If you were worried about Fox News’ Chris Wallace moderating the next and last presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, Wallace’s comments today should have you even more concerned.
Wallace has previously promised not to do any fact checking during the October 19 debate. Last month, he said:
“I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad. It’s up to the other person to catch them on that. I certainly am going to try to maintain some reasonable semblance of equal time. If one of them is filibustering, I’m going to try to break in respectfully and give the other person a chance to talk.”
That’s obviously a help to Trump who seems to use lying as a campaign strategy. On today’s Fox News Sunday, Wallace doubled down on that promise:
“If I think there’s a need for me to intervene, I will, but I would prefer not to. And basically, you’re there as a timekeeper, but you’re not a participant. You’re there just to make sure that they engage in the most interesting and fairest way possible.”
Clips in Wallace’s FNS interview today were a bad omen. We saw Wallace grilling Clinton about her emails paired with a clip of Trump saying in 1988 that he thought he’d have a good chance of becoming president one day. Wallace also just happened to share an unflattering reminiscence of his first encounter with Hillary Clinton:
“This was when Bill Clinton gave the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis and after going on and on and on, finally said, ‘In closing’ [to wild cheers].
Well, the next day, Clinton went around to each of the various networks to do a kind of apology tour, to say, ‘Well, maybe I talked too much but…’ kind of to save his budding political career. She came along with him.”
Yes, Wallace has been tough on Republicans, including Trump. But Trump’s unhinged behavior at the last debate proves that robust moderation is needed. As Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert pointed out, previous debate moderator Anderson Cooper had an important effect on the campaign:
“Notably, it is only because of Cooper’s dogged questioning over the video of Trump bragging about commiting [sic] sexual assault that he was put on record denying he had ever committed that crime. Women have cited that public denial in coming forward to tell their stories about Trump this week.
Against the background of Trump’s rampant prevarications, Wallace is going to sit in the moderator’s chair and refuse to fact-check Trump. And Trump knows it.”
One reason Wallace might be so reticent is that his position as moderator (quite possibly thanks to Trump’s bullying) is loaded with conflicts of interest. Boehlert wrote:
“Of course, also troubling is the fact that for two decades Wallace worked for Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who left the channel in disgrace amidst allegations of sexual harassment. Ailes has reportedly been advising Trump for debate preparation, while simultaneously advising Wallace’s ultimate boss, 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch.
Obviously, the issue of sexual harassment is going to come up at the debate. Wallace’s employer just went through a high-profile sexual harassment scandal where allegations were made that the cable channel is wildly hostile toward women. Will the Fox moderator really try to hold accountable the candidate who’s being coached by the moderator’s former boss and good friend?”
Right now, all signs indicate the answer is no.
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