Fox News anchor Chris Wallace sparked controversy in recent weeks by saying he planned not to fact-check the candidates when moderating the third presidential debate. But that didn’t stop him on Wednesday night from revisiting inaccuracies floated during the second one.
“You said several things in that debate that were not true, sir” Wallace told Donald Trump, noting that the Republican nominee has wrongly described the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, Syria, as “fallen.” Wallace pointed out that Syria and Russia ― whose brutal leaders Trump has praised ― have been bombing Aleppo, before asking Trump to clarify his position on what should be done there.
The Aleppo moment was indicative of the preparation Wallace exhibited throughout the 95-minute debate. Wallace repeatedly framed questions using Trump and Hillary Clinton’s past statements in order to tease out their current positions for the benefit of millions watching at home ― essentially, what a debate moderator should do.
For instance, Wallace’s questions on abortion prompted Clinton to affirm her support for abortion rights, while Trump said he planned to nominate pro-life justices who’d overturn Roe v. Wade.
Wallace also made the biggest headline of the night when he asked Trump if he’d “absolutely accept” the results of the election on Nov. 8, despite recent talk of the election being rigged.
"I will look at it at the time,” Trump said before riffing on the media, which he said was “dishonest,” “corrupt” and had “poisoned the minds” of voters.
Trump’s baseless claims that the election is “rigged,” despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud, is a threat to American democracy. Wallace wisely stayed on Trump’s unprecedented position and reminded the Republican nominee that “there is a tradition in this country” for the “peaceful transition of power.”
Trump didn’t budge. “What I’m saying is I’ll tell you at the time,” he said. “I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”
Clinton responded that Trump’s position was “horrifying.”
The “Fox News Sunday” host also reminded Clinton of past statements, such as her 2009 pledge to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest with the Clinton Foundation while serving as secretary of state.
Wallace got some criticism for his performance. The Huffington Post, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and progressive watchdog Media Matters each dinged Wallace over his conservative slant on questions about the economic stimulus.
But overall, Wallace drew widespread praised from media and political figures on Twitter.
Wallace never completely ruled out fact-checking if necessary to set the record straight ― and he did so sparingly on Wednesday night.
He didn’t intervene when Trump said he had not supported countries such as Japan getting nuclear weapons. However, Trump told Wallace in an April interview that Japan might be “better off” with them.
The debate was perhaps as civil as it could be, given Trump’s proclivity for personal insults ― including when he called Clinton a “nasty woman.” Still, Wallace kept the candidates largely in line, while forcing them to challenge one another’s claims. He didn’t shrink, however, when Trump interrupted his questions.
“I’m not a potted plant here,” Wallace reminded the candidate as he lavished praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I do get to ask some questions.”