Will Chis Wallace’s debate topics favor Biden over Trump?

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The expected topics for Tuesday’s 2020 presidential debate have some people wondering if the venerated news outlet may be tilting to the left. The categories, they feel, could play into the hands of the Biden campaign and open the door to a wild national swing among voters to the Democratic ticket. 

Earlier this week, the six topics of the Sept. 29 debate to be held at Case Western University and the Cleveland Clinic were announced by Fox New host and debate moderator Chris Wallace. Joe Biden and Donald Trump will spar over their records, the Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, race relations and urban violence, election integrity, and the economy — all subjects on which Democrats have focused in order to demonize President Trump.

Depending on how it is directed, the focus on the coronavirus — the cornerstone of Biden’s negative campaign against Trump — could turn into an especially unjust jab at the Trump administration’s efforts to mitigate a calamity that no president in U.S. history has ever faced. The economic and societal devastations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented, and Trump’s every step has been criticized by Biden — all from the security of a basement bunker, where Biden need not make any difficult decisions or subject himself to any critical questioning.  

In contrast, Trump decisively managed a massive, complex issue with speed, confidence and optimism intended to lift the nation’s spirits and lead us forward. Were it not for his actions, the United States would be in far worse economic shape than it is today, and more lives would have been lost to the virus. 

How will Fox’s Wallace handle the topic? Many in the Trump camp fear the respected veteran journalist could make the debate more difficult for Trump overall. Wallace often has been criticized by Trump as being overly aggressive or hostile during interviews of administration figures. The president has even called out Fox News itself for what he considered to be unfair or slanted coverage.

Wallace’s attitude toward the administration’s actions during the pandemic often has appeared regrettable. On the show he hosts, “Fox News Sunday,” he once discussed a New York Times report about the president’s actions in the first weeks of the pandemic before asking: “How much did those lost weeks cost us?”

One would hope that, to be fair, Wallace will be equally critical in questioning Biden’s past policies and performance — in particular, Biden’s disturbing relationships with and statements about China, which are a stark contrast to Trump’s head-on confrontation of Beijing. After all, Biden’s record led a fellow Washington institutional player and Obama administration figure, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to write in his autobiography (and to reiterate later) that Biden was “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” 

For more than a year now, Trump and some of his conservative supporters feel they have detected a shift in tone at Fox News. They have raised questions about the network’s news division, even as its opinion hosts like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham continue to be favorites of viewers who champion conservative values.

It would be regrettable if the debate were to result in a raft of new negative coverage of the president, regardless of what actually happens on stage. Even if Biden fails completely or fills the airtime with empty promises and the nonsensical rambling for which he is famous, Trump is sure to come under a predictable pile-on from many media pundits.  

Given the present circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump will not have that many other opportunities to outline his positions to a broad audience of Americans. It would be a shame if the deck were to be stacked — unwittingly or not — against him before the cards are even dealt. 

I remain hopeful that Fox News remains true to its commitment to providing “fair and balanced” coverage. The last thing Americans need is another CNN under a different brand; there are more than enough networks promoting the left’s view of the world every day.  

Tuesday’s debate will give voters their first opportunity to intensively gauge — unfiltered and unprotected — the capabilities and the beliefs of Joe Biden and Donald Trump. It also may help to answer another important question: Has Fox News shifted in its political philosophy, or is it holding fast to the principles that first began attracting its loyal audience in 1996?

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”

Tags 2020 presidential debates Chris Wallace Donald Trump Fox News Joe Biden Laura Ingraham Sean Hannity Tucker Carlson

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