NY Times Columnist Urges Fox News Moderator To Discuss “Budget Reality” During Final Debate

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt called on Fox News host Chris Wallace to base “his questions on budget reality” during the “debt and entitlements” portion of the third and final presidential debate that he will moderate tonight -- the first general election debate ever moderated by a Fox personality. Given Wallace’s track record of parroting right-wing media budget hysteria from his anchor desk at Fox News, it is possible that the moderator will fall short of what Leonhardt characterized as his “reputation as a serious journalist.”

NY Times Column Hopes Final Presidential Debate Will Feature Questions Based On “Budget Reality”

NY Times’ David Leonhardt Urges Wallace To Stick To “Budget Reality” Instead Of “Badly Outdated” Talking Points. New York Times columnist David Leonhardt called on Fox News host and presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace to discuss “budget reality” when posing questions to the presidential nominees at tonight’s third and final debate of the general election. Leonhardt warned Wallace -- whom he described as having a “reputation as a serious journalist, not a Fox News partisan like Sean Hannity” -- against discussing the national debt or vital entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in “alarmist terms” that portray programs as “going broke” or “make references to trillions of dollars” in long-term debt obligations. He noted that such “badly outdated” framing has contributed to a “public discussion of the national debt that isn’t based on reality.” From the October 19 column:

I encourage you to watch for whether [Chris] Wallace bases his questions on budget reality. Much of the public discussion of the national debt isn’t based on reality. It instead relies on facts that are badly outdated.

The clichéd way to talk about the debt is in alarmist terms — to warn of Social Security going broke or to make references to trillions of dollars of red ink. And this negativity does have some connection to reality.


But it’s also true that the long-term deficit has fallen substantially. The national debt in 2046, for instance, is now projected to be about half as large as it was projected to be seven years ago, according to the Congressional Budget Office.


Reasonable people can disagree about how much to emphasize the decline in the projected debt versus how much to emphasize the debt itself. But it’s simply irresponsible to talk about the debt while ignoring the enormous change.

Wallace has a reputation as a serious journalist, not a Fox News partisan like Sean Hannity, and I hope Wallace lives up to that reputation. [The New York Times, 10/19/16]

Wallace Has Long History Of Pushing Misinformation About The Federal Budget And Entitlement Programs

Wallace Downplayed Seriousness Of Debt Default, Claiming Obama Was Trying To “Panic The Markets” During Government Shutdown. During an October 2013 interview with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, Wallace claimed both the secretary and the president “seem to be trying to panic the markets about both raising the debt ceiling and the government shutdown.” The threat posed by the federal government potentially defaulting on its debt obligations in the midst of the government shutdown was so serious that an October 3, 2013, report from the Treasury concluded that “a default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic” for the global economy. On the same day, during a Fox Business interview, Harvard economist Jeffrey Frankel had pointed out that the last time the federal government came close to a default, the credit rating was downgraded from “AAA” to “AA.” [Media Matters, 10/3/13; Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 10/6/13]

Wallace Echoed Paul Ryan’s False Attack That The Obama Administration Is “Raiding $716 Billion From Medicare To Pay For Obamacare.” Discussing Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) earlier speech at the Republican National Convention, Wallace on August 29, 2012, repeated Ryan's false claim that “the real threat to Medicare comes from the Obamacare and the fact that they're raiding $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare.” PolitiFact had already debunked the talking point, finding that Ryan’s claim “gives a very misleading impression” because the law actually “limits payments to health care providers and insurers to try to reduce the rapid growth of future Medicare spending.” [Media Matters, 8/30/12]

Wallace Falsely Claimed Obama Tax Cuts Are “A Little Fake.” Wallace claimed it was “a little fake” to call the 2010 tax bill extending most of the Bush tax cuts for two years a “tax cut” during the December 17, 2010, edition of Fox News' Studio B. The legislation actually prevented taxes from rising, and Wallace failed to note that the bill also cut the Social Security payroll tax. According to The Washington Post, the payroll tax reduction saved workers up to $2,136 a year. [Fox News, Studio B, 12/17/10; The Washington Post, 12/17/10]

Wallace: “If We Ever Get Serious About Austerity In This Country” We Could “See Public Employees Rioting.” Wallace claimed that public employees might riot if the federal government “ever [got] serious about austerity” on the December 10, 2010, edition of Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. Wallace made the connection while discussing coverage of student protests in Europe and admitted, “I will get in trouble if I say it, but,” before finishing his smear against public employees. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 12/10/10]

Wallace Blamed Obama For Bush’s “Multitrillion-Dollar Deficits.” Wallace claimed President Obama had “been a participant in the last year in building up” trillion-dollar deficits during Fox News’ coverage of the State of the Union on January 27, 2010, failing to mention that most of the spending in Obama’s first year had been authorized by outgoing President George W. Bush. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had projected $1.2 trillion of the $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009 was from spending authorized by the previous administration, which included annual spending, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) stated “the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic downturn together explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years" in a December 16, 2009, analysis of federal deficits. [Media Matters, 1/28/10]

Wallace Pushed Right-Wing Fearmongering That Seniors Would See A “Rationing Of Care” If Obamacare Passed. Wallace pushed the idea that Medicare recipients would receive a “rationing of care” as a result of Obamacare on the August 16, 2009, edition of Fox News Sunday. Wallace alleged that “half a trillion dollars in Medicare savings” achieved through the health care reform law would create a new “Medicare panel, which may impose new restrictions” on seniors. During the show, Wallace was rebuked by American Medical Association president J. James Rohack, who argued that “there's a myth that rationing doesn't occur right now” and that in fact Obamacare “gets rid of some of the rationing that's occurring right now.” [Media Matters, 8/16/09]

Wallace Asked Whether Economic Recovery Efforts Are “Saving The Economy” Or America Is “Headed Toward Socialism.” Wallace began a segment of the June 7, 2009, edition of Fox News Sunday by claiming that “Uncle Sam wants you driving one of his cars, writing checks at one of his banks and using his health insurance. Are we saving the economy or headed toward socialism?” In fact, as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. pointed out in September 2011, the auto bailout “was not socialist” at all because the federal government was not trying to hold a long-term ownership stake in automakers and the successful turnaround of the American auto industry was “accomplished in significant part by tough, capitalist management steps.” [Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Sunday, 6/7/09; The Washington Post, 9/21/11]

Choosing Wallace As A Moderator Already Raised Serious Questions About The Integrity Of Tonight’s Debate

Wallace Has Deep Entanglements With The Trump Campaign Thanks To Fox News. Media Matters and others have noted the conflicts of interest between moderator Wallace and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump thanks to their mutual relationship with former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Ailes, whom Wallace has referred to as a friend and mentor, was forced out of his position with Fox News over the summer amid a torrent of sexual harassment allegations but remains a paid consultant to Rupert Murdoch, whose parent company owns and operates the network. In addition to his remaining ties to Fox boss Murdoch, Ailes has reportedly served as a debate coach for Trump, a fact that the network’s personalities have neglected to mention during numerous interviews with the GOP nominee. [ThinkProgress, 9/2/16; Media Matters, 9/9/16, 9/19/16, 10/19/16]

Wallace Also Has His Own History Of Inappropriate And Sexist Behavior. Wallace’s position as a moderator presents another problem for debate watchers given that the Republican presidential nominee is facing numerous credible allegations of sexual misconduct and assault. Wallace -- along with many other Fox News personalities -- has a long history of making lewd or inappropriate comments about women on air. During an October 2009 radio interview, Wallace referred to the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board as a “babe,” and in February 2010 he remarked that “one can only hope” former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin would be “sitting on [his] lap” during an upcoming interview. Wallace admitted in 2011 that he was “dazzled” by Palin because she is “very attractive.” In 2015, he was forced to apologize for suggesting that Kelly Clarkson should “stay off the deep dish pizza” at a time when the singer was fighting an onslaught of body shaming in the media. [Media Matters, 10/18/16]

Wallace Has Dehumanized Immigrants In Previous Debates. Dehumanizing and attacking Hispanic-Americans and undocumented immigrants has been a cornerstone of Trump’s presidential campaign, but Wallace has his own spotty track record when discussing immigrants. Wallace referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegals” and “illegal immigrants” while moderating the August 6, 2015, Republican debate on Fox News. The term “illegals” has been condemned for being dehumanizing in nature by The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), and both “illegals” and “illegal immigrant” violate current Associated Press standards. Wallace also used the August 2015 debate to promote a piece of anti-immigrant legislation that Fox News had spent years promoting, which would have created even harsher penalties for undocumented immigrants who re-entered the U.S. after deportation. The bill is based on the myth that such individuals represent a potential menace to public health and safety. [Media Matters, 10/18/16]