Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace addressed last night’s debacle of a presidential debate in a conversation with The New York Times this afternoon, telling the paper, “I’m just sad with the way last night turned out,” adding, ““I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.”
Wallace, who did his best to keep last night’s debate under control, admitted that he’s read some of the reviews.
“I know people think, ‘Well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,’” Mr. Wallace said, his voice betraying some hoarseness from the previous night’s proceedings. “I guess I didn’t realize—and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20—that this was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate.”
According to the Times, the veteran newsman, who earned rave reviews for his performance moderating the final presidential debate of 2016, was aware of the complexity of his task going in: He had to ensure the debate would be fair, that he would try his best not to take sides, and that he would permit candidates to express themselves while keeping the discussion substantive.
Easier said than done.
“You’re reluctant—as somebody who has said from the very beginning that I wanted to be as invisible as possible, and to enable them to talk—to rise to the point at which you begin to interject more and more,” Mr. Wallace said. “First to say, ‘Please don’t interrupt,’ then ‘Please obey the rules,’ and third, ‘This isn’t serving the country well.’ Those are all tough steps at real time, at that moment, on that stage.”
What about the suggestion that moderators have the choice whether to cut off microphones? Wallace isn’t a fan of that.
“As a practical matter, even if the president’s microphone had been shut, he still could have continued to interrupt, and it might well have been picked up on Biden’s microphone, and it still would have disrupted the proceedings in the hall,” Mr. Wallace said.
What advice does Wallace have for the next moderators, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully and NBC News’ Kristen Welker?
“If either man goes down this road, I hope you’ll be quicker to realize what’s going on than I was. I didn’t have that advance warning.”
According to the Times, Wallace flew home from Cleveland to Annapolis, Md., on Tuesday night. He accepted a glass of champagne at the airport from his producers, albeit reluctantly. Needless to say, he was pooped.
“Generally speaking, I did as well as I could, so I don’t have any second thoughts there,” Wallace concluded. “I’m just disappointed with the results. For me, but much more importantly, I’m disappointed for the country, because it could have been a much more useful evening than it turned out to be.”