of course accused Wallace of being against Trump. And Trump’s detractors thought Wallace was a hero.
'I must be doing something right': Fox News' Chris Wallace on the state of journalism
Who replaces Wallace will tell us a lot about Fox News' future
Wallace was neither, something he addressed months before the Trump interview in a 2020 interview with The Arizona Republic.
“It’s silly,” Wallace, who came to Fox News from ABC in 2003, said of the reaction. “I’m not advocating a point of view. I’m simply trying to act as an umpire and call balls and strikes and, particularly if it’s a factual matter, to say, well that’s just not true. I don’t see that, frankly, as expressing an opinion or commenting.”
It comes down to this, as the great James Fallows wrote in his newsletter “Breaking the News,” “Every time my colleagues in the media shrink from using words like ‘coup’ or ‘lie,’ we undermine democracy.”
He’s exactly right, and a lot of times Wallace felt like a lonely last bastion of that sort of thinking at Fox News. Where they go from here and whom they replace Wallace with is going to say a lot about the network and where it stands.
"The legacy of FOX News Sunday will continue with our star journalists, many of whom will rotate in the position until a permanent host is named," the network said in a statement. Some of those in the rotation include Jennifer Griffin, Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto, John Roberts, Martha MacCallum, Shannon Bream, Bill Hemmer, a source at the network said.
Good. And what of the permanent replacement?
If they go with a center or center-right host and commentator, that tells us something. If they double down on the likes of Carlson or Jeanine Pirro, that will tell us a lot more.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Chris Wallace leaves Fox News for CNN+. Good for him, but not for Fox