While Donald Trump’s campaign implodes under the weight of widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault by the Republican presidential nominee, he continues to maintain his bunker-like media strategy of basically only talking to his allies at Fox News.
The strategy is unprecedented for a general election candidate. But bombarded with bad news on all sides, Trump opts to hide out. “By cloistering himself on Fox News, he mostly avoids difficult questions about the daily controversies that plague his campaign,” noted CNN's Brian Stelter. (Trump’s last interview with either of Fox News’ main cable news rivals was August 25 on CNN; he hasn’t done a televised interview with any of the three broadcast networks since September 6.)
Trump also hasn’t held a press conference since July.
That means for Trump, the third and final presidential debate threatens rare exposure from his bubble strategy -- in fact, it could represent the last time this election cycle Trump will face unfriendly questions. Except there’s a hitch: Fox News’ Chris Wallace is moderating the debate. The same Chris Wallace who announced he won’t fact-check the candidates during the forum. It’s a hands-off approach that Trump and his allies heartily endorse.
In other words, we have a potential mess unfolding. At the time when voters ought to be able hear a journalist press Trump about the avalanche of allegations from women who claim he’s groped and assaulted them, and at a time when Trump refuses to answer questions from most reporters, the final debate, at a distance, risks becoming another friendly venue for Trump, given Wallace’s past comments.
“I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad,” Wallace announced last month. “It's up to the other person to catch them on that."
That’s simply not acceptable in the age of Trump. According to the fact-checkers at PolitiFact, roughly 70 percent of Trump claims they assessed have been found to be “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies. (Just four percent of the Trump assertions analyzed by the site have been found “true.”)
And at the second debate, despite the best efforts by moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, Trump simply could not, or would not, stop lying. From NBC News:
· Trump said Clinton doesn't know Russia hacked the DNC. U.S. intelligence has said they very likely did.
· Trump said Clinton got a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl “off” his charges. She didn't.
· Trump said Clinton laughed at a child rape victim. She didn't.
· Trump said Clinton “viciously attacked” four women. This is largely unsubstantiated.
· Trump said his 2005 recording didn't describe sexual assault. It did.
· Trump said Clinton's campaign started the “birther” movement. She didn't.
· Trump said Clinton wants a single payer healthcare. She doesn't.
· Trump said the San Bernardino shooters' neighbors saw bombs in their apartment. They didn't.
Notably, it is only because of Cooper's dogged questioning over the video of Trump bragging about commiting sexual assault that he was put on record denying he had ever committed that crime. Women have cited that public denial in coming forward to tell their stories about Trump this week.
Against the background of Trump's rampant prevarications, Wallace is going to sit in the moderator’s chair and refuse to fact-check Trump. And Trump knows it. Talk about being unshackled.
It’s also problematic because immediately following the second debate, some media observers seemed to deduct points from Clinton for supposedly not delivering a sure and steady performance, without simultaneously acknowledging she was confronted with an unprecedented avalanche of lies. (Reminder: In the past, most presidential nominees tried to avoid telling blatant lies during nationally televised debates for fear of being fact-checked and having to explain the so-called 'gaffe' the next day. Trump doesn't seem bothered in the slightest and just keeps telling more.)
Meanwhile, as Media Matters has documented, there are lots of other reasons why Wallace is the wrong pick. He was recently deriding Clinton’s demeanor after the first debate as being excessive [emphasis added]:
WALLACE: She was enjoying herself. Bob, you say that you were on the road this week in North Carolina. You talked to a lot of people, and that kind of, I think it's fair to say, gloating didn't set too well?
BOB WOODWARD: Yeah. She won the debate. I think there's universal agreement on that. I guess Trump would not agree. But she really did. But, you know, that clip shows this kind of self-congratulation, this self-satisfaction. And as we know and as we try to teach our children, when you win something, don't gloat. Humility works. And the problem for her is this feeds the notion that she's in this for herself. You see that. She was overjoyed with what she did. Fine, take a victory lap, but there is -- something like that doesn't get dialed back, and it probably should.
Talk about odd: The person who is going to moderate Wednesday’s debate went on national TV to criticize the winner of the previous debate for supposedly “gloating.”
Of course, also troubling is 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. Ailes has reportedly been advising Trump for debate preparation, while simultaneously advising Wallace's ultimate boss, 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch.
Obviously, the issue of sexual harassment is going to come up at the debate. Wallace’s employer just went through a high-profile sexual harassment scandal where allegations were made that the cable channel is wildly hostile toward women. Will the Fox moderator really try to hold accountable the candidate who’s being coached by the moderator’s former boss and good friend?
This is how Wallace described 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.”
As Media Matters’ founder David Brock stated in a letter to the debate commission last month, “It is a glaring conflict of interest that Roger Ailes, who resigned from Fox News in July, simultaneously provides advice to Donald Trump while serving as a paid adviser to Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch—debate moderator Chris Wallace’s boss.”
Wallace’s selection as moderator has always been riddled with conflicts. The fact that Trump now essentially refuses to come out from behind the Fox News curtain, while serious allegations of Trump wrongdoing mount, makes Wallace’s moderator role even more problematic.