Chris Wallace becomes Trump era's 'equal opportunity inquisitor'

Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceAmash says Sanford presidential bid won't impact decision on whether he runs in 2020 Trump labels GOP challengers the 'Three Stooges' Pompeo: Taliban talks are dead 'for the time being' MORE was nearing the end of a tense interview last year with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinFeehery: Impeachment fever bad for Democratic governing vision Taliban travels to Moscow after Trump declares talks dead Russians tune out Vladimir Putin MORE in Helsinki, where the “Fox News Sunday” anchor had won the mercurial leader's attention by handing him an indictment implicating Russian agents in U.S. election meddling and engaging him on the country’s nuclear weapons and its role in Syria’s civilian massacres.

"I thought, 'I’ve really got a great interview here now, but I have one great question left.' And I'm thinking, 'Should I ask it or not?’ And I thought to myself, 'What the hell?'" Wallace recalled in an interview with The Hill.

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"I said, 'Why is it so many of the people who oppose Vladimir Putin end up dead?' And again, it was an audible gasp in the room from the Russians."

But it paid off.

Late last month, Wallace was nominated for an Emmy for his interview with Putin, marking the first-ever nomination for the Fox News Channel at the annual television awards.

The Putin interview is one of several sit-downs Wallace has conducted in the Trump era that have garnered headlines or resulted in viral moments. In an increasingly partisan and siloed news environment, and with President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE and other leaders stoking distrust in the media, Wallace has carved out a reputation as a tough but fair interviewer who has gotten the best of members of both parties.

"People come up to me at airports or restaurants or whenever I’m out in public and praise me a lot for being fair," Wallace, 71, said in an interview. "While on the one hand I appreciate it, on the other hand it kind of depresses me because when I started out in the business being fair was the baseline — that you tried to be as fair, as objective, as even-handed as you could be."

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The son of veteran broadcaster Mike Wallace, Chris is in his fifth decade in the industry. He joined Fox in 2003 and has hosted "Fox News Sunday" for more than 15 years, making him the elder statesman among the Sunday talk shows.

Even with the rise of cable news, the internet, commentators and partisan media outlets, Wallace said he approaches his job the same way he did decades ago. He likened his preparation to that of a cross-examiner trying to predict how a subject might respond to a given question and how to get them off script.

Wallace earned praise for his work as a moderator during the final presidential debate of the 2016 presidential campaign and has had prominent Republican and Democratic officials on “Fox News Sunday” during Trump’s presidency.

"I’ve been called an equal opportunity inquisitor, and I take that very seriously," Wallace said.

In May, Trump chastised Wallace and Fox for giving airtime to Democratic presidential candidate Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE, tweeting, "I like Mike Wallace better."

But two months later, the president struck a different tone, approvingly quoting Wallace's assessment of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal MORE's testimony as a "disaster" for Democrats.

Many of Wallace's most noteworthy moments in recent months have come when he has pinned down White House officials seeking to dodge a question or repeat a misleading talking point.

In January, Wallace stopped then-press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersSarah Huckabee Sanders says she is 'relentlessly' attacked by women Sarah Sanders makes debut as Fox News contributor Sarah Sanders to publish book ahead of 2020 election MORE Sanders as she sought to repeat the claim that thousands of "special interest aliens" have been stopped at the border. He countered that many of them came through airports, not the southern border.

A month later, it was White House senior adviser Stephen MillerStephen MillerTrump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions Democrats, advocates blast reported White House plan to cut refugee cap to zero Unconfirmed by Senate, Cuccinelli sees power, influence grow on immigration MORE's turn when Wallace pressed him to cite another example of a president invoking national emergency powers to get money denied by Congress, a step Trump had taken days earlier.

Wallace last month had a quick retort when acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump administration asks Supreme Court to take up challenge to consumer bureau NOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE told him he was "spending too much time reading between the lines" about Trump's tweets degrading the city of Baltimore as a "rat and rodent infested mess."

"I'm not reading between the lines. I'm reading the lines," Wallace responded.

When Trump sat for an interview in November on "Fox News Sunday," Wallace sought to unpack the president’s barrage of attacks on the media, which Trump had described as the "enemy of the people." When Trump clarified he was not referring to the Fox anchor as "fake news," Wallace interjected.

"It doesn't matter what you call — when you call CNN and The New York Times and we're in solidarity, sir," Wallace said.

The broadcaster told The Hill that he feels Trump has "gone over the line" with his attacks on the press but suggested the proper response would be not to take the bait.

"I think some reporters make a mistake in thinking because he goes over the line that gives them an excuse to push back and go over the line themselves," Wallace said. "And I think that’s exactly the wrong response."

Wallace's employer has faced allegations it is too cozy with the Trump administration. Critics of Fox News say hosts such as Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamTrump: 'Top shows' on Fox News, cable are 'Fair (or great)' to me Trump criticizes Fox, which 'isn't working for us anymore' NYT's Stephens roasted for response to bedbug crack: 'Dish it out but can't take it' MORE and Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityFederal appeals court revives Seth Rich's family's lawsuit against Fox News Politicon announces lineup including Comey, Hannity, Priebus Ed Henry returns to 'Fox & Friends' in teary interview after recovering from donating part of his liver MORE and programs such as "Fox & Friends" echo the president's agenda and offer little in the way of critical coverage.

The Democratic National Committee announced in March it would not allow Fox News to host a presidential primary debate, citing an exposé alleging deep ties between the network and Trump’s inner circle.

Fox News anchors bristled at the decision, suggesting it did a disservice to the news division, candidates and voters.

Bret Baier argued that White House hopefuls would miss out on reaching a sizable audience, while Wallace quipped that some Democrats suffered from "Fox derangement syndrome."

Still, Wallace has found a way to play a role in the 2020 Democratic primary. He has hosted candidate town halls for Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions MORE (D-N.Y.) and Buttigieg, who has been on "Fox News Sunday" twice in recent months. Wallace this month questioned the South Bend mayor about his lack of support among black voters.

"I think his credibility, his authoritative nature, and his attention to detail and facts make any appearance he makes on Fox News Channel, it makes the cable channel better," said Carl Cameron, a former Fox News reporter who has been critical of the network in recent months.

Cameron noted that Wallace has had public disagreements with opinion hosts at Fox News but that those on the other side of the arguments "have come to realize that messing with Chris Wallace is a losing proposition."

"I don’t want to overstate it, but Chris’s work is vital for Fox," Cameron added.

Wallace said he views his Emmy nomination as recognition of the work of his team ahead of the Putin interview and of the network's news division as a whole.

After he finished his 34-minute sit-down interview with Putin in July 2017, Wallace said he introduced his wife to the Russian president and informed Putin that they would be vacationing in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

"I had wanted to take my wife Lorraine to Russia, which I think is a fascinating country," Wallace said. "My father came from Russia so feel kinship there."

"And he said, 'How long are you spending in each city?'" Wallace said with a laugh. "I wondered about his curiosity, but I proceeded to tell him."