Fox News Sunday celebrates 20 years on the air this week, with Chris Wallace sitting in the host’s seat for 13 of them. Across his many decades in broadcasting, Wallace says he’s never quite seen anything in U.S. politics quite like GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Trump’s camp may lack the discipline one expects from a presidential hopeful, but Wallace gives Donald high marks for reading the room—picking up on the “tremendous disaffection with politicians, and politics as usual”—and presenting his message accordingly.
“He’s got perceptive insight into and understanding of a broad sector of the voting public,” says Wallace.
The Republican pace-setter has shown his disdain for the media, but Wallace says Trump is nothing but cordial on the set. “His bashing of the media is not reflective at all of our interaction on a one-on-one basis,” says Wallace. “He’s been nothing but gracious and interesting and engaging in our conversations.”
Those convo’s take place in person—Wallace and his Fox News Sunday producers take pride in not allowing Trump to call in, which he’s done on other political shows. (Wallace suggests a double standard at the competition, where the ratings-magnet magnate can call in but other candidates apparently cannot.) “[Sunday shows] are the one place where people still look for and expect an in-depth, probing and well researched interview,” says Wallace.
A phone-in guest may have their talking points laid out in front of them, says Wallace, and can easily hide uncomfortable body language. “It just struck me as a bad mistake (to allow phone-ins),” he notes.
Fox News Sunday debuted April 28, 1996, and was hosted by Tony Snow. Wallace, former host of Meet the Press, took on Fox News Sunday in 2003.
A career in broadcast news may have been somewhat predetermined for the son of 60 Minutes icon Mike Wallace, and stepson of former CBS News president Bill Leonard. Yet Wallace was nearly headed to Yale Law School in 1969—“I would’ve been in Bill and Hillary’s class…I might well have been secretary of state!” he quips—when he landed a reporter job at the Boston Globe, covering City Hall. Wallace’s first TV job was at WNBC New York in 1975, though his work in broadcast dates back to his teen years.
Mike Wallace was a lead-by-example type, says Chris, and one lesson the younger Wallace took away was to do exhaustive research in advance of an interview. “You make very clear, early on, that you can’t spin me,” he says. “I know too much.”