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Chris Wallace rips MSNBC... and us - TCA Report

by Joel Keller, posted Jul 16th 2008 12:03AM
Chris WallaceI wasn't going to write an individual post about Monday's Fox News session, but a few things happened near the end of the panel that compelled me to write a bit about it, even if it's more than a day later. The panel, which consisted of Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace, former Bush administration guru and current Fox News analyst Karl Rove, Harold Howard Wolfson, a newly-hired Fox News analyst who worked as the communications director on Hillary Clinton's campaign, and Fox News executive vice president John Moody.

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...

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It's so cute when bloggers post political stuff on non-political blogs, and expect people will actually be interested.

You want to post political stuff, do it on a political blog, where someone might care.

July 16 2008 at 10:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mr. Keller - It's Howard Wolfson, not Harold. How are we supposed to take this report seriously with such a glaring mistake? Perhaps you should stick to your usual beat and stray from covering serious matters such as these.


July 16 2008 at 1:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mattpol's comment
Joel Keller

Thanks for pointing that out. I fixed it. And you can take my post as seriously or as not seriously as you want. Note that I just spoke about what transpired, and didn't go into political analysis. For that, you need to go elsewhere. The Harold/Howard thing was just a product of late-night typing.

July 16 2008 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Yowza. The critics were getting annoyed, many shouting "yes we would!" and "you're wrong!" And I believe them."

I don't.

July 16 2008 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To miller and jana:

You have got to understand this is TV Comrades, not an actual fair-minded site or discussion at all. You've found yourselves right in the middle of a huge Obama circle-jerk. Fret not, however, since anyone whose belief system includes rooting for the worst of all the potential Democrat candidates is not worth worrying over.

This is also an article written by someone who truly believes these reporters would've thrown the same hardball questions should the political tables have been turned, and most laughably, lumps himself into the category of "journalist". When touching on asking tough questions regarding the former point in my last sentence, he even asks, "why wouldn't we" question a liberal pundit. This is just a paper-thin attempt to make himself and the foaming-at-the-mouth liberal reporters look fair-minded. That's way too little and way too late and only makes him look laughable.

Saddest part is none of these fools realizes how laughable they really are.

July 16 2008 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Come on, this was just a case of left leaning reporters, yes, even of the tv entertainment kind, taking advantage of a chance to grill Rove. It wasn't the right forum and in fact CNN and MSNBC have hired people similar to Rove as well. MSNBC was so biased in their Obama coverage (and still is!) that it should be illegal.

July 16 2008 at 12:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to Chaim's comment

Wallace has a valid point. I know this is a TV forum, but most objective newswatchers have commented on MSNBC's lighthanded coverage, particularly of Obama. Just ask a Hillary supporter.

Additionally, if you don't think Olbermann is biased in all of his reporting, you probably should re-evaluate your understanding of the word "bias."

July 16 2008 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Saying that Olbermann can keep his opinions to himself when not doing Countdown makes no sense. With his left wing spewing on Countdown his agenda is clear and that bias carries over to whatever else he does. It would be like Bill O'Reilly doing political coverage. As for Fox, at least they make an effort to have both sides of an argument discussed; Olbermann has the same people on his show all the time whose purpose is to simply agree with whatever he says - Wow, what riveting television!!

July 16 2008 at 10:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Way to go Chris Wallace. I think he is exactly right.

July 16 2008 at 8:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Fox News sucks the BIG ONE. It is the most bias news organization around. Chris Wallace is a bore, talks thru his nose, and is an arrogant ass. He wishes he was as good K.O.. Karl Rove should be tried in a court of law for crimes against humanity...................

July 16 2008 at 3:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Geraci

The thing with Olbermann, is that when he is not on his show, when he is being a general anchor, he is a general anchor. He doesn't wear his opinions on his sleeve any more than any other anchor on MSNBC or CNN, when he is not on Countdown.

July 16 2008 at 2:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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