20 Questions: Chris Wallace

With tonight’s GOP debate broadcast live from South Carolina on Fox News, 20Questions profiles Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday.” Wallace and White House scribe Wendell Goler will pose questions to all 10 GOP presidential candidates. Fox News’s Washington bureau chief Brit Hume will moderate the debate.

Are you excited about the presidential debate tonight in South Carolina?
 Sure. Listen, as the host of a Sunday talk show I’m excited when I have one of these guys sitting across the table from me. Here I have all 10 — this is as good as it gets.

How will you come up with the questions? Will they go through some sort of vetting process with the higher-ups at Fox?
No, we’re dividing up subject areas and there will be certain areas that I will take and I will try to become as well-versed as the candidate’s stands in that area; Wendell and Brit will do the same. I will come up with my own questions. On the day of the date, we’ll sit down and discuss. Several heads are better than one.

Have you ever moderated a presidential debate before?
No, this is the first time I’ve taken part in any role in a presidential debate.

After your testy exchange with former President Clinton, do you think you can get along with the presidential hopefuls and not make them angry?
Well, I don’t think it was a testy exchange. I think he was testy; I was polite. We sometimes ask questions they don’t want to answer, but their reaction is their reaction.

Do you think your questions are fair and balanced?
I hope so.

Did you have any hint that that was going to happen with Clinton?
No, and I don’t think he did either. I know the Clinton team likes to make it seem that this was pre-planned on their part, but the fact that the president’s press secretary tried to get the cameras turned off as soon as the president erupted convinces me that it was as pre-planned as a car wreck.

How do you feel about it now?
I’m delighted, and I think [Clinton] is delighted as well. We ran into each other at party a couple of months ago and there were no hard feelings. It clearly attracted a lot of viewers to our show, and I think [Clinton] feels that it had the effect of energizing the Democratic base.

Will you get advice from your father, Mike Wallace, on what questions to ask or how to behave as a moderator?

I have inculcated a lot of lessons from him over my lifetime. I don’t know that I’m going to need any last-minute help.

Other questioners have had varying styles, everything from having personality to being bland. How do you think yours will be?
I’m going to try to be myself, but I also recognize this debate is a rare opportunity for the voters to get some insight into the next candidates, so it’s more about the candidates than it is about me or the rest of the Fox team.

How will you cut someone off if they’re longwinded?
That is going to be the bell’s job. It will ring very loudly when anyone exceeds their time limit.

Is that an awkward experience?

Sure. You never want to interrupt someone. On “Fox News Sunday” we have limited time and politicians sometimes have an unlimited answer in the interest of covering more ground. Sometimes cutting off what seems to be prepared talking points best serves our viewers to move on to the next subject.

But it doesn’t seem to me that you’re as harsh as “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews.

Someone once said that the questions can sometimes be more interesting than the answers, but I don’t hold to the belief that my questions are always more interesting than everyone’s answers.

What do you find most gratifying about your hosting “Fox News Sunday”?

I’m a political junkie, and like everyone else who pleads guilty to that, I’m fascinated by what government officials are saying or doing.  

And most troubling?

I wish the show were two hours instead of just one. There are always areas I’d like to pursue, but because of the time limits, I always leave a little frustrated that I didn’t get to ask more.

What was your very first job in the field?
City hall reporter for the Boston Globe.

Does your dad watch Fox News?

Do you see him as the icon that some journalists do?
No, he’s my father.

But not as the journalistic icon?
I certainly admire him professionally and I think just growing up I have learned a lot of lessons from the way he has conducted his career. But I don’t think you’re ever going to get a son to call his father an icon.

Do you think life on the air is too PC these days, that everyone must be so careful, maybe too careful about what they say?
I don’t feel hamstrung at all in what I say. One of the joys of Fox News is that we react against political correctness and often try to take the other side of the argument. That is what “fair and balanced” is about. No one can look at the Don Imus affair and not see a cautionary tale there.

Have you ever said anything on air that you regretted later?

Oh, sure, but nothing that I think was horribly offensive. You regret things all the time, that it wasn’t as smart as you’d like it to be.

You have won every major news award, including three Emmys. Do you think you’ve arrived in journalism?

Well, if I haven’t at age 59 and a half, I don’t think I ever will. Seriously, I love where I’m at in my career now. I love working at Fox News and having the opportunity to question all 10 candidates for the Republican nomination. So I don’t look to climb any more mountains.

What do you do to relax at the end of the day?

I’ve got a teenage son and a Yellow Labrador and a wonderful wife, so I don’t have any problems finding ways to relax.

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or email at betsyr@thehill.com.