Chris Wallace rips MSNBC... and us - TCA Report
I figured that the presence of Karl Rove on the panel would have had the drooling critics in the crowd ready to pounce. But, for the most part, the press conference started very cordially. Things started to get testy near the end though. What is surprising, however, is that the reporters didn't have more problems with Chris Wallace than Rove.
As I said, things started out cordially. Woolfson, when asked why he joined Fox, said that he felt that the network gave the most "comprehensive" and "fair" account of the presidential campaign, including how they treated his old boss. Rove was asked if he can be give good election analysis due to his connections to the Republicans; he felt it wasn't going to be an issue, since he doesn't have a direct tie to the McCain campaign. (He knows people who are close to the campaign, of course, and he's contributed. But Rove claims to not have any direct tie.) Anyway, Wolfson and Rove praised each other's experience and knowledge and claimed that they respected one another, even if they don't agree on any policy issues.
Moody even answered my question about what kind of management structure allows an anchor to say a phrase like "terrorist fist bump." (The phrase was actually "terrorist fist jab." Oh, well.) After making what looked like a bit of a wince, he answered that those situations are taken care of internally, but, yes, anchors are not being told what to say when. Ok, all well and good.
Then the fun began.
Roger Catlin of The Hartford Courant asked Moody and Rove: "It's a little unusual to have Mr. Rove here, frankly, when I think Congress would rather be talking to you. Mr. Moody, is it -- does it undercut your credibility a little bit on your station when you have somebody with so much political baggage and is under subpoena?" Moody tried to make a joke, but then replied that "Mr. Rove is a certified authority on the electoral process, on politics, his track record speaks for itself. You know, his current difference of opinion with Congress is between him and Congress, and we consider ourselves very fortunate to have him here working for us."
It went downhill from there, with a few people asking Rove directly about his refusal to testify to Congress under oath about possible abuse of his position in the administration (more details here). Near the end of the press conference, Rove took pains to explain his side of the issue, in a long, tense monologue, the content of which is far too complicated for me to analyze on this here humble TV blog.
But Rove wasn't even the most irate person on the panel. No, Chris Wallace was steamed enough for the both of them. First, he went off on MSNBC, taking a cue from SNL in the process: "I think that MSNBC and its coverage of this campaign went so far over the line in terms of being in the tank to Barack Obama that it lost a lot of credibility..." Huh? Never thought I'd hear any reporter named Wallace use the phrase "in the tank." Chris' point was that FOX doesn't use its commentators to anchor election coverage, while MSNBC does (Keith Olbermann, anyone?).
That wasn't all from Mr. Wallace. After Rove stoped fuming over being questioned about his dispute with Congress, Wallace ended the session by volunteering this monologue:
"I know I talk too much, but I just want to say something. I have to say, I'm struck by what I think is a double standard in the questions that particularly Karl is being asked here. I don't understand. Maybe somebody can explain to me why it is that if Congress and the White House are having a fight in executive power that that should in any way constrain an independent news organization's decision as to who it's going to have on its payroll and who it's going to talk to. I question whether for were it a conservative Congress that had subpoenaed James Carville, let's say, who was in a fight with Congress about testifying and he were under subpoena, whether you'd be asking CNN whether or not -- why they're trafficking with James Carville."
Yowza. The critics were getting annoyed, many shouting "yes we would!" and "you're wrong!" And I believe them. Despite what many think is the "dumbing down" of TCA, most of the members are veteran journalists as well as TV critics. Of course they'd question one of the other networks about who they hire. Wallace retorted that NBC just hired Mike Murphy, who has closer ties to McCain than Rove does, and no one has questioned that. Well, fine. But Rove happens to be on the stage right at that moment, and he's also one of the more polarizing political figures of the last half-century. Why wouldn't we question him if given the opportunity?
Anyway, it was all fun and games, but the panel had a plane to catch and we had to brace for the scintillating Do Not Disturb panel, so we had to put a stop to the festivities. It was a nice piece of candor -- misplaced candor, but candor nevertheless -- in an otherwise dullish day of press conferences. Maybe next summer FOX can get Dick Cheney to sit on the panel...