By Al Edwards
The first Presidential debate between United States President Donald Trump and former Vice -President, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, moderated by Chris Wallace, was a farce and the Fox anchorman’s inability to bring it to order has been roundly criticised.
Many believe this cannot be allowed to happen again in the subsequent debates this year. The Commission on Presidential Debates has said stricter protocols will be put in place next time which will be observed by the debaters.
This should reign in the President’s rampaging bull manner and constant interruptions.
Chris Wallace has for many years been regarded as one of America’s finest and most trusted broadcast journalists. He is a mainstay on the Fox television network and was credited with doing a good job of moderating the 2016 Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.
Four years later, he was unable to pose his questions without being interrupted and lost command of what he was supposed to do.
Two years ago, Wallace said: “I view my job as being the cop on the beat, walking around with a nightstick and trying to keep people honest-both Republicans and Democrats.”
With the first debate, he didn’t come across as a cop and he certainly didn’t use his nightstick to keep order. What occurred was the miscreant got the better of the cop, time and time again, never showing any respect for his authority.
Though neither supine or obsequious, Wallace failed to be commanding. Both his bark and his bite were absent and his performance can best be described as anodyne. It’s hard to imagine Sir Robin Day, Jeremy Paxman or Brian Walden being so unassertive and subjugated by a rambunctious President.
Of the debate the actress Rosie Perez said: “ Hope kids watching understand this is not normal. A President should not be an insecure bully who simply can’t control themselves. A President should be a mature person who knows how to be in charge without childish antics.”
An unruly and obstreperous child should be made aware that unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated.
The comedian Bill Maher put it best. “This is so sad. Debate? It just looks like the two old guys in the balcony on the Muppets.”
Biden came off more statesmanlike and many hold the view that he was the clear winner however he too interjected and interrupted and is not entirely blameless.
Those who say Wallace was overtly supportive of Biden are being pithy and churlish and miss the bigger issue.
Wallace did not completely capitulate to what was an embarrassing display of bad manners and a WWF verbal brawl between two men in their seventies vying for the position of leader of the free world.
At one point the moderator said to the President when he again was out of order: “Your campaign agreed that both sides would get two minute answers uninterrupted. Why don’t you observe what your campaign agreed to?”
The most astute utterance from Wallace to Trump – “ The country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you to do it.”
However, Wallace allowed the debate to descend into licentious incivility broadcasted live and direct into American homes. CNN anchor Jake Tapper summed up what was allowed to transpire, “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”.
What has to happen now is that this is never allowed to take place again. American leadership and political discourse should not be exposed as woefully despicable and unrefined.
So what now for Wallace? The lustre has definitely come off his crown. His inability to check the President’s roguish barbs and hostilities will now mean that those who come before him may see him as a soft touch, a toothless tiger.
His father was a broadcasting legend and regarded as one of the best in his craft. One can’t help but think how Mike Wallace would have moderated this debate.
“The great Mike Wallace was a friend of mine. He was a tough cookie and he was great. And the son is only a tiny action of Mike, believe me,” President Trump once observed. Ouch!
It may be the case that Chris Wallace may never again moderate a presidential debate with his ability to be authoritative and commanding as an inquisitor called into question.
He will suffer for some time to come the ignominy of doing a terrible job of moderating a presidential debate and allowing it to get out of control.
Rebukes like this one from Kerry Washington (“ What is happening? Is there an understudy who can step in and play the role of moderator?) will keep coming and mark his performance.
Despite the criticisms and vilifications, something has been overlooked. What if Wallace deferred to the President of the United States? After all Wallace is an urbane and polished gentleman who could never have foreseen that the President of the United States would have to be kept in line like a naughty school boy.
His natural inclination would see him being respectful to the President, not looking to stridently reprimand him. If that’s the case, what a price he’s paid? Still, Fox, the media network he has served as a senior anchor for many years has given him their full support and congratulated him.
Both the Fox News CEO and President put out a memo that read: “We’d like to take a moment to thank and congratulate Chris Wallace for moderating last night’s extraordinary debate. We are extremely proud of his professionalism, skill and fortitude in a unique situation while doing everything possible to hold both candidates accountable.”
“No moderator could have managed a debate of that magnitude better than Chris.”
It is reassuring for Chris Wallace to know that he has the backing of his employer and that his career at Fox will continue well after the 2020 Presidential election.