The more, the better, says Fox News host Chris Wallace
Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, a television public affairs program based in Washington, D.C., thinks the proliferation of news sources across the electronic spectrum is a good thing. The consumer, faced with more choices, must simply be more discerning.
In a telephone interview last week, prior to his arrival on the Vineyard for a family vacation, Mr. Wallace talked about his career, the changes he has seen over the years and his transition from the so-called mainstream media to Fox News.
A regular summer visitor, Chris Wallace is the son of 60 Minutes CBS reporter and seasonal Vineyard Haven resident Mike Wallace. Upon graduation from Harvard University, where he worked on the student radio station, Chris Wallace joined the Boston Globe as a reporter.
He joined NBC as a reporter in 1975 and became NBC's chief White House correspondent. During that time he hosted the Nightly News and anchored Meet the Press.
He left NBC to join ABC News as senior correspondent for Primetime Thursday, where he worked for 15 years. In 2003, he joined Fox News.
Mr. Wallace has won every major broadcast news award for his reporting, including three Emmy Awards, the Dupont-Columbia Silver Baton and the Peabody Award. But he spent the first four years of his journalism career working as a newspaper reporter, based on the advice of his father, who said it would be good training because he would learn to report and write in depth.
"I loved working at the Globe," said Mr. Wallace, "but I was enough of a ham that I was always intrigued by getting into television."
When an offer to make a jump to a local CBS station in Chicago came his way, he took it. He went from Chicago to NBC in New York and then to Washington and a job covering the White House.
"I loved that experience. It was a wonderful forced education. First of all, I was covering Ronald Reagan, and secondly, in the course of a week I would be reporting on arms control one day and Middle East policy the next and the budget the third, so over the course of six plus years I really did learn a lot."
Photos courtesy Fox News
He was ready for a change when Roone Arledge, president of ABC, offered him a job on Prime Time Magazine. It was an attractive and new challenge, he said, one that included a lot of traveling.
From 1989 to 2003, he worked with seasonal Vineyard resident Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson until Fox News came calling and asked him to host his own Sunday news affairs show. "The opportunity to be back in Washington was very attractive," he said.
Mr. Wallace said he has had a variety of opportunities, each one different. News gathering has changed a great deal since he first began reporting.
"It is night and day," said Mr. Wallace. "When I first got into the news business and in a sense when I first started in local news back in 1973, it was a very hierarchical system. You had all of the local systems and three major networks."
An employee worked hard and moved up the ladder. That has all changed with the addition of cable networks and the Internet. Now there are many sources of information and different venues in which to practice journalism.
"I think it has expanded the opportunities and probably created a healthier sense of competition," he said. "One of the reasons that Fox was created back in 1996 was because Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes felt that the media establishment as it then existed, which was the three major networks and a few major newspapers, the so-called main stream media, was only telling part of the story and that there was a large share of the potential audience that was dissatisfied with the news that it was getting and did not feel it was getting the full story. And that is why they created Fox News, as a corrective to that.
"And whether you like Fox News or don't like it, it seems to me that it is a healthy development if only because it creates another view point and some competition for the mainstream media and another place where people can get information, and by comparison check out whether they are getting the full story."
For many years, Mr. Wallace was part of the established network system, a member of the so-called mainstream media. Has his view changed? Was Murdock right?
"You know, it is interesting," said Mr. Wallace, "because when I was in the mainstream media, when I was working at NBC and ABC - those were my big jobs for about 25 years - I thought we were fair and balanced. But since coming to Fox four and a half years ago, I have come to see things a little differently. And I, in fact, do believe there is a bias in the mainstream media and that is something I was only able to understand when I was outside of it."
Mr. Wallace describes that bias as a shared conventional wisdom that manifests itself in the coverage of a variety of issues from gun control to the environment to gay unions and abortion, when in fact there is another side to the story that too often does not get told.
"I really have over the course of time come to think that there is a bias to most of the reporting in the media, and I think Fox and some newspapers do a good job of balancing that," he said. "Again, whether you end up agreeing with Fox or not, it can only be healthy to have more viewpoints out there and more approaches out there."
Asked how his view of the conventional media wisdom resonates within the liberal Vineyard summer community, Mr. Wallace laughs. "Oh my God, I've broken up more dinner parties in my years on the Vineyard," he said.
Asked for an example, he described a discussion at a party several years ago hosted by Rose Styron, a poet and the wife of Pulitzer-prize winning author William Styron. He said everybody was criticizing President George Bush. The list of criticisms included Mr. Bush's go it alone approach in Iraq and his rejection of one-on-one talks with North Korea and insistence that China be part of any discussion.
Mr. Wallace said he pointed out the contradiction and raised "howls of outrage."
Mr. Wallace said his intention was not to say that Mr. Bush has not made mistakes or that he agrees with him, only to make a point. He said the progress that has come out of the six-nation talks with North Korea, represented by last week's announcement of the destruction of a major nuclear weapons facility as it continues to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, is a tribute to the president's policy of engaging the Chinese.
Politics and newsmakers are the focus of Fox News Sunday, broadcast at 10 am. The format includes one-on-one interviews with prominent individuals and a discussion among a panel of experienced journalists that includes Fox News anchor Brit Hume, NPR reporter Mara Liasson, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, and NPR analyst Juan Williams.
Mr. Hume and Mr. Williams, who tends to represent a Democratic and liberal viewpoint, often go toe to toe over issues. Mr. Wallace said people often ask if they have a grudge.
"The answer is no, they are professional, and they very much respect each other and they understand and value the role that each one of them has to play in terms of presenting all of the viewpoints. I do not mean to say there are not differences - it is not a vaudeville act, but they are professional enough to respectfully disagree."
How does he expect the news gathering business to change in the future? Mr. Wallace said he is not smart enough to answer that well, but he does think that we are going to see a continuing proliferation of news sources, greater diversity, and a greater variety of viewpoints, many of which are expressed in the form of blogs.