A leftover from yesterday, not because it’s especially newsy but because it’s fun to watch a more credible reporter dunk on Acosta as a grandstanding embarrassment to the profession. Here’s what happened yesterday to tick Wallace off:
That was subdued relative to Acosta’s usual theatrics but Jim’s been getting on Wallace’s nerves for years. Remember these comments after the White House briefly yanked Acosta’s press credentials?
The White House decision followed an extended debate and confrontation with President Trump at a press conference on Wednesday.
“I think he embarrassed himself,” Wallace told “Daily Briefing” host Dana Perino. “First of all, it was more of an argument than it was a question. He was disrespectful to his colleagues in asking repeated questions and, thereby, making it harder for them to get in a question. Then the President of the United States told him to sit down, and he refused, and he kept talking.”…
“We [reporters] do have to stick together,” he added. “But I gotta say, Jim Acosta makes it awfully hard to have journalistic solidarity on something like this.”
It’s been a long, slow burn. Yesterday it ignited:
CNN’s spokesman heard what Wallace said and didn’t react well:
Chris Wallace literally works for state TV. I don’t think @Acosta or any real journalist ought to be taking advice from him. Chris, if only you spent as much time and effort sharing these morsels of wisdom with your own colleagues… https://t.co/TtAbA4B1Jd
— Matt Dornic (@mdornic) February 25, 2020
Wallace was careful in the clip to distinguish between the professional responsibilities of “hard news” reporters versus opinion hosts but that point would play better if he wasn’t saddled with opinion hosts who privately advise the president on major world developments that their own news network is attempting to cover “neutrally.” If he’s horrified by Acosta’s lack of professionalism he must be horrified by that too, yet he continues to collect his paycheck. How does he feel trying to put together a report on the administration’s strategy towards Iran, say, knowing that the opinion guys down the hall from him not only have better information than he does but that they may have actually influenced the strategy? How does he put that report on the air as true and complete knowing that there are facts known to people within the building like Tucker and Hannity that could further illuminate Fox’s coverage — but which can’t be shared with him or the public because those facts were obtained via their “presidential buddy” roles, and thus must be kept in confidence?
It’s not really “news vs. opinion,” it’s “news vs. newsmakers.” And he can’t report on those newsmakers despite the obvious public interest in him doing so because one of the hats they happen to wear when they’re not advising the president is “Fox News host,” same as him.
But I don’t mean to pick on him. No one at Fox does his job with more dignity than Wallace does, and if anything he’s understating Acosta’s obnoxiousness. I wonder, though: Where did Acosta learn that theatrics are important to make your mark as a television journalist? Was it from … Chris’s dad? Kyle Smith reviewed a documentary about Mike Wallace last year and marveled that, for all his stature as a reporter, Mike was long on showmanship and short on actual results.
If Wallace ever got a scoop that mattered, it isn’t in this film. One time he exposed a small-time dirtbag who was selling kiddie porn. Lots of times he managed to get shoved aside on camera, or to have people dramatically stalk off the set or try to put their hand over the lens. But that’s all theater, not journalism.
Wallace got started in showbiz and never really left, working first as a radio announcer, then as a small-time actor and pitchman, notably for Parliament cigarettes. He then segued into celebrity interviews. The movie is replete with clips of him talking to Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey and Shirley MacLaine and Johnny Carson and Rod Serling and Kirk Douglas and Larry King. He interviewed Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, too, but elicited the same kinds of quotes they gave other interviewers. Once he interviewed Bill O’Reilly, who said he’d learned his nakedly hostile, confrontational style from . . . Mike Wallace. O’Reilly did a bit more shouting and name-calling, but the link is clearly visible: He was just the blue-collar version of Wallace.
I appreciate Chris for the fact that he’s not that guy himself. He’s effective in examining his guests but not prone to the sort of posturing his dad — or Jim Acosta — is guilty of. Exit question: Is Acosta Mike Wallace’s true son and heir? (Spiritually, I mean.)