It takes a lot for a Republican to do something so outrageously wingnutty that it even enrages a Fox News Channel personality. Well, it looks like Donald Trump reached that point when he declared that the media is not his enemy, but “the enemy of the American people.” One of the main faces of the fair and balanced network has come to the same conclusion that we drew about that Friday afternoon rage tweet–that Trump’s language should send a chill down anyone’s spine.
When the gang on “Fox & Friends” invited “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace to discuss Trump continuing his attacks on the press during his Saturday night speech, they got a surprise. Wallace argued–rightly–that Trump crossed a bright line by calling the press an enemy of the people. Watch here.
When host Pete Hegseth mentioned how a number of previous presidents denounced the press, Wallace pointed out that as often as politicians feud with the press, Trump doesn’t seem to understand that a free and critical press is one of the cornerstones of any self-respecting democracy.
“Look, we’re big boys. We criticize presidents. They want to criticize us back, that’s fine. But when he said that ‘the fake news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people,’ I believe that crosses an important line.”
Wallace let it be known that he agreed with Senator John McCain, who rightly noted on Saturday that attempting to muzzle the press is “how dictators get started.” While McCain clarified that he wasn’t specifically referring to Trump, he did say that we can’t afford to forget history. Wallace, like McCain, doesn’t think Trump is trying to be a dictator. However, he pointed out that in a democracy, the media serves as “a check on power.” In contrast, most dictatorships have media that is state-controlled in name or in fact.
Wallace claims that this is “an important time” for the media, and claimed that journalists need to “strike back” against these kinds of attacks. Hegseth claimed that Trump wasn’t attacking “the independence of the press,” but “the bias of the press”–especially when those outlets say they aren’t biased.
That’s not what Wallace has heard from Trump. He noted that while any criticisms Trump has of The New York Times and his other media gadflies are perfectly legitimate, saying that the press is an enemy of the people is a different ball game altogether.
“I know there are a lot of listeners who will reflexively take Donald Trump’s side on this. It’s a different thing when it’s a president because if it’s a president you like trying to talk about the press being the enemy of the people, then it’s going to be a president you don’t like saying the same thing. And that’s very dangerous.”
Wallace then took it upon himself to start the pushback when White House chief of staff Reince Priebus stopped by “Fox News Sunday” a few hours later. Watch here.
When Wallace asked Priebus if Trump believed in an independent press, Priebus claimed that Trump’s tweet was actually referring to stories that “just aren’t honest”–such as a report in The Times that former campaign chief Paul Manafort and other Trump campaign aides had extensive contacts with the Kremlin. Priebus said that people at the “top levels” of the intelligence community had assured him that story was “grossly overstated.” He also claimed that a Wall Street Journal story claiming the intelligence community was deliberately withholding information for Trump rather than risk it being leaked was also false.
But Wallace wasn’t letting Priebus get off that easily. As he saw it, the larger question was Trump’s attack on the media as a whole, not individual stories.
“I don’t have any problem with you complaining about an individual story. We sometimes got it wrong, you guys sometimes got it wrong. I don’t have any problem with you complaining about bias. But you went a lot further than that, or to the president went a lot further than that. He said that the fake media, not certain stories, the fake media are an enemy to the country. We don’t have a state-run media in the country. That’s what they have in dictatorships.”
Later, Priebus tried to knock the press for giving too much coverage to Trump’s suspected Russian ties, Wallace took that as an attempt by the White House to tell the press what to cover.
“But you don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince. You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I got to say, he never said that we were an enemy of the people.”
This is actually the second time this week that a Fox News personality has taken off the blinders and let Trump have it. If you’ll recall, Shepard Smith saw Trump’s Thursday press conference for the train wreck that it was–and has gotten blasted up and down by Trump worshipers on Twitter. The odds are pretty good that Wallace may be in for the same treatment.
If that happens, he should wear it proudly. In 14-plus years at Fox News, Wallace has only occasionally done his father, the late Mike Wallace, proud. But this moment was by far his best. And if that makes him a fake news peddler and an enemy of the people in Trump’s eyes, so be it.
(featured image courtesy Jim Greenhill, available under a Creative Commons-BY license)