BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Faced with questions he didn't like from members of the Television Critics Association, Fox News anchorman Chris Wallace reverted to Fox News form he went on the attack.
It's classic Fox News Channel behavior. This is, after all, a cable network that has kept a blacklist of journalists whose questions it refuses to answer (and whose phone calls it refuses to return) because of coverage it considers unflattering.
(Fox News chairman Roger Ailes once denied this in another TCA press conference, but it is irrefutable fact.)
Wallace, analysts Karl Rove and Howard Wolfson and Fox News executive vice president John Moody appeared before members of the TCA recently to discuss their political coverage. And questions were raised about both analysts.
Wolfson is Sen. Hillary Clinton's former communications director; Rove is President Bush's former political guru. So it was not out of line to ask them both if they were offering analysis or campaigning for votes for their respective political parties.
The fact is, both of them are clearly identified by their political positions on the air, but it was nonetheless a legitimate question.
As were questions about having Rove comment on the news when he's still part of the news. He is, after all, in jeopardy of being cited for contempt of Congress.
And yet Wallace chose to interpret perfectly legitimate questions as attacks, and he launched counterattacks at the questioners.
"I'm struck by what I think is a double standard in the questions that particularly Karl is being asked here," he said. "I don't understand. Maybe somebody can explain to me why it is that if Congress and the White House are having a fight (over) 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."
That's absolutely disingenuous. First, asking the question allowed Rove to explain his position, which he did quite capably: He said he is simply caught in the middle of a fight over executive privilege. And it allowed Fox News to explain its rationale for hiring him. Which Moody did quite capably, calling him "a certified authority on the electoral process (and) on politics; his track record speaks for itself."
Wallace, however, immediately drew the conclusion that Fox News was somehow being treated unfairly.
"I question (if) it were 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 why they're trafficking with James Carville," Wallace said.
Having attended TCA press tours since 1990, I feel comfortable telling you that the answer to Wallace's hypothetical question is that, yes, it absolutely would have been asked. Just days earlier, CNN staffers had been subjected to questioning they didn't particularly like.
(Yours truly has written two rather negative columns about CNN in recent weeks, including one that ran yesterday.)
Yet Wallace wouldn't accept that.
"You would? I wonder," he said essentially calling a room full of journalists liars at the same time he was taking umbrage over questions about his own organization.
Wallace went on to question whether MSNBC would get any tough questions.
"I think sometimes there's a double standard here," Wallace reiterated. "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." Specifically, he complained that MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, "who was delivering 10-minute screeds against President Bush, telling him to shut the hell up, telling Hillary Clinton to get out of the campaign," was then anchoring political coverage.
A perfectly legitimate question. One that I asked myself when MSNBC made its presentation.
(And the TV column that will run in Friday's paper is critical of MSNBC.)
As for Wallace, his behavior certainly didn't help make the case that FNC is "fair and balanced." Maybe he's been in the Fox News bunker so long that he's lost perspective.Going on the attack when asked legitimate questions questions that allow you to explain your side of the story only makes it seem like there is a basis for the most negative interpretation of your answers.