Another Reason Chris Wallace Isn’t Fit For The Debate Stage
On Wednesday, Donald Trump continued to stonewall reporters and voters interested in learning more about his medical history. Adhering to his penchant for secrecy, Trump ignored the long-running protocol for presidential nominees to provide voters with a medical background and professional assurance about their health.
Trump tried to dance around that disclosure norm by appearing at a taping of Dr. Oz to release some medical information to the daytime television host. (“From an investigative reporter's perspective, we continue to be played by the Trump campaign,” noted CNN’s Drew Griffin yesterday.)
Watching the spectacle unfold on Wednesday, amidst widespread speculation over what happened at the taping and as the Trump’s campaign sent conflicting signals about what would exactly be revealed during the Thursday airing of the Dr. Oz episode and how many documents would be released, Fox News’ Chris Wallace announced that Trump had seized the transparency initiative over Hillary Clinton.
Wallace touted how Trump was “disclosing medical records on Dr. Oz” and “being transparent.” In fact, “At this point, the health transparency gap now works in Trump's favor because of the Dr. Oz incident,” the Fox News Sunday host insisted.
But none of that was accurate. The Trump campaign likely wanted to project the image it was “disclosing medical records on Dr. Oz” and “being transparent.” But that wasn’t the case on Wednesday. In fact, on Wednesday Trump was still refusing to publicly release any relevant medical information, which meant he clearly trailed the “transparency gap” as compared to Clinton.
The day after Wallace’s comments, Trump’s campaign did release a three-paragraph letter from the candidate’s doctor who briefly summarized Trump's health.
Last December, Trump previously released a letter from the same doctor. But that missive was widely ridiculed as being nearly worthless in terms of pertinent information. And Trump’s doctor later conceded he had spent just five minutes writing the note, which he did as a limousine that the Trump campaign had sent over to retrieve the document idled outside.
So at the time of Wallace’s Trump defense on Wednesday, the only information the candidate had disclosed was a rather nutty note from his doctor. Yet Wallace insisted Trump was winning the “transparency” battle with Clinton.
Normally, Wallace’s misleading commentary might just be written off as more Fox News spin for Trump. The problem is, Wallace isn’t just any talking head. He’s been selected to be the sole moderator of the final presidential debate on October 19 in Las Vegas. (Wallace represents the first Fox anchor ever selected to host a general election presidential debate.)
The fact that Wallace pitched in to help the Trump campaign this week by suggesting Trump had earned the transparency advantage raises additional doubts about his moderating duties. What if during the debate Wallace turns to Clinton and asks her why she hasn’t been as “transparent” as Trump in releasing medical information? What if Wallace introduces other anti-Clinton falsehoods like that while he’s moderating?
Keep in mind, Wallace has already stated publicly that he won’t fact-check candidates during the debate. (“It’s not my role.”) The odd concession raised deep concerns, especially since Trump has rewritten the rules for political prevarications this cycle.
Also troubling was the fact that for two decades Wallace worked for Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who left the channel in disgrace amidst allegations of sexual harassment, and who is now reportedly advising Trump for his debate preparation. Said Wallace of Ailes this summer, “Roger Ailes is the best boss I’ve had in almost a half a century in journalism. I admired him tremendously professionally, and loved him personally.”
So Wallace has been actively spinning for Trump regarding “transparency,” won’t fact-check Trump at the debate, and has been close friends with Trump’s debate adviser.
What could possibly go wrong?
CNN recently reported that in choosing the four debate moderators this election season, “The last thing the [Debate] Commission wants is for the moderator to become part of the story about a debate.”
By selecting Wallace, the Commission has failed.