Ep. 112 - Chris Wallace

Update: 2017-01-12


Chris Wallace, the longtime journalist and host of Fox News Sunday, talks with David Axelrod about why Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign was the best he ever covered; why he thinks the Obama administration could have done better at outreach to Republicans; and how he views some of the potential changes that may be coming for the White House Press Corps.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

the board for the acts files comes from rockin' mortgage my Quicken loans lift the burden of getting a home loan with rockin' mortgage and get a secure transparent home loan approval in minutes skip the bank of the waiting then go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files This podcast is brought you by sixty DB listen to conversations that go beyond the headlines business sports politics today's news plus all of your favorite podcasts download the free sixty DB at today the The The The and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod the the the Chris Wallace hardly needs introduction has been a presence in American journalism now for more than four decades as the host of Fox News Sunday he famously tangles with public figures every week and an interesting chat with Chris recently at the Fox News headquarters in Washington the the in the erstwhile thank you so much for being here via we've had many encounters over microphones and cameras but it's great to sit down with you but we didn't we'd never done it this way we are asking the questions and I have I know not going to give you the same admonition I always got communicate my answer your answer short because it's a podcast and you can tell that story so I give every person and not you everybody I interview I was at the very end because we only have twelve minutes and I always say or ten minutes I would say look I'll try to keep your answer short so we can cover more territory and I had said that to you so often you're the only person in thirteen years of the show has ever done it before I was going to get out one day use and now Chris keep your questions and I like the way you did yes which you didn't buy the way but anyway yes you come by journalism naturally but not in the way people suspect because everyone knows you're Mike Wallace's son but you don't him until later in life that that's true I knew him I did but no that way but really close no not probably till I was a teenager and actually Chicago figures into this because when I was about four years Ald the Democratic Convention nineteen fifty two the at least even as convention was being held in Chicago and I lived on North State Parkway and at least Stevenson the Democratic nominee was staying in the McCormick mansion right across right around the block and my mother who'd been divorced for a number of years is no scandal here for my father was watching on TV and saw this dreamy man she described him who was reporting from Stevenson headquarter black and white TV that back in nineteen fifty s and she said Well so Chris let's go and see the excitement so I remember I got on my tricycle and she walked over and I didn't know this until years later put on a somewhat revealing sundress and we went around the block and there was Bill Leonard who was a correspondent for CBS News ended up becoming the president of CBS News and in fact my father's boss so he was really the one I grew up when I was nine when they got married and he was really the most influential figure in my life and career you and your mom was in had a background in journalism as well Sarah the no no not really but this is a cute story so my mother and father Matt at the University of Michigan she graduated she quit after a sophomore year and he went to work for radio station in Grand Rapids Michigan and is one of the things he'd been a disc jockey and an announcer and and things like that I'd never done any journalism he had to start interviewing people the first questions that Mike Wallace ever wrote to ask people were written by my mother because he did not write a question of terror at stroke so um you you actually were brought together and tell me if I get you you I know you'll correct my facts you always do as you have with me but you um do you reconcile with your father as a teenager really as in part because of of tragic circumstances that strip was about fourteen years old and my brother Peter was five years older than me he was in between his sophomore and junior years at Yale he went off for the summer to Europe as college kids do and in just a horrible tragic accident was climbing a mountain breeze and not a mountain is a kind of an overstatement but it was big enough slept in Fallon died and I think at that point as I was fourteen my father and I both thought we ought to get to know each other and we didn't use to take me because he wasn't that I dislike them it's that I didn't know and it was a little bit like being forced to spend time with an uncle that you don't really know but you know your folks say you're supposed to go see so he would take me there was this great watering hole in New York City called Shore very famous and big fat it was almost like Jackie Gleason used a big heavy sat loud talking guy and it was the big watering hole for sports that yeah man and my father knew that I love sports so really more to see the sports figures than to see him i e he'd invite me out to touch or not I would happily go in because he was famous we can remember meeting Frank Gifford and Howard coasts Allen Eddie R Caro was a famous doctor that I'm sure none of your listeners know who he was and um but in any case and in addition to all of that and a good meal we got to know each other and it just slowly developed over time the interesting most interesting part of the story is so now fast forward to I'm in my forties and I split up for my first wife and if though and my stepfather had just done that my father always thought he was little the excess baggage with with my father which I didn't with my stepfather I didn't feel that way but I think he did but in any case I was kind of a draft a divorce but there's one thing my father knew it was divorce because he was married four times and so for about hours working to Prime Time magazine traveling all over the country in the world and so was he obviously on sixty Minutes and for I would say two to three months every night David every night he would find where I was and call me to say how you do and it's not really cemented it and I would say for the last twenty to twenty five years of his life we were best friends that that's that's really moving did you and he very famously grapple with depression so did you find yourself playing the same role for him at times sure yeah I mean look at a special relationship and in a business like this which is very competitive and sharp elbows and everybody's got an agenda he would critique each other and we both knew that the only thing that that the other one wanted was that to make you as good as you could possibly be so sure we talked about that it's funny you mention this about the pressure was talking with my wife just last night and something came up about depression as well fortunately that was one thing I have not inherited from my father but he did suffer from depression and interestingly enough five by sort of later in his career I think he was proud of the role he had in the early eighties and de stigmatized and depression as anything he did you know here was this big tough capable guy Mike Wallace and he was suffering and this was back in the eighties when depression wasn't as widely known and is accepted as it was that was a statement about it and he was very public and one of the first public figures to go public about it and I think if you're really really important I have to tell you that I was one of those people was moved back as my dad committed suicide when I was young and and I kept it very very quiet for a very long time that was a statement oh yeah I mean and I realize finally I realize the reason people commit suicide and don't get the help they need is because of the stigma and causes them not to come forward so as to writing about it talking about it and I've never got more reaction to anything I've ever done then those kinds of pieces or or or talks because are so many people who just want to know that it's OK to acknowledge that you have what is an illness and that you can it's okay going ask for help so your dad did was was heroic really say a quick interesting story about that he was a show that Bob Costas has to do called later and it was on really in the middle of the night I was on after Johnny Carson after whatever follow Johnny Carson about two in the morning and my father went on it and cost has started asking him about depression and my father said you know it's really important we talk about this now at two in the morning which is when people watching and not when it was taped because he said if you're suffering from depression one of the key things you can sleep and you're up in the middle of the night and you're feeling alone in a draft and probably listening to awesome watching us right now we're suffering from the same so it's important we talk to yeah I'm shy and I'm sure he was right that there's something about the night that's particularly oppressive you know I'm uninterested in father's famous fathers and sons who go into the same feel particularly relates to politics in you know Al Gore Senior and Al Gore Junior and and just obviously the Romney's in others and them wondering what it's like for the younger person in that relationship who's in the same field your father was a giant broadcasting you've you've achieved the same heights in it in your but coming up as a young man in the business of how how difficult was that we were expectations higher do you think when we were was there a concern that people thought well he's here because he's a great man son I want to put this in context because let's be honest you know they they talk about problems being like rich people's problems you know not not not problems of life and death and this is very much into high class high class from which is the wrong thing so so you know just sit there and say woe is me I was the son of Mike Wallace I'm not sure I'm going to get a lot of sympathy from people out there but anybody who's been in that position it is it and it doesn't have to just with politics or show biz a good listener could do with anything my guess is you know if you are the town the son of the big lawyer in town or the guy won the hardware store in town it would be true to be the son of the daughter of is its own as I say not oppressive but it's a burden and you're exactly right people question why are there whether you got it because of your connections of cause of your talent and you know I suppose it's worse if your father is a public figure as opposed to my hardware salesman example because everybody knows him and to the degree that you're in the same business everybody kind of knows you I can tell you that is a long parade of time where people even people who work with a long time will suddenly say Mike Kress and that always cuts a little bit because you think gosh I've been working this with this guy for five years and he still thinks of me is Mike Wallace's son sub consciously but you know it's interesting I'd say two things about it that at some point and I was it took awhile maybe was my forties that I I I finally came to this conclusion I said You know what I am never going to be Mike Wallace but then I said neither is anybody else and there's a heckuva lot of room to have a great career and accomplish a lot and you know and not have it be in comparison to anybody the other thing I would say and I find this really quite surprising because it was it was always there is that after my father died and typically now that he's been gone it's almost five years five years in April I almost feel like I have to carry the banner for my want people to remember um and where before it somebody said something about your father or even called me Mike and I might get a little bit ruffled by it now my reaction is I'm glad you still think of them you still remember yeah yeah um let's go back to you just want to pick up the narrative of your story cuz one of things that interested me is home I read somewhere that you attended the sixty four Republican convention in San Francisco which is like a legendary political event some would say some of the roots of what we're dealing with today in our politics flowed right from that campaign and that convention and beyond which you were like and in turn for the biggest legend and broadcasting Walter Cronkite it's all true now this this thought This is probably the upside of the high class problem exactly so so in those days and they don't do it today and they should they they used to is a blatant nepotism yes but what they used to do is the networks and wasn't just CBS if you were the son or daughter of a top correspondent Warren Executive you would get a job working at the conventions and the thought being one these people are probably pretty bright and could help and secondly because they get an insight into what their mom or dad did all the time so I was working there with a you know the son of of Richard C hobble at and with Walter Cronkite daughter I'll get to that story in a moment yes but but I was the Gopher and this is much more because my stepfather was the head of the CBS election unit then because of my father I was the Gopher Gopher coffees go for pencils et-cetera in the anchor booth with Walter Cronkite and Eric's ever eyed at the Goldwater convention of the cow Palace outside San Francisco in nineteen sixty four and a little piece of trivia is who was the only person that was in both ankle boots both the Democratic Atlantic City Linda Johnson and the Republican in the cow Palace Goldwater and the answer is sixteen year old Chris Wallace because of may remember between those conventions Walter Cronkite got fired because the ratings were low and Bill Paley kicked him out so they put this combination of Roger Mudd was in his thirties and Robert trout who was in a seven days to gather and the only person to survive from one anchor booth to the next was me the you you said you can tell a story about Cronkite it's daughter I guess she became a special friend of yours for a while she was my first girlfriend Nancy Cronkite who I hasten to add was a lot better looking than Walter in my stash and I have to say people at CBS were tickled pink I remember answering the phone in the newsroom one day and one of that CBS reporters as is Nancy Cronkite boyfriend and I laughed a nice and I said You guys are all enjoying this well because of the time my father was anchoring the CBS Morning News and Cronkite was anchoring the CBS Evening News and they said was like the merging of two donkeys like that do you remember the actual convention itself as the mean Rockefeller being booed and score and walking out and all that and Dwight Eisenhower talking about sensation seeking columnists and commentators and people started shaking as the platform of the foundation of the anchor both that we were n so young I remember Barry Goldwater is moderation in the pursuit of liberty is no virtue in extremism whatever yeah do you ever think about that today as we're watching what's going on in juicy juicy lineage between sort of a movement that was there at that convention and some of the roots of of I guess what we call Trump is him right now well I've seen it from my whole career the first as a grown up to for his political campaign I really covered was Ronald Reagan in nineteen eighty I covered him in the general election than I covered six years of him in the White House and you absolutely could see the itty illogical strains that had really come to fruition because he got clobbered of course by Lyndon Johnson in the sixty four election but it came to prominence and sixty four undergo water reach fruition under under Ronald Reagan I think the last certainly some of that but less of that now because I don't think Trump is a particularly ideological daycare or a particularly conventionally or strictly conservative thick right in the anti E Lee does them this or there's a there was a threat of anti E Lee does not ensure that that ran through these campaigns I thought of it when you talked about them the shaking of the anchor booth because there's a lot of anger directed on the part of Trump supporters at the news media are absolutely no and that certainly is a common strain from from Goldwater to allot a Republican and conservative politicians into trouble although I will say that your former boss has been known to take a whack or two at the media particularly Fox News yes although I can remember at which from Obama supporters rushed the Fox News Stand sian or whatever so is more civilized you no more civilized demagoguery perhaps we can get to that later you went on and what point did you decide like I'm going to be reporter I'm going to be a journalist I'm going down this road well not until I was out of college I actually applied to law school got in the Yale Law School was about a week away from starting there I would have been Hillary Clinton's class maybe she would marry me and I would have been president but I just less reporting and then just not wanting to spend another three years in school and I went around looking for jobs and and this gets back to an early point one to start newspapers not in TV because I thought it was better training better move reporting better writing I know that's where you start yes and got a job of the Boston Globe and this gets as I say back to what we were taught about earlier was very happy to hear a couple of months later when I applied and got the job they had no idea who my dad plays yeah what what what are you covering back in those in the high within a couple of months was the and this talk about a great assignment I was the city hall reporter for The Boston Globe covering Kevin White who was then the mayor and Louise Day Hicks who was on the City Council and one of the champions of anti yeah yeah yeah yeah I was a CEO bureau chief as a young guy at the Tribune and there is no better either Boston city all you get a good education there then I went to Chicago my next job I remember for years and I went to Chicago and worked for W B B M and I was the political reporter for them and covered the people talk about Richie Daley you and I know the mayor Richard J Daley and I I covered him for a cup in the That was a sort of golden age for WB in with you must a been there in the bill and Walter I was there when Bill Curtis L Curtis Walter Jacobson co anchors the sportscaster was Brent Moss Burger yes it was it was a pretty grand time going to take a short break we'll be right back with Chris Wallace rocket mortgage by Quicken loans proudly supports the X Files when it comes to the big decision of choosing a mortgage lender is important to work with someone you can trust who has your best interests in mind with rockin' mortgage you'll get a transparent online process that gives you the confidence you need to make an informed decision skip the bank of the waiting and go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files equal Housing lender license in all fifty states and MLS consumer access dot org Number thirty thirty what what what what about those Chicago days you meant you were there for the sir the end of the Daily Mirror kind of the EU it was beginning to unravel a little bit toward the end of his life for you about that period of time I remember being fortunate and feeling that it was the end of an era I left before he passed away but I was there for the trial of Tom Kane yes it was his top SEO us on corruption charges that's of course when then U S prosecutor Jim Thompson later Governor Thompson was taking apart the Democratic machine piece by piece and you know you have the sense that it was almost like you were covering a time capsule in that at some point years later you'd be able to say I covered the Chicago machine of Richard J Daley and I do feel that that was just an extraordinary look at a different kind of politics that we don't I don't know that we see today anywhere where you had this complete calm angling of the Cook County Democratic Party and the government of the city of Chicago where politics was was government government was politics you know and it took the president about this Chicago s and is politics isn't subtle in Chicago people are pretty have traditionally been pretty overt about their motivations and in certain ways it's politics kind of stripped down to its elemental court politics laid bare and it actually is really good training you know tip O'Neill said All politics is local you learn a lot and I don't mean this just in the pejorative way because these ward committeeman and Alderman they work their communities they knew everybody they had developed personal relationships and having to deliver for those people was central to the site from whatever peculiar interest they had was central and central to what they were doing I think about those daily use a lot because as a young reporter at the time to when I hear some of Donald Trump's press people trying to explain his his tweets and statements and I was reminded of I think it was Earl Bush who is his ass he went to prison as well he was he was the one who said don't print what he says print what he meant which was an interesting admission to two reporters and then you want to network television let me just interrupt to say I completely agree with you I think that that one it was a fascinating education you're exactly right because these folks were in charge and that was nothing you really can do to them and so they were often happy to brag about their their arrangements and as far as how it works for the citizens of Chicago I'm sure you can get you know the Better Government Association in Chicago would tell you about all the terrible things I there are plenty of times as a homeowner here in Washington D C when I wish I had a ward committeeman or a precinct captain who could get my garbage picked up from my street swept during the big snow storm so we're compensating value as well in ways you know I was one of the young reformers back in the day when I came to Chicago as a college student and was absolutely convinced that the total democratization of the process was not only necessary but write and to some extent we achieve that in the Democratic Party in the nominating process of candidates and there are times when you say you know you kind of yearn for the old days I'm sure I get lots of tweets and emails about this but you know the party bosses they often chose people who were corrupt and inadequate but but justice but they also produced at least Stevenson and Paul Douglas and some people who took governing seriously are and and and a lot of people know it's I you know you wonder at it's a terrible thing to say but too much democracy can be a bad thing but sometimes I think a cannon and that you know you'd like to have a bland you certainly don't want to go back to where it's just six guys in a room who right in the slow build of you know to some mixture of primaries and also I mean to some degree maybe the Democrats have that with the superdelegates which the Republicans didn't switch by the way I mean is something that there are many people in democratic party would like to do away with Wright would like to do away with the idea that that people who have contributed to the party I mean contributed financially contribute in terms of their their efforts their father their production there are their involvement with the party over years to have some to have some stakeholders to have some stake in the process may not be in all ten people who have some appreciation for for governance you know but damn that's the theory behind the superdelegates I think the Republicans kind a year and for superdelegates in the last in this last process but you went onto to the network as you mentioned you covered Reagan was what what what did you learn covering him for so what kind of figure was he to cover well I will say the nineteen eighty campaign and I didn't cover you guys so this isn't in any way casting aspersions on you or President Obama but the nineteen eighty campaign was the best campaign ever covered it was the best run campaign it was the most disciplined in terms of having a coherent I didn't cover the jar of the primaries I covered the general election from Labor Day in terms of having a coherent message it it did have a message that was a coherent set of policies that that Reagan embodied and was pushing and you know you can argue with that they were the right ones or the wrong ones but it is what he put into effect smaller government lower taxes less regulation more robust defense harder line and turned to Russia and the Cold War and and he brought that to pass he was a sincere question what I'm thinking of is a candidate and then as a president I always got along just fine with them you know he wasn't going to sit there and and and burden himself of year his his deepest most the thing he did that with many knowing that I use a very reserved GA yeah but but he was perfectly pleasant and he could banter and any genuinely like the press and genuinely respected the idea that we had a role to play in fact one of the advantages we have are covering the general election is that he was this was a guy who would love for all these years to AT to say what he thought about things and often times people wouldn't pay as much attention to him even as Governor of California as he wanted well now here he was with a trail of reporters covering him and ask him questions all the time and he would if you ask him a question he'd answer the question much to the horror of his aides because he was just used to the idea of wanting to spot often say what he wanted to say so he was great copy and it was also critical in the public stage as president a larger than life quality and I have to say as a reporter for NBC and I know I like to think I have the skeptical adversarial relationship reporter should have towards presidents when you were overseas covering Ronald Reagan and he was on the world stage but that was with Gorbachev or with with you know in China with tongue shall pain you felt some pride in how he carried himself like a presence and an E major kind of
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Ep. 112 - Chris Wallace

The Axe Files with David Axelrod