The Insider: All’s Well for Wallace

May 4, 2008  •  Post A Comment

While the rest of Washington’s Who’s Who was mingling with bold-faced names from entertainment (and so-called entertainment) circles at the White House Correspondents Association’s dinner April 26, “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace was on the road (and plane) back to D.C. from his long-sought interview with Democratic contender Barack Obama in Marion, Ind.
So he had to base his answer to The Insider’s pop-quiz question of whose ensemble was most, ummmm, eye-catching on pictures from the annual to-do. “Pamela Anderson.” He was, of course, corrrrrectomundo! Ms. Anderson’s low-cut white frock made for a display that was absolutely bi-parts-isan.
That has absolutely nothing to do with our conversation, except to allow The Insider to try out a bad joke on readers and to try to get a warm-up chuckle out of Mr. Wallace, who needed no jollying.
“Business is good,” he said.
The professional reviews were good for the Obama-Wallace interview (which stopped the attention-getting Obama Watch clock at 772 days since the invitation was extended). Both men seemed comfortable with the give-and-take.
Despite some partisan predictions that the Illinois senator would use the interview as an opportunity to take on Fox and rally the left, Mr. Wallace said he found Mr. Obama to be both engaging and engaged.
Mr. Wallace said his desire to have a “satisfying and substantive conversation” about politics, issues and Mr. Obama’s positions was helped by “the degree to which he doesn’t do just talking points. He really does think on his feet and try to work through something in real time, which is unusual for a politician, particularly in a presidential campaign.”
The viewer response followed the pattern that often occurs in “these kinds of interviews,” Mr. Wallace said. “It was dramatically polarized.”
The ratings were good. Data from Nielsen Media Research showed an average viewership of 1.547 million viewers, up 9% from the year-to-date average of 1.425 million. When the two Sunday afternoon encore telecasts on Fox News Channel are included, the total audience added up to 4.442 million viewers.
In the 56 metered markets, household ratings for “Fox News Sunday” were up 33% from the previous weekend. Among the newsmaker shows, Mr. Wallace finished second in the all-important capital to NBC’s powerhouse “Meet the Press,” finished first in Detroit and beat CBS’ “Face the Nation” in a handful of the top 10 markets.
“We got a lot of new viewers,” he said. However, he added, “I think there are a lot of people who thought, ‘Well, I don’t need to watch it.’“
“Fox News Sunday,” which was 12 years old on April 28, is clearly appointment viewing because in the vast majority of markets, New York City being the largest example, it has no local news lead-in. Instead it’s scheduled like an island in a sea of religious and other paid programming that doesn’t lend itself to compatible audience flow.
But Mr. Wallace, who had booked Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean for yesterday, takes a “Field of Dreams” approach: If he and the regular panel of Brit Hume, Bill Kristol, Juan Williams and Mara Liasson build the show consistently, people will come.
To that end, he said, the historically long presidential campaign “has been very good for us.”
“The fact is that President Bush is unpopular and a lot of his policies have been unpopular,” said Mr. Wallace. “The next president has been a much more interesting topic.”
And would he care to hazard a prediction as to whom the Democrats will nominate?
“I don’t have a clue. In January I would have told you with absolute certainty that Hillary Clinton was going to be the nominee. Six weeks ago I would have told you with absolute certainty that Barack Obama was going to be the nominee. I can tell you with absolute certainty that now I don’t know.”
The wry chuckle brings the interview to a full-circle conclusion.


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