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For the third time, the Fox News Channel has made Chris Wallace part of its team covering the presidential nominating conventions for the two parties. Before heading to Tampa for the Republican National Convention, he talked politics with The Hollywood Reporter’s Paul Bond.
THR: There are 15,000 journalists in Tampa. Is that overkill?
Wallace: What else better could they be doing in the last week of August? I know people complain that the convention has turned into a TV show, but it’s better than reruns. And if conventions aren’t the battle for the soul of the party like they were in the old days, they still are important ways for each campaign to get a message out about what their nominees are offering to Americans, and that’s worth covering.
THR: Any instructions from Roger Ailes?
Wallace: The same as always: Get the story right, get it first, and tell it in a fair and balanced way.
THR: Is Todd Akin a legitimately big story, or is the media piling on?
Wallace: Absolutely legitimate. He said something abysmally stupid, and it has implications not only for Republicans winning the Senate, but also it could have implications on the presidential race because Democrats will try to tie Akin’s positions to Mitt Romney.
THR: Does the media tie mistakes made by Democrats to President Obama as readily as they tie Republican mistakes to Romney?
Wallace: Yes, the mainstream media is terribly unfair to Obama, and they have to stop their bias in favor of Romney.
THR: Say that again.
Wallace: I’m teasing! The president gets very gentle treatment from the mainstream media. What [ABC News’] Jake Tapper said recently was accurate, that the media in 2008 helped Obama at the expense of John McCain and in the Democratic primary at the expense of Hillary Clinton. He hopes they won’t do it again, and I’m with him on that.
THR: Does the media cover Democrat gaffes and Republican gaffes with equal enthusiasm?
Wallace: Let me put it this way. If Paul Ryan had said what Joe Biden said to a crowd of African-Americans in Virginia, that the other side would put you all back in chains, there would be calls for him to be pulled off the ticket. But with Biden it’s just, “Well, that’s old Joe.”
THR: You ever get thrills up your leg like Chris Matthews does when listening to a political speech?
Wallace: I get thrills up my leg, but not when listening to a politician speak.
THR: What do you think of the competition’s coverage of past conventions?
Wallace: Eight years ago, I was on the podium right next to Brian Williams, and I was struck that when we were on the air covering the convention, NBC was running Fear Factor and showing people eating bugs. If you really care about what’s going on, I don’t understand why you’d watch one of the Big Three networks.
THR: What about your cable competition, like MSNBC?
Wallace: People like to compare MSNBC to Fox. They do it from the left, and we do it from the right, the critics say. That’s nonsense. Just look at the convention coverage. We have a firewall between news and opinion. This is my third presidential election cycle, and never has Fox put Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity on to anchor the conventions. We’ve had Brit Hume and now have Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly. Look who MSNBC has had – their primetime opinion commentators.
THR: You recently hung out with George Clooney at his home in Italy. What was that like?
Wallace: Best villa I’ve ever seen! I’m sure a lot of folks in Hollywood know how smart and entertaining George is. We had great Italian wine and food, and the only thing that bothered me was that he seemed more clued in on what was going on in politics than I was. I’d come down in the morning, and he was all caught up to date on what the blogs were saying and what had happened overnight, so I was getting my news for four days in Lake Como from him.
THR: He’s been raising money for Obama’s re-election. You share his love for the president?
Wallace: No, but the interesting thing was that we could disagree on a lot of issues intelligently and civilly. One of the things we both said is that we need more civil discourse in America, where you don’t demonize the other side.
THR: I recently reported that employees at the seven major media conglomerates have given six times more money to Democrats than Republicans. Does that matter?
Wallace: I suspect it’s true of the employees at News Corp., too, and we guard against that bias showing up on the air. But I’m not sure all my colleagues at the other networks try as hard.
THR: Name names. Who are you referring to?
Wallace: I’ll give you their initials: ABC, NBC and CBS.
THR: Was Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan good or bad?
Wallace: A big plus so far, but if you asked me 10 days after Sarah Palin was picked I’d have said the same thing, and that didn’t work out to be a plus for McCain.
THR: How come my Hollywood friends think Ryan is a right-wing kook who wants to take money away from old people? And they get that impression from the media.
Wallace: I’m not sure your Hollywood friends need help from the media to come to those kinds of conclusions. Ryan is a conservative, and Hollywood is predominantly liberal, so it doesn’t surprise me they don’t like what he stands for. I’m also not sure they know what he stands for. That said, I doubt the Romney-Ryan ticket will carry Beverly Hills.
THR: This Republican war on women the news media keeps telling me about, does that extend to their moms, daughters and wives, or do Republicans just dislike women they don’t know?
Wallace: No, they like women just fine. But there are differences on issues involving women: abortion, health care, Planned Parenthood, birth control and religious organizations. It’s perfectly legitimate for some people to dislike what the Romney-Ryan ticket is offering.
THR: Do Republicans want to throw Granny off the cliff? Do they not care about dirty air and water or starving children?
Wallace: Paul, you really have to get out more. What you’re talking about is all the Democratic ads. Are those ads not playing in California?
THR: I haven’t seen any. I heard that stuff from the media. I did see one Democratic ad where a Ryan lookalike threw an old lady off a cliff, but I saw it as a news report on Fox News.
Wallace: Well, in many cases, the left and the right make a commercial, have it run at midnight in Topeka, Kan., and then get all their coverage from the news organizations playing it.
THR: What about the ad that suggests Romney is responsible for a woman dying of cancer?
Wallace: In a bad year for campaign ads, it was the worst. The story is untrue on almost every level. Romney had nothing to do with Bain Capital when that fellow lost his job, the woman had health insurance from her own job,; and she died years later. Other than that, it was a model of accuracy.
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