Q&A: Chris Wallace


WASHINGTON -- Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace may have a famous father in "60 Minutes" correspondent emeritus Mike Wallace, but he's noted in his own right. The Emmy and Peabody winner has had a long career covering political leaders at ABC, NBC and now Fox News Channel, where he's been host since 2003 of "Fox News Sunday."

While there, he's famously sparred with former President Bill Clinton -- who accused Wallace of doing a "Republican hit job" after Wallace asked about the Clinton administration's role in trying to get Osama bin Laden before 9/11 -- and even his colleagues on "Fox & Friends" for taking them to task for "bashing" Barack Obama. Paul J. Gough interviewed Wallace in his office at Fox News Channel's Washington bureau.

THR: With all the talk that Katie Couric might leave the CBS Evening News, your name is rumored on a short list of people CBS might be interested in. Is that something you'd like to do?

Chris Wallace: No. First of all, I don't think they're going to ask and second of all, I'm very happy at Fox News Channel.

As much as I grew up in CBS and as much as I associate that anchor chair with Walter Cronkite and the history of broadcasting, I have never been so happy as I have working the last four-plus years at Fox. I suspect I've had a much better last couple of years than Katie Couric.

THR: It sounds like it.

Wallace: You can't buy that kind of happiness and fulfillment and sense of collegiality. As I say, I don't think they would offer it to me, but if they did, I would let you and everybody else know I had been offered it because it would be good bragging rights. But I'd say no.

THR: Earlier this spring, you introduced "Obama Watch," counting the days since Obama promised he would appear on "Fox News Sunday." Then, recently, he agreed. How effective was "Obama Watch?"

Wallace: There were two factors in his decision to come on. One was the "Obama Watch." It gave us a way to dramatize the fact that he was ducking us. Right after we started it, I called one of the people in the Obama campaign who had been putting me off for months. I said, "What did you think of it?" His response was that it was obnoxious.

But now I say it was obnoxious and effective. More important was his defeat in Pennslylvania and his lopsided defeat among white, working class voters.

THR: How did the Obama interview go?

Wallace: I was very pleased with it. It was a serious, substantive interview from a different perspective than he's generally been interview. I think we asked him different questions.

THR: Do you think he'll be back?

Wallace: He said he would. At the end I said, "Don't be a stranger." And he said he won't be. I have a guest book that I have everybody on the show sign. I lugged it out to Indianapolis with me. He wrote something that he wouldn't wait 772 days to do it again.

THR: You made some news in March with "Fox & Friends." You brought up that they might have been a little too hard on Obama. Are you still friends with them?

Wallace: We're still friends. I think that some people were put out and I can understand their being put out. As I've reflected, and I have reflected on it since then, I still feel the way I did, that I thought that on that particular day they were overdoing the coverage of a particular statement of Obama's, the "typical white person" statement, and that they weren't reporting it fairly.

On the other hand, the second thoughts I have had have not been about my belief, which is what it is, but whether it was being a good colleague to do it on the air as opposed to sending them an email off-air. It doesn't matter what I think about that, I did it, so there's no crying over spilled milk, to coin a phrase. But we're fine.

THR: How has the presidential campaign been so far? It must be fascinating to have a front-row seat.

Wallace: I would be less than honest if I didn't say that it was quite a frustration in terms of covering the Democratic race because they haven't played with us. Sen. Clinton has been on twice, and that's been great. I certainly feel frustration that Obama has failed to come on. One, I would like to be able to report and cover him, and two, there are millions of people who watch the show and the network, and to a certain degree, not that they don't get their news any place else, they are missing an opportunity to hear the guy ask tough but I hope fair questions. There's some frustration with that, no question about it.

THR: Do you think that the Democrats have lost an opportunity to talk to more people by not being on Fox News?

Wallace: Their strategiests are smart people and they're going to decide what's in their best interest to do. But it seems to me as these primaries are going on, and everybody's talking about white working-class voters, Reagan Democrats who are swing voters who can either go for a Republican or a Democrat, and especially as we get into the general election against a relatively moderate Republican like John McCain, a lot of our viewers, who are not overwhelmingly Conservative or Republican, there are a lot of independents, a lot of swing voters -- that's one of their target demographics. If not up to this point, then starting now, I think they miss a tremendous opportunity by boycotting Fox.

THR: It seems like this election season has been a gift from the ratings gods for the Sunday public-affairs shows like "Fox News Sunday." Do you see that continuing?

Wallace: Absolutely. In a clinical sense, I think at some point starting in 2006 through much of 2007, I think the audience lost interest in political talk. George Bush was an unpopular president, and still is. The Iraq war was an unpopular war. People felt like they heard a lot of both and they weren't much interested in tuning in when you could do a lot of other things on a Sunday morning.

As we've gotten involved in this campaign, the dramatic choice we've got in the fall, plus the excitement of a new president with a new team, new ideas, new policies--I think we're going to have a very interested and engaged audience over the course of the next 18 months.
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