To hear Chris Wallace tell it, there’s a key difference between covering President Donald Trump’s White House and covering President Joe Biden’s White House.
“[The Trump White House] was every man and woman for themselves. When they went on the Sunday shows, they were appealing to an audience of one, because President Trump watched,” Wallace tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So when somebody went on, oftentimes there was a debate going on inside the administration, and they were trying to make their case more to the president, who was watching at home, than to the viewers.
“If you are a reporter covering the White House, there is nothing better than if there is tensions inside the White House, and they are arguing it out in the public,” Wallace added, noting that when he covered President Reagan, there was a similar internal division in the administration. “[Biden’s] White House is much more disciplined in that regard, which is probably good for the country, but doesn’t make it as much fun to cover.”
Even as administrations change, the role of the Sunday public affairs shows remains very much the same: To grill public officials on behalf of the public, and for public officials to make their case, whether to that audience of one or an audience of millions.
Fox News Sunday, the public affairs show Wallace has moderated since 2003, happens to be turning 25 years old this week. He says he thinks the format is just as important as ever, even with consumers mostly getting their news through social media throughout the day.
“It’s still an important platform for a new administration, or any administration, and the opposition, to get their points out,” Wallace says.
Fox News Sunday, he argues, has benefitted from his mission to make it a “more interview-oriented show” since he joined the program 18 years ago.
“I am proud of the fact that Mitch McConnell has said that I am the toughest Sunday show interview in town, and when new senators come into Washington, he always says to them, ‘Don’t be fooled, just because it is on Fox don’t think that you will get an easy interview from Chris Wallace,'” he says.
Covering politics has always been an important but challenging beat, with partisanship and points of view occasionally taking priority over facts and figures. Wallace happens to reject criticism (including from some of his Fox colleagues) that the media writ large is going too easy on the Biden administration.
“There’s an argument out there that the liberal media is being softer on Biden than they were on Trump,” he says. “Maybe briefly at the very beginning, but I spent six years in the White House briefing room covering Ronald Reagan, and the White House press corps is a famously and I think appropriately cantankerous group, and I think Biden gets pretty tough coverage right now.”
President Trump certainly didn’t get a free pass from Wallace, as his interview with Trump last July was one of the newsiest of his presidency. Wallace corrected the president in real time when he made false comments about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wallace says he decided from the beginning of the pandemic that his show would be “science-based,” driven by facts and not politics or innuendo.
“There was a lot of spin and a lot of disinformation, a lot of it coming from the Trump White House, and I wasn’t going to give it any air,” Wallace says. “It was a tough interview, but it was what I saw was my mandate, which was to stick to the facts, to stick to the science, and to the degree that anybody strayed from that, to challenge them.”