Christopher W. Wallace ’65 is a news anchor who has spent 45 years in journalism. He has covered many of the world’s biggest stories and currently serves as the host of Fox News Sunday.
Wallace, the son of Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame, was exposed to the news business early on. He spent the summer before his senior year at Hotchkiss interning for news anchor Walter Cronkite. “I was his go-fer at the Republican National Convention in 1964. Go for coffee. Go for pencils. He was the voice of authority, and he had tremendous credibility.” But even after that experience, which he treasured, Wallace thought he would likely go into law or government service. “I graduated from Harvard, was a week away from entering Yale Law School, but decided to go to work as a reporter for The Boston Globe.”
By the mid-1970s, Wallace began his career in television news working for the local CBS station in Chicago. In 1978, he moved to Washington to serve as a political correspondent for NBC News. In 1982 he became co-anchor for the Today show, while concurrently serving for part of this period as chief White House correspondent (1982-1989). Notably, Wallace covered the 1980, 1984, and 1988 presidential campaigns and became moderator of Meet the Press for a year before taking a job as anchor of the Sunday edition of NBC Nightly News.
In 1989, Wallace left NBC to become the chief correspondent for ABC’s Primetime Thursday and a frequent substitute host for Nightline. In 2003, he joined the Fox News Channel and has covered just about every major political event since. He has interviewed numerous dignitaries and world figures, including former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Bush 41st and 43rd, and current President Barack Obama three times, once as a candidate and twice as president. Of President Obama, Wallace says, “He had his shields up when he was talking to me.” But even after a feisty interview in February 2009 when President Obama was new to the office, the two are cordial. “After the interview, I was telling the President about my then-three-year-old grandson William, who was giving his parents a tough time about bedtime. William asked them if President Obama was asleep yet. The President sent William a note saying ‘yes, indeed, I go to bed on time.’”
Preparation for the interview process is vitally important. According to Wallace, “When you talk to someone, they necessarily know more than you do. So, you do thorough research to have enough background so that you can challenge them if they try to spin you. I have a number of sources and an extraordinary researcher to help me prepare. Last Sunday, for example, I interviewed Secretary Kerry. All politicians and officials have huge operations with press people and websites, and most stick to a script. My job is to keep them honest and to challenge their contradictions and arguments. A tough interview may not be what you think – combative is good when it gets you to the truth.” Wallace’s reputation as an “equal opportunity inquisitor” is well-deserved. “I feel that is doing my job. When I took the job at Fox, I made it clear to my bosses that I wasn’t going to push a political agenda. Never once have they second-guessed the guests I’ve booked or the questions I’ve asked.”
For Wallace, the most difficult part of producing a weekly news show is “figuring out, days in advance, what will be interesting that Sunday. For example, the recent Iran deal was huge news on a Tuesday, but over the course of the week came the tragic shooting of the Marines in Tennessee, and then the Donald Trump incident when he insulted John McCain and his military service.
“The entire broadcast industry has changed dramatically over the past five decades. When I started right after college in 1969, it was a relatively small, hierarchical industry with three major television networks and half a dozen major newspapers. Now, you can get news 24 hours a day, seven days a week from a variety of sources. There are more points of view presented, but now the burden is on the news consumer to decide if the source is reputable. Gone are the days when you can assume rigorous editing of the news you see.”
Interestingly, Wallace’s favorite day of the week is Saturday, not Sunday. “I take all the research, sound bites, guest contradictions, etc. and put it all together for what is basically a 12- minute cross-examination. The question becomes what to include or exclude. I like editing – identifying the most important parts.” Of the hundreds of people Wallace has spent time with over the span of his career, his greatest experience was in 1979 when he spent a week with Mother Teresa just after she won the Nobel Peace Prize. “Whether you are religious or not, it was easy to see that she operated on a different spiritual plane.”
Having won every major award for broadcast news, Wallace is particularly proud of his Dupont Columbia Silver Baton honoring excellence in broadcast and digital news, and the Paul White Award for lifetime achievement and service to electronic journalism from the Radio Television Digital News Association. “Two summers ago, I went to Anaheim to receive my big silver bowl. This was particularly meaningful to me because it had my Dad’s name on it, too.”
As for Hotchkiss, Wallace says, “I grew up there. I was a little too happy and comfortable at home. I needed to learn independence, and I did at Hotchkiss.” Wallace attributes his success in the broadcasting field to this: “What separates people who succeed is not necessarily talent or brains, but energy and persistence. You have to keep at it daily while maintaining your standards. I have been lucky and have had great opportunities – I was with President Reagan at the Kremlin, spent time with Mother Teresa, and chased Nazi war criminals. I have had a wonderful career.”