Chris Wallace, the longtime host of Fox News Sunday, is the latest example of a curious phenomenon: Fox News veterans leaving the network and then telling the public that their former employer is a right-wing propaganda outlet.
“I’m fine with opinion: conservative opinion, liberal opinion,” Wallace told The New York Times in an interview published Sunday. “But when people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was January 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.”
“Some people might have drawn the line earlier, or at a different point,” he added. “I think Fox has changed over the course of the last year and a half. But I can certainly understand where somebody would say, ‘Gee, you were a slow learner, Chris.’”
Indeed, Wallace learned more slowly than several of his former colleagues, who left Fox in recent years as its right-wing stars became more volatile, its “news side” atrophied, and the network as a whole remade itself as President Donald Trump’s propaganda channel. They all say more or less the same thing about their previous employer.
Carl Cameron, Fox’s chief political correspondent, left in 2017, explaining that “over the years, the right-wing hosts drowned out straight journalism with partisan misinformation.” Ralph Peters said after quitting his post as a strategic analyst in 2018 that “with the rise of Donald Trump, Fox did become a destructive propaganda machine.” Network anchor Shepard Smith, who abruptly resigned in 2019, said “that his presence on Fox became untenable as opinion shows on the network spread falsehoods that hosts knew were lies,” as CNN put it. Politics editor Chris Stirewalt said after he was fired in early 2021 that during the Trump years, Fox became “an arm of a political party.” The list goes on.
Patterns like this are atypical. Journalists and commentators do not routinely leave and decry their former employers as partisan hacks via other news outlets. On the rare instances when something like that does happen – when the likes of Lara Logan leave CBS News, claiming the network is biased – it becomes apparent that the problem was with the employee, not the employer.
But this keeps happening at Fox because its “news side” journalists have always been cogs in a right-wing propaganda machine. People like Wallace make a lot of money leasing their reputations to Fox, and they tell themselves that they make its coverage better than it would have been otherwise. But Fox’s executives and PR staff use their presence as evidence the network is a legitimate news source, boosting its standing with the public, politicians, other journalists, and advertisers.
These cogs are finding their breaking points as Fox gets more openly propagandistic, corrupt, dishonest, and dangerous. Wallace’s final straw came last December after the airing of Fox star Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge special, an obscene defense of the January 6 insurrectionists.
But morally abhorrent Fox content like that exists because it is exactly what Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch and the rest of the brass want from the network’s stars.
Cogs can be replaced, and Wallace surely will be. He says working at Fox became “unsustainable” for him after Patriot Purge. That means that while many of his longtime colleagues quit over previous Fox malfeasance, he was willing to bear everything up to that point. In the same way, whoever takes over Wallace’s Sunday show slot will, by definition, be someone who finds it sustainable to work at the network that produced Carlson’s conspiracy theory magnum opus.
That person will remain at their post until they make enough money, Fox reaches new depths of depravity, or both. And then they’ll be the ones dishing to reporters about how they regret that Fox’s standards recently became unacceptable.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters