Veteran broadcaster Chris Wallace has finally escaped a cult that held him for 18 years.
The Wallace getaway from Fox News Channel surprised almost everyone on Sunday morning when he told Fox News Sunday viewers he was leaving the show and his network. “It is the last time — and I say this with real sadness — we will meet like this,” Wallace said. “I want to try something new.” That “something new” was revealed later in the morning in a CNN press release that announced Wallace’s upcoming position as an anchor on the company’s streaming startup, CNN+, in 2022.
That Wallace had grown unhappy in the Fox cult became apparent in late November when NPR’s David Folkenflik reported that he and fellow Fox anchor Bret Baier had presented to Fox News executives their journalistic objections to a documentary series by Fox host Tucker Carlson titled Patriot Purge. The series, which aired on Fox Nation and was excerpted on Carlson’s show, preposterously framed the January 6 Capitol Hill riot as a “false flag“ operation.
Patriot Purge might have been the loopiest stuff Fox ever broadcast, but it wasn’t that far removed from the crazed things its journalists had aired in service to Fox. Remember the many Fox segments about a “war on Christmas”? When Megyn Kelly insisted Santa and Jesus were white? The time Geraldo Rivera blamed hoodies for the death of Trayvon Martin? When Sean Hannity interviewed Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson on the Middle East? When it fired its politics editor after he defended correctly calling Arizona for Biden in the 2020 election? When its leading anchors hyped hydroxychloroquine as a Covid cure? When Mike Huckabee attributed the Newtown shooting to the banishment of God from school? When Glenn Beck suggested Barack Obama might want to kill 10 percent of the population? When Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox, alleging it had defamed the company by claiming it committed fraud in the 2020 election? When it employed as a defense contributor a man who falsely claimed to have served as an Army lieutenant colonel? When Tucker Carlson parroted Kremlin talking points?
To his credit, Wallace, who is widely admired for his relentless interviews, never directly defended Fox’s cultish para-journalism when grilled about it. But to his discredit he has rarely if ever publicly criticized his network’s propagandistic nuttiness. Instead, he would retreat to a fortified position to claim there was a news-opinion divide at Fox — similar to the news-opinion divide at newspapers — that allowed him, a “hard news” guy, to recuse himself from all the wacky opinion aired on his network. He did so as recently as early November in a Financial Times interview with Matthew Garrahan. “I am only responsible for and only have control over my piece of real estate,” Wallace said. (Not exactly the kind of full-throated defense of his employer the Fox PR folks might have hoped for.) “Why on earth would I share any concerns I have about Fox News with the readers of the Financial Times?”
The likely reason, reader, was that he was ashamed of Fox and what it had come to stand for but had become too invested in the network after 18 years to say anything that might draw the wrath of its leader, Rupert Murdoch, or his heir apparent, son Lachlan Murdoch. The liberal Twitterverse celebrated Wallace’s defection Sunday, imagining that it would somehow injure Fox. Sure, Fox has a 24- to 72-hour period of bad publicity to deal with, but by next weekend there will be a replacement host for Wallace on Fox News Sunday and by February, few viewers will remember Wallace at all. Dedicated Fox-haters (you know who you are) think that if they only drive off the channel’s top advertisers with boycotts, edit together enough supercuts of Fox’s lowest programming, or hector Tucker Carlson one more time, the channel that Rupert Murdoch built will come toppling down. But Fox is too profitable and its owner too tenacious to surrender. It would be easier to rid the world of Microsoft Windows than it would be to eradicate Fox.
Ordinarily, when one network nabs an anchor from another it’s as much about damaging a foe by blowing a hole in the rival’s lineup as it is about absorbing new talent. NBC poached Megyn Kelly, in part, to hurt Fox. CBS stole Katie Couric to ding NBC. But that media maxim doesn’t apply to Wallace. He was emblematic of Fox only for non-Fox viewers, who thought of him as a professional oasis in the Fox sewer. Most Fox viewers probably had little sense of who he was: He anchored a one-hour show once a week that finished fourth in the Sunday shows derby. He popped up occasionally to provide commentary on other Fox shows, but he was never a franchise face like O’Reilly, Carlson, Hannity or even Baier.
By leaving Fox for a competitor, Wallace has picked the opportune time and the opportune place for his break. He emerges with most of his dignity intact and, we assume, a big wad of Zuckerbucks in his pocket. He will draw fresh eyes to CNN+. He will serve as a CNN+ recruitment tool, describing Wallace as their journalistic ideal. But until he finally opens up to “share his concerns” about Fox, he will go down in broadcast history as the man who lent his many talents, his expertise, his interviewing techniques and his good name to a corrupt media conglomerate. Wallace may have physically escaped the cult, but until he’s as level with us as he presses his interview subjects to be, he’ll remain an honorary member.
Will the Fox cult grow more extreme now that Wallace has left? Send your thoughts to [email protected]. My email alerts were members of the Children of God in the 1970s. My Twitter feed owns all of Blue Öyster Cult’s albums. My RSS feed leads its own cult.
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