Time flies when you're making politicians squirm with tough questions. This Sunday, Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace celebrates 10 years in the anchor chair on the Washington roundtable show Fox News Sunday (check local listings). Wallace is the only news anchor to helm Sunday shows on two different networks — he was moderator of NBC's Meet the Press in the late 1980s. He recently took some time to reflect on his run and his days as a gofer for Walter Cronkite.
TV Guide Magazine: You were really the big first name to come to Fox News from one of the traditional big 3 networks. How do you think the channel has changed since you first arrived?
Chris Wallace: Not a lot. I think that it's an interesting place to work because you have this kind of firewall, and it really is, between the news side and the opinion side. And I can tell you, 10 years later, [Fox News chairman] Roger Ailes has made good on his promise. He asked only one thing of me. He said, 'I want you to treat everybody the same. I don't want you to push an agenda, I don't want you to pull your punches, I want you to be as tough on all sides.' I have never, in 10 years, gotten a note from him or a direction from him about a guest to have or about a question to ask. I think he feels that I've lived up to my charter, which is, as they used to say about Vince Lombardi, 'He doesn't discriminate, he treats them all like dogs.'
TV Guide Magazine: You have probably taken the most hits from both political sides because you've operated that way. You have that passionate conservative audience that looks to Fox to hear their side articulated and you will sometimes speak the truth to that. There's some heat that comes with it, isn't there?
Wallace: Well, sure. But I must say, most of the audience feels that if you're even-handed and as long as you're treating both sides the same. And I think they feel that in a lot of places, that isn't what happens, that Democrats get a free pass. Their feeling is, as long as you treat both sides the same, they're okay with that. And I think that's what we do. I could point to a bunch of interviews in recent months and over the last 10 years where I think we've been tough on Democrats and we've been just as tough as Republicans.
TV Guide Magazine: Fox News has been a dominant number one in cable news for a long time now. How does it get away with calling other networks the mainstream media? Isn't Fox kind of part of the mainstream now?
Wallace: Well, in terms of viewership, absolutely. In terms of outlook, not so much. I could point to a lot of cases where I think Fox is out there alone in presenting both sides of the story, and I think sometimes that there is only one side of the story being presented in the mainstream media.
TV Guide Magazine: Most recent example?
Wallace: I think that Fox was much earlier to the game in raising questions about Obamacare. And a lot of the things that you're seeing now — about if you like your insurance policy, you can keep your policy — there were a lot of questions about that on Fox long before you heard it in the mainstream media. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor — it turns out that's not true in a lot of cases. I think you heard that on Fox before a lot of other places.
TV Guide Magazine: Your relationship with the Sunday shows goes back a long time. When you look at all the ways people can get news, are you surprised that this habit has lasted?
Wallace: No, not really. There is an audience. It's not a huge audience, but there is a very devoted audience. You add up cumulatively all the Sunday talk shows and it's probably 10 million people or more who really care about policy and in-depth interviews. It's an interesting thing. As I think of Fox News Sunday and what we try to do on the show, I'm keenly aware of exactly this question because there are a lot of other things you can be doing on a Sunday. You can just be sleeping, you can be having brunch, you can be talking to your family, reading the Sunday paper — so I feel a real obligation that you have to add value so that if people are going to invest that hour to watch your show on a Sunday, they're going to get something out of it and they'll come back.
TV Guide Magazine: CBS News recently ran an online stream of its Kennedy assassination coverage, which included your father, Mike Wallace, relieving Walter Cronkite at the anchor desk on the Saturday morning after the president died. Do you recall any of it?
Wallace: I don't remember his coverage of that. I certainly am old enough to remember that weekend vividly, but I was in boarding school at the time. I watched all of Friday so all of Walter Cronkite, and President Johnson coming back from Dallas, and I happened to have been watching when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. So I remember that all vividly.
TV Guide Magazine: So it was later when you interned for Cronkite.
Wallace: That was the summer of 1964. I'll give you a little piece of trivia. The only person who was in both anchor booths for CBS News at the 1964 conventions was me. Seriously.
TV Guide Magazine: That's because CBS management pulled Walter from the convention coverage that summer because he was getting pounded in the ratings by NBC's team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.
Wallace: I was there with Walter Cronkite in San Francisco and he got pulled, and they put in Robert Trout and Roger Mudd [at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City], and I was the gofer. Go for coffee, go for pencils — for Cronkite, and then for Trout and Mudd. During the Republican convention in San Francisco, I had met and courted Nancy Cronkite, Walter's daughter, who was my first girlfriend. When he got pulled from the convention, everybody else was worried about Walter. I was worried about whether this was going to mess up my relationship with Nancy.
TV Guide Magazine: You had your priorities in order.
Wallace: Well, all news is local.