NEW YORK — – Chris Wallace may have fewer Sunday-morning viewers than his rivals on the weekly political chat shows, but he concedes nothing on quality.
“I think we do a better job,” the “Fox News Sunday” host said. “I think we separate what’s important from what isn’t. If you look at our interviews, I think they tend to be tougher, more informative, more interesting and produce more news. I like where we stand.”
David Gregory, Bob Schieffer and George Stephanopoulos – you can discuss this among yourselves. Wallace is in a celebratory mood. This weekend marks the 10-year anniversary of when the longtime NBC and ABC newsman jumped to Fox for the Sunday-morning job.
ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CBS’ “Face the Nation” all average between 2.5 million and 3 million viewers on Sunday morning, according to the Nielsen company. “Fox News Sunday,” on the Fox broadcasting network, averages 1.1 million. It is rebroadcast three times Sunday afternoon, evening and overnight on the Fox News Channel, adding 2 million more viewers.
Work at Roger Ailes’ news division carries with it an inherent suspicion about political motives among Democrats, as illustrated when former President Bill Clinton was angered by Wallace’s 2006 question about why his administration didn’t put Osama bin Laden out of business. Clinton called the question “a conservative hit job.”
Wallace, 66, confesses annoyance when that attitude is turned on its head and insults his skills as a journalist.
“I have to say it bothers me a little that it gets more attention when I do a tough, probing interview with a Republican,” he said. “There are people who don’t know better who think there’s a man-bites-dog story – somebody on Fox being tough on a Republican. Look at my history.”
There’s the Clinton episode, but also the show where – to his later regret – he bluntly asked Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann if she was a flake. Jon Stewart ripped Wallace for comparing the impact of the botched health care plan rollout on President Barack Obama to Hurricane Katrina for President George W. Bush. Yet Wallace angered Republicans by dismissing their charges that an Obama statement after the Trayvon Martin verdict stoked racial tensions.
The point is, there’s always something one side or the other can cite when a political favorite is being challenged, said Tim Graham of the conservative media watchdog group Media Research Center.
“People (in the conservative movement) think of Fox as a home team,” Graham said, “but I certainly don’t think of Chris Wallace as a home team host.”
The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, like other liberal media watchdogs, believes the Sunday political talk shows skew Republican in their guests and “Fox News Sunday” is no exception, said Peter Hart, FAIR’s activism director. Wallace asks tough questions, like when he interviewed Secretary of State John Kerry about Syria, but he’s not unfair.
“Fox News Sunday” is “more like other Sunday shows than different,” Hart said.
Doing a partisan show on Sunday morning would marginalize it. A big part of the Sunday game is the booking wars, and that depends on building relationships. Wallace has failed to get Obama as a “Fox News Sunday” guest since he’s been president, but members of his administration and Democratic lawmakers come on the show.
While he takes pride in pointed questions, “if they feel they’ve been cheap-shotted, then you’re not going to get them back on,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t mean you go easy on them. They have to think you’re tough but fair.”
Wallace, 66, who covered the White House for NBC News during the Ronald Reagan administration and also moderated “Meet the Press,” said “there is a special joy in having the best job of your career in the home stretch of your career.”
For the Wallace family, “home stretch” is a relative term. His dad, Mike, who died last year at 93, worked at “60 Minutes” until he was almost 90.
“When I was hired by Roger 10 years ago, I said, ‘looking at my father’s career, I can only give you 30 years,’” he said. “So it’s 10 down, 20 to go.”