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Opinion Chris Wallace bolts Tucker Carlson’s Fox News

Chris Wallace moderating a presidential debate in 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AP via Pool)

The Sunday morning farewell announcement from “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace had a narrow feel to it. “After 18 years, this is my final ‘Fox News Sunday.’ It is the last time — and I say this with real sadness — we will meet like this. Eighteen years ago, the bosses here at Fox promised me they would never interfere with a guest I booked or a question I asked. And they kept that promise,” said Wallace.

“I have been free to report to the best of my ability, to cover the stories I think are important, to hold our country’s leaders to account,” continued the 74-year-old Wallace. “It’s been a great ride.”

Omitted from the sayonara was any celebration of the broader Fox News product. Perhaps that’s because there’s not much to celebrate: In the last year of Chris Wallace’s tenure at Fox News, he has had to watch as his colleagues on the opinion side of the network buttressed and amplified the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. That strain of programming culminated in the recent three-part Fox Nation series from host Tucker Carlson titled “Patriot Purge,” which pushed the idea that the Jan. 6 rioters are victims, not perpetrators. “The domestic war on terror is here. It’s coming after half the country,” argues the documentary.

“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace made a final farewell at the end of the show on Dec. 12. Wallace is leaving the Fox News network “for a new adventure.” (Video: Fox News)

NPR reported last month that Wallace, along with news anchor Bret Baier, had expressed concerns to top Fox officials about “Patriot Purge.” It’s unclear what impact, if any, the feedback effected. What is clear is that the network has found its voice in Carlson, a longtime pundit who for years bounced around the margins of cable news. He was serving as a weekend host at Fox News in late 2016 when a prime-time slot opened up. Ever since then, his extremism — telling viewers that Democrats “hate” America; espousing the racist “replacement theory”; subverting science on the coronavirus — has emerged as the network’s defining ideology, a point of reckoning for colleagues wishing to practice anything approximating journalism.

The reward for Carlson was an elevated presence on Fox’s streaming service, Fox Nation.

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The resulting fissures are on the public record. Two moderate conservative commentators — Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg — resigned last month over “Patriot Purge.” Fox News last January fired longtime political analyst Chris Stirewalt, who showed the temerity to mock the former president’s absurd claims of electoral fraud. And don’t forget the departure of news anchor Shepard Smith, who left — also abruptly — in October 2019 following a tiff with Carlson that played out on-air.

Every day, in other words, Fox News takes another step toward its destiny as the Tucker Carlson Channel. And in that future, there’s no room for journalists.

In his routine coverage, Wallace occasionally allowed foul Fox News sensibilities to seep into his commentary, as Media Matters has documented. His stature as an equal-opportunity inquisitor, however, is memorialized in the mountain of interview clips from his years as “Fox News Sunday” host. Perhaps his most glorious moment was a July 2020 alfresco interview with then-President Donald Trump, which produced so much material that CNN’s Chris Cillizza found 55 “most shocking lines.”

Moments like those placed Wallace in the elite of American TV news anchors. The Commission on Presidential Debates acknowledged as much in the 2020 cycle by choosing Wallace to moderate a tete-a-tete between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. It turned into a disaster when Trump decided to filibuster and interrupt his way through the entire affair.

Good luck, Fox News, trying to find someone to replace Wallace. The Sunday political shows are places where the networks have traditionally slotted broadcasters with established credentials. It’s not a tryout sort of gig. That means the network must attempt to find a heavy hitter who has compiled years of experience in Washington — meaning, someone who’s fully aware of Fox News’s descent into antidemocratic Carlsonian madness. Perhaps a nine-figure contract will help that someone look the other way.

Or it could turn to Baier, the veteran host of the nightly “Special Report.” Beyond that, the Fox News payroll is thin on potential successors — which is what happens when you fork over your corporate identity to a flamboyant conspiracy theorist.

Shortly after Wallace announced his departure from Fox News, CNN announced that he would be joining the streaming service CNN Plus, which is slated to debut early next year. His show, according to a release, will present “interviews with newsmakers across politics, business, sports and culture.” CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker said in a statement, “It is not often that a news organization gets the opportunity to bring someone of Chris Wallace’s caliber on board. He is as fine a journalist as there is in our business.”

All those who’ve never heard of CNN Plus — and surely there are millions upon millions — may now have an incentive to test it out. So it’s a coup for Zucker & Co.

For much of the country, though, Wallace’s job change will sink into the partisan muck, with Fox News devotees sure to argue that it merely confirms the anchor’s liberal leanings. Oh, silly us: That movement is already afoot.