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Chris Wallace leaves Fox News for a CNN streaming show: ‘I’m ready for a new adventure’

The veteran anchor’s abrupt departure is a blow to Fox, which often pointed to his tough, nonpartisan interviewing style as proof of the network’s journalistic bona fides

“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)

Chris Wallace, the veteran Fox News anchor whose rigorous interviews often contrasted sharply with the partisan views of his star prime-time colleagues, said Sunday he will leave the network and will join rival CNN’s forthcoming streaming news channel.

CNN announced the news about two hours after Wallace offered an abrupt farewell to viewers of “Fox News Sunday,” the interview program he has hosted for 18 years.

Wallace will host a program on CNN Plus, the streaming service CNN will launch early next year.

Wallace’s departure is a coup for CNN and a blow for Fox. Along with fellow anchor Bret Baier, Wallace was the face of Fox’s news coverage, whose talents as a skeptical and probing newsman the network brass frequently pointed to as proof of its journalistic bona fides when it came under fire in recent years for an increasing reliance on opinion-driven coverage — led by hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity — that boosted former president Donald Trump and his allies.

Wallace’s tough interviews of Trump and political figures on both sides of the aisle often made news, solidifying his reputation as being nonpartisan. His straight-shooting image made him a consensus choice among Republicans and Democrats to moderate presidential debates, including the first one last year between Trump and then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

From 2020: Chris Wallace is uniquely qualified to interview Trump — and uniquely independent at Fox News

Wallace frequently appeared on other Fox shows throughout the week, and his “Fox News Sunday” was carried on Fox affiliates across the country. But on Sunday morning, he said that this week’s installment would be his last.

“It is the last time — and I say this with real sadness — we will meet like this,” Wallace said at the end of the broadcast. “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. 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. It’s been a great ride.”

A person at Fox familiar with Wallace’s decision said that it was entirely his own and that it has left many of his colleagues “shellshocked.” The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about internal operations, said the news was so closely held that even Wallace’s panelists on today’s show had no idea it was coming.

At that moment, Wallace offered no explanation for his departure. “I want to try something new, to go beyond politics to all the things I’m interested in,” he said, somewhat vaguely. “I’m ready for a new adventure.”

When the CNN press statement came out later in the morning with the news that Wallace would host a daytime interview program set to launch next year on CNN Plus, it included Wallace’s statement that he was “honored and delighted to join [CNN President] Jeff Zucker and his great team. I can’t wait to get started.”

Wallace’s departure from Fox is the third major change among cable-news personalities in the past eight days.

CNN fired prime-time host Chris Cuomo just over a week ago amid new revelations about his efforts to advise his brother, former New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D), in responding to a sexual misconduct scandal, as well as an unrelated accusation of sexual misconduct that a former colleague made against the host. Meanwhile, veteran anchor and host Brian Williams left MSNBC last week but has indicated that he would like to return to the TV news business after some time off.

Wallace, 74, the son of Mike Wallace, the broadcasting pioneer of “60 Minutes” fame, is now about to join his fourth network. Earlier, he spent more than a dozen years each at NBC, where he was a White House correspondent and host of “Meet the Press,” and ABC, where he hosted “Nightline” and “Primetime Thursday.”

He joined Fox in 2003, at a time considered to be a coup for a cable-news network that had only just passed its seventh birthday and that was eager to establish itself as more than just a fount of conservative commentary.

At Fox, Wallace covered five presidential elections and interviewed every sitting president during that time — except, thus far, President Biden, whom he interviewed during the 2020 campaign. He has also interviewed world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he fiercely grilled in 2018 about attacks on journalists who had criticized the regime, much to Putin’s visible annoyance. He was lauded for a tough July 2020 interview of Trump, pushing back against Trump’s false or misleading data points regarding the coronavirus pandemic and other topics.

From 2015: 'I certainly think my style is adversarial': Chris Wallace on moderating the presidential debate

Wallace is leaving Fox at a time when the network has been beset by internal conflicts, largely stemming from disputes over its balance between news and commentary — many within the company fearing the latter outweighs the former — particularly concerning the 2020 election and the pandemic.

In October 2019, another respected news anchor, Shepard Smith, departed Fox abruptly and later acknowledged tensions over the network’s opinion side. (“If you feel like the Fox viewers were getting mis- or disinformation, I was there to make sure that they got it straight,” he said earlier this year. Smith now hosts a show on CNBC.)

Fox soon came under harsh criticism for floating a number of discredited notions about the pandemic, including prime-time host Laura Ingraham’s vocal advocacy of a drug known as hydroxychloroquine, though there was little scientific evidence to support it as a treatment for covid-19.

In January, Fox laid off political editor Chris Stirewalt amid criticism from Trump’s camp that the network had prematurely called Arizona for Biden on election night, a ruling that proved to be accurate. Last month, two on-air guest commentators, Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes, quit Fox over concerns about a Tucker Carlson-produced series aired on Fox’s streaming service — and excerpted on Carlson’s broadcast — that floated an unfounded conspiracy theory that the federal government facilitated the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.

NPR reported last month that Wallace, along with Baier, had raised objections with network executives about Carlson’s “Patriot Purge” series. Yet Wallace has remained publicly discreet and has long bristled when asked by interviewers about the work of his Fox opinion colleagues.

“I am only responsible for and only have control over my piece of real estate,” he told the Financial Times last month. “I’m proud of what we do. … I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to my audience and to the truth.” He added: “Why on earth would I share any concerns I have about Fox News with the readers of the Financial Times?”

“Among journalists on the cable side, the fact that he was running a straight and hard-nosed Sunday show was a big deal,” said Carl Cameron, who worked for Fox News for 22 years before retiring as the network’s chief political correspondent in 2017. “He worked hard on it.”

While Cameron has emerged as a critic of Fox’s programming decisions, he noted that Wallace chose to stay out of the fray. “He was very cautious about getting into those types of discussions, for the most part,” Cameron said.

Fox issued a simple statement on Sunday about Wallace’s departure: “We are extremely proud of our journalism and the stellar team that Chris Wallace was a part of for 18 years.”

It has not yet named a permanent replacement for Wallace as host of “Fox News Sunday.” A number of Fox journalists will rotate in the position until a permanent host is named, the network said.