Chris Wallace Is The Man in the Middle for Fox News

Nov 26, 2018, 01:00 PM

Town & Country

iven the praise Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have slathered on each other, it wasn’t a surprise that, last July, after the pair met in Helsinki, Putin granted his sole post-summit American interview to Fox News, the only network permitted on the screens of Air Force One and one of the few outlets the president has never accused of being “fake news.”

But judging from the pained look on Putin’s face, he hadn’t anticipated that sitting down with Fox News would mean an interrogation by the channel’s Chris Wallace.

When Wallace asked him why so many of the Russian president’s political enemies “end up dead,” the normally imperturbable Putin began to flail, and at the interview’s end he couldn’t remove his lapel mic fast enough. It’s worth remembering that the late Roger Ailes, Wallace’s former Fox News boss, once toasted Wallace by saying, “You’re a great questioner, and, frankly, every guest who comes on hates you.”

Making subjects squirm isn’t a goal for Wallace, who, in the 14 years he has hosted Fox News Sunday, has become the top news anchor on the most successful cable news channel. “I view my job as being the cop on the beat, walking around with a nightstick and trying to keep people honest—both Republicans and Democrats,” he says.

He has done it well enough to distinguish himself as an impartial voice on a network considered by some to be anything but. “A lot of what the Fox News opinion hosts do is misleading and disorienting, but then Chris Wallace comes on and attempts to provide the truth,” says Brian Stelter, senior media correspondent for CNN and the host of Reliable Sources.

Veteran broadcaster Sam Donaldson, who, during his 42 years at ABC News, was at times both a competitor and a colleague of Wallace’s, says, “If Fox News is the type of entertainment people want, believing somehow that they’re listening to solid news reporting, more power to them. But Chris has not joined that pack. He plays it straight. He deserves his reputation for doing that.”

That reputation was reinforced in September. Just before Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony, in which she alleged that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school, Wallace made headlines for noting on air that the national conversation had inspired his daughters to recount their own similar experiences.

“I don’t think we can disregard Christine Blasey Ford and the seriousness of this,” he said at the time. “I think that would be a big mistake.” (Wallace doesn’t make it through these news cycles unscathed. Twitter mobs have come after him with suggestions like, “You should go work at CNN.”)

One crisp day in Annapolis, Maryland, Wallace is in the living room of the estate overlooking Chesapeake Bay that he and Lorraine, his wife of 21 years, bought in 2015. The house is a gathering place for Wallace’s four grown kids from his first marriage, Lorraine’s two from her previous marriage (to comedian Dick Smothers), and their six grandkids. Wallace is holding “The Crab,” a crustacean trophy engraved with his name made to commemorate a July 2017 victory over his sons in a putt-putt tournament.

The Crab is a testament to Wallace’s famous competitiveness; back when he was NBC’s chief White House correspondent, he and Donaldson nearly came to blows after Wallace hijacked Donaldson’s briefing room spot. “No punches were thrown,” Donaldson says, noting that he did eventually get his spot back, “but Chris’s tactics would be put in a very aggressive category.”

Wallace admits that it rankles him every time a George Stephanopoulos or Chuck Todd interview makes news and his doesn’t.“Honestly, I think I’m better,” he says when asked about how he stacks up against the other Sunday morning hosts; neither Stephanopoulos nor Todd would comment for this story. “ The only one I didn’t feel that about was Tim Russert.”

In the Wallace family, Trivial Pursuit, skeet shooting, and mini golf matches can be equally cutthroat. “...