As he began Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace was not happy. He told the audience who was coming up on the program, saying that Bob Woodward, the famed Watergate journalist, would be on the panel with … some other people. Wallace had wanted to do a different show:
We want to begin by telling you who you’re not going to hear from today — the White House.
Wallace said that he had been asking for an administration guest since Tuesday to explain the firing of slightly nauseous FBI Director James Comey; the White House offered only guests to talk about President Trump’s first foreign trip:
When we said we were going to be focusing on Comey for at least the first half hour of this program, they put those officials on other shows.
Quicker than you can say “Jake Tapper,” Chris Wallace devolved from generally tough but fair questioner to all snark, all the time. The show ended up being 100% Comey and the Russia investigation; I guess that was indeed “at least the first half hour.”
When it came to panel time, Wallace went straight to Woodward, prompting him with the “parallels” to Watergate, of “shifting stories,” “talk of a taping system inside the White House,” and of course, “the firing of the man leading the investigation that could potentially take him down.”
Woodward, however, refused to bite. Not even a nibble. He used these four sound arguments:
1. There is no evidence a crime was even committed
While Wallace admitted that there was not “yet” evidence of a crime, Woodward pointed out a massive element from Nixon’s case that’s missing from the Comey situation:
His former White House Counsel John Dean, for four days testifying that the president had corruptly and illegally led the obstruction of justice. You have nothing comparable.
In fact, Wallace had nothing at all.
2. The Senate can’t just get tapes because they want to
Wallace’s fixation on Trump’s “tapes” supposedly “took [his] breath away.” Woodward pointed out that Wallace’s earlier guest, Democrat Senator Mark Warner seemed confident his Senate committee would get the tapes Trump hinted at of his conversation with Comey if they exist, but Woodward dismissed Warner’s claim with this:
In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that a special prosecutor or a prosecutor can get tapes if it’s demonstrated they are admissible and relevant — not a Senate Committee.
And of course, you can’t just appoint a special prosecutor when no crime or even evidence of a crime has been established. Absurd fantasies and political rumor-mongering is not a basis.
3. Amateur psychology is not a basis for an investigation
Wallace, desperately fishing for a scrap of a parallel from Woodward, offered this:
Bob, a big part of the story of Watergate, particularly as you reported it, was not political, it was psychological; and in the end led President Nixon to do things that only ended up hurting himself and were totally self-inflicted and totally unnecessary … Do you see any similarities?
Woodward allowed that wondering “what’s inside Trump” has the media all aflutter, and that firing Comey is more likely to accelerate an investigation than obstruct it. But he found the exercise pointless:
Doing a psychiatric examination of the president is something that we, certainly I, am immensely unqualified to do.
4. Comey’s firing was no “Saturday Night Massacre”
While refusing to compare Trump’s inner psyche to Nixon’s, Woodward issued a gentle rebuke to Chris Wallace about his journalistic judgment. He pointed out that it’s hardly news that Trump seems thin-skinned and impulsive, and meanwhile, actual news was going on elsewhere:
From a historical perspective, the big issue may not be the Comey firing, it may be the massive cyber attack worldwide that really jeopardizes any communication that anyone engages in, and the second issue is the North Korean missile firing. Did you see the trajectory on that? It landed 60 miles off the coast of Russia! Can you imagine in the country if a North Korean missile landed 60 miles away from Los Angeles?
Those are giant issues.
The stories Chris Wallace refused to cover. Even George Stephanopoulos took a break from Comey/Russia hysteria to talk to Nikki Haley about foreign policy, and especially North Korea. He took a far more balanced approach than Wallace did.
When Stephanopoulos beats Wallace in terms of balance, it’s time for Fox News Sunday viewers to wonder what the world’s coming to.