The mouthpieces at Fox News argue that there are straight news personalities at the network and then right wing partisans like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly when, in reality, even the so-called “journalists” at Fox, like Chris Wallace, are still the same right-wing snake oil salesmen without the belligerence, constant interruptions, and temper tantrums of the others. Take the recent performance by Chris Wallace moderating the third and final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as an example. Almost all of Wallace’s questions were little more than right wing talking points disguised in the veneer of neutrality.
For example, initially Wallace asked about the Supreme Court: “And secondly, what’s your view on how the constitution should be interpreted? Do the founders' words mean what they say or is it a living document to be applied flexibly, according to changing circumstances?” Does Chris Wallace really think the Constitution is so straightforward a document that there is no argumentation about its literal meaning and there was not near constant argumentation at the time it was drafted and ratified? For example, if one takes a very literal interpretation of the constitution then it would be illegal to carry arms except in a “well-regulated militia.” The United States would not exist as we know it today because Thomas Jefferson, as do conservatives today, “feared a loose construction of the powers delegated to the national government in the constitution, and the Constitution was silent about acquiring lands from other countries,” according to the Bill of Rights Institute, so there would have been noLouisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the young republic at the time. Alternatively, conservatives for years have argued the case for state’s rights when the Supremacy Clause clearly establishes that the federal constitution, and federal law generally, take precedence over state laws
Then putting Secretary Clinton on the defensive, Wallace asked “what was wrong” with Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller case when he said “there is a constitutional right to bear arms, but a right that is reasonably limited.” Well, nothing! It is Republicans who are the ones who want no restrictions on guns at all it seems and would not even back measures which the overwhelming majority of Americans support, such as banning people on the government's terrorist watch list from obtaining gun licenses and expanding background checks to gun shows and internet sales even after the Sandy Hook massacre of school children. Of course, the mere fact that a second amendment question was asked so early in the debate signals a fealty to the right wing agenda.
When bringing up the topic of immigration, Wallace mentioned that Trump wanted to build a wall, while Clinton has, in the words of Wallace, “no specific plan for how you want to secure our south border.” Wallace makes it sound that Trump’s plan, despite the absurdity of it, is better than no plan at all. According to the Washington Post, a 1,000 mile wall between the two countries would take $25 billion to build and years of litigation to seize the privately owned parcels of property through eminent domain. Trump, of course, argues Mexico will pay for the wall or else the dollars sent to Mexico from relatives working in America will be cut off. Trump’s plan is sheer fantasy!
When discussing the economy, Wallace insisted that in Clinton’s plan government played a “big role,” another buzz word of the right. Wallace continued: “You see more government spending, more entitlements, more tax credits, more tax penalties. Mr. Trump, you want to get government out with lower taxes and less regulation.” How can government play any bigger a role than building some huge 1,000 mile wall as Trump would like to do and hiring a vast deportation force to kick out the 11 million or so undocumented workers who are here illegally. According to the New York Times: “By any tally, the costs would be enormous. The American Action Forum, a conservative-leaning research group, calculated the federal outlay to be at least $400 billion, and then only if the deportations were stretched over 20 years.” And both candidates agree on rebuilding the infrastructure of this country, perhaps the one topic Trump is right on. In fact, according to Politico: “Clinton has proposed a five-year, $275 billion plan, while last week, Trump suggested he would double her proposal.” So why did Wallace frame his question in the most advantageous way to Trump?
Then, while still on the topic of the economy, Wallace morphed into Bill O’Reilly saying: “I want to pursue your plan because in many ways, it is similar to the Obama stimulus plan in 2009, which has led to the slowest GDP growth since 1949.” He failed to mention that the country was hemorrhaging 800, 000 jobs a month when Obama took office or that one-third of the stimulus was tax cuts which the right is wedded to and which, as evidence reveals, have little or no stimulative value.
“But the way Wallace framed the question made it sound as if the stimulus caused GDP growth to slow to its lowest level since the Truman presidency. This is simply not true. GDP growth had already fallen thanks to the recession that started under the watch of Republican president George W. Bush. Arguing otherwise, as Wallace did, is simply Fox News dogma from the early Obama era, when the conservative line was to oppose every policy proposed by his administration.”
Moving on to the final question concerning the national debt, Wallace mentions an advocacy group which he describes as "non-partisan" that focuses on shrinking the budget deficit as a major policy priority. As Matthew Rozsa points out writing in Salon magazine:
“Despite the urgency embedded in how Wallace phrased his questions — which he no doubt picked up from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget itself —many economists strongly disagree with the idea that the budget deficit should be our top priority. As economist Dean Baker pointed out, long-term interest rates are at a 60-year low, inflation below 2 percent, and interest currently less than 1 percent of our GDP, all of which suggest that the deficit is not a serious problem right now.”
So there you have it. In fairness to Wallace, this debate was the most substantive of the three, but his questions touched on all the right wing shibboleths and framed them in a way most favorable to Donald Trump. His questions reflected the priorities of the far right including abortion, the second amendment, immigration, the national debt, and entitlement expenditures with no discussion of income inequality, economic justice, and, of course, no mention of climate change just as though it does not exist.
“It was a coup for Fox News to have one of its anchors moderate a debate, something conservatives have been pushing the Presidential Debate Commission to bring about for years now. And in Wallace, they found a seemingly fair-minded talking head. But he also brought all the baggage of Fox News with him — that is, the worst traits of the post-fact, post-truth moment in political discourse that we are living through, that has found its ultimate vessel in the form of Donald Trump.”
“In other words, Wallace’s questions were another example of right-wing talking points taking a stroll outside the usual bubble that encloses them. Unfortunately in a debate, there is no one, save the Democratic candidate, to push back on them.”