Chris Wallace knows what it’s like to have the president of the United States think of him as the opposition. For years, President Barack Obama declined to appear on Fox News, including Wallace’s more down-the-middle Fox News Sunday program. That finally changed last April when Obama sat down with Wallace for the first time to discuss the 2016 election.
Now, Wallace sees President Donald Trump vilifying the media on a much grander scale. On Friday, Trump tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” The president notably left Fox News off of his “enemies list,” and even praised breakfast program Fox & Friends as “the most honest morning show” in his “unhinged” press conference the day before.
Wallace had all of this in mind on Sunday morning when he asked Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus to defend the tweet. “The president believes that a free and independent press is a threat to the country?” he asked his guest.
Priebus struggled to defend his boss, saying, “I understand where he’s coming from,” adding, “there are certain things that are happening in the news that just aren’t honest. And we’re not talking about everyone, Chris. We’re not talking about all news, but we’re talking about something that I guess he’s termed as fake news.”
Over the next few minutes, the two men debated the veracity of certain stories that have been unfavorable to the Trump administration, but Wallace kept trying to bring things back to the bigger picture. “Here’s the problem,” Wallace said, “when the president says we’re the enemy of the American people, it makes it sounds like if you are going against him, you are going against the country.”
As Priebus pushed back, complaining about the coverage that followed Trump’s press conference, Wallace interrupted him. “But you don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince,” he said. “You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I got to say, he never said that we were an enemy of the people.”
In response, Priebus, who seemed to think he was speaking with a friendlier ally, said he was “surprised” that someone from Fox News would “forget all the shots” Obama took at the conservative network.
“No, he took the shots. And we didn't like it,” Wallace said. “And, frankly, we don't like this either, because, you know—but he never went as far as President Trump has and that’s what’s concerning because it seems like he crosses a line when he talks about that we’re an enemy of the people. That is concerning.”
It’s a point that Wallace echoed during an appearance on the weekend edition of Trump’s favorite morning show Fox & Friends earlier before his show aired. “When he said the fake news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people, I believe that crosses an important line,” Wallace told the hosts.
Wallace also agreed with a statement that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made on Meet The Press about the slippery slope the country seems to be on. “It’s a check on power, and he was saying that in dictatorships, there’s state-run media and there’s no opportunity for a free independent press,” he said. “So, I think he’s exactly right there.”
Fox News—or, at least, Chris Wallace—truly lived up to the network’s “fair and balanced” slogan.