Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Chris Wallace Calls Debate ‘a Terrible Missed Opportunity’
By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUMnytimes.com4 min
The veteran anchor conceded he was initially “reluctant” to step in during the Trump-Biden matchup. “I’ve never been through anything like this,” he said.
“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first presidential debate, said on Wednesday.
“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first presidential debate, said on Wednesday.
“I’m just sad with the way last night turned out.”
Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” anchor and moderator of Tuesday’s melee of a debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., was on the phone Wednesday from his home in Annapolis, Md., reflecting on — his words — “a terrible missed opportunity.”
“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” he said.
In his first interview since the chaotic and often incoherent spectacle — in which a pugilistic Mr. Trump relentlessly interrupted opponent and moderator alike — Mr. Wallace conceded that he had been slow to recognize that the president was not going to cease flouting the debate’s rules.
“I’ve read some of the reviews. I know people think, well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,” Mr. Wallace said, his voice betraying some hoarseness from the previous night’s proceedings. “I guess I didn’t realize — and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20 — that this was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate.”
Recalling his thoughts as he sat onstage in the Cleveland hall, with tens of millions of Americans watching live, Mr. Wallace said: “I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this.”
Mr. Trump’s bullying behavior had no obvious precedent in presidential debates, even the one that Mr. Wallace previously moderated, to acclaim, in 2016. In the interview, the anchor said that when Mr. Trump initially engaged directly with Mr. Biden, “I thought this was great — this is a debate!”
But as the president gave no sign of backing off, Mr. Wallace said, he grew more alarmed. “If I didn’t try to seize control of the debate — which I don’t know that I ever really did — then it was going to just go completely off the tracks,” he said.
Asked what he was feeling when he called the debate to a temporary halt — instructing the candidates that “the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions” — Mr. Wallace said, “The answer to that question is easy: Desperation.”
Asked directly if Mr. Trump had derailed the debate, Mr. Wallace replied, “Well, he certainly didn’t help.”
Care to elaborate? “No,” Mr. Wallace said. “To quote the president, ‘It is what it is.’”
In the spotlight, Mr. Wallace was keenly aware of the complexity of his task: ensuring an evenhanded debate, avoiding taking sides, allowing candidates to express themselves while keeping the discussion substantive.
“You’re reluctant — as somebody who has said from the very beginning that I wanted to be as invisible as possible, and to enable them to talk — to rise to the point at which you begin to interject more and more,” Mr. Wallace said. “First to say, ‘Please don’t interrupt,’ then ‘Please obey the rules,’ and third, ‘This isn’t serving the country well.’ Those are all tough steps at real time, at that moment, on that stage.”
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Sept. 30, 2020, 6:39 p.m. ET
The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Wednesday that it would examine changes to the format of this year’s remaining encounters between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, a clear sign of its frustration with the results of Tuesday evening. The commission also took pains to praise Mr. Wallace for his “professionalism and skill.”
The suggestion that moderators be given the power to mute the candidates’ microphones — popular on social media in the hours after the event — did not sit well with Mr. Wallace.
“As a practical matter, even if the president’s microphone had been shut, he still could have continued to interrupt, and it might well have been picked up on Biden’s microphone, and it still would have disrupted the proceedings in the hall,” he said.
And he noted that cutting off the audio feed of a presidential candidate is a more consequential act than some pundits give it credit for. “People have to remember, and too many people forget, both of these candidates have the support of tens of millions of Americans,” he said.
Steve Scully of C-SPAN is set to moderate the next debate, in a town-hall format where Florida voters will ask many of the questions. Kristen Welker of NBC News is the moderator for the final debate. Mr. Wallace’s advice: “If either man goes down this road, I hope you’ll be quicker to realize what’s going on than I was. I didn’t have that advance warning.”
Mr. Wallace flew home from Cleveland on Tuesday night. At an airport there, he accepted a glass of champagne from Lachlan Murdoch, whose family controls the Fox Corporation, and Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News, both of whom had been on hand for the debate. (“I didn’t feel much like celebrating,” Mr. Wallace admitted.)
Back in Annapolis, “I’ve been involved in a certain amount of soul-searching.”
“Generally speaking, I did as well as I could, so I don’t have any second thoughts there,” Mr. Wallace said, in conclusion. “I’m just disappointed with the results. For me, but much more importantly, I’m disappointed for the country, because it could have been a much more useful evening than it turned out to be.”
Chris Wallace Calls Debate ‘a Terrible Missed Opportunity’ - The New York Times
“Donald Trump came to heckle. He came to interrupt and to pontificate and to flail his arms, batting away questions and facts in a chaotic fury. He was a boor and a troll, holding up his stubby mitts in an angry pantomime as he tried to halt the words coming from former vice president Joe Biden’s mouth. Trump seemed to believe that with a single rude hand gesture, one that he regularly uses to assert his dominance, he could hold back the truth so he could be free to spin and hype and vent.
It was an exhausting mess that spun beyond moderator Chris Wallace’s control and outside the bounds of anything that could reasonably be called a debate. It was a 90-minute display of a president’s testosterone-fueled, unmanaged rage and insecurity.
Biden came to debate, God bless him. Trump arrived seemingly hopped up on grievance and indignation, determined to just bellow his way through the evening without ever having to answer a question or speak with clarity and sincerity to the home audience. He raised issues with Biden about his son Hunter’s foreign business dealings and then refused to let his political rival answer. He yammered about fake news and Hillary Clinton. He talked over both Biden and Wallace. He talked so much that it became impossible to even understand what he was talking about. He talked ceaselessly, and yet he said very little. He talked so much it was as though he was trying to pummel the viewer into submission with his words.
“Will you shut up, man?" Biden said in a moment of dismay and exasperation. It was a plea that surely channeled the desires of a significant percentage of the viewing audience.
It was awful. It was miserable. And one wished desperately that there were commercials during the grotesque spectacle if only to give someone a chance to throw cold water on the president. But there were no breaks. It was an endless display, and it was frustrating to hear Wallace calling the president “sir” as he pleaded with him to adhere to the rules to which he had agreed. Sir. Trump did not deserve that nicety because he did not come to the debate bearing the mantle of the presidency. He came with the demeanor of a thug.
Surely no one thought the evening would be dignified and civil. That’s not the way in which Trump gins up ratings and attracts attention. Bellicosity is his rule. But Tuesday evening, Trump was exquisitely inexhaustible. He stepped to his lectern with a scowl and a jutting jaw. Biden walked out with an expression of geniality. Because of coronavirus precautions, the audience was limited to only about 80 people sitting socially distanced in wooden chairs.
It was a rare sight to see the entire Trump clan wearing masks as they entered the Samson Pavilion, which is owned by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. They removed them upon sitting. Jill Biden wore a mask as well. She left hers on as she took her seat in the audience. The stage was set with the trappings of democracy. The carpet was blue with a ring of white stars. A large eagle with a banner reading “The Union and the Constitution Forever” was draped overhead.
In many ways, the setting was one that should have inspired a sense of calm and a more conversational tone. There was even a certain sobriety to the location, which at one point had temporarily been turned into a covid-19 hospital. There was no need to yell with such a small audience. There were no bursts of applause, laughter or cheers to fuel a candidate’s energy. One might have thought it was the perfect occasion for a reasonable back-and-forth.
Even the lack of the usual greeting, an opening handshake, was a reminder that these are trying times. Human connections, at their most fundamental level, have been frayed. One might have thought that these would have served as reminders or encouragement to speak seriously, to speak compassionately.
But the night had only the accoutrements of decorum. The yelling began forthwith. The president was asked about the racial upheaval with which the country has been struggling. He talked about law and order instead. He was asked to denounce white supremacy. He hedged. He was asked about his long-promised health plan. He didn’t have a coherent answer.
He bragged about having created the greatest economy in the world. Everything that had gone wrong on his watch was someone else’s fault: Democratic governors, China, anyone who disagreed with him.
Biden often spoke directly into the camera so that he was, in effect, speaking directly to citizens. He aimed for empathy. The president regularly interrupted him — not so that he could address the nation but so he could yell at Biden. At one point it seemed as though the president was content to simply debate Wallace over the very premise of the moderator’s questions. The president smirked and rolled his eyes and did everything but snort and spit. He reveled in his display. He fed off it.”
And when Wallace finally, blissfully announced that the debate had ended, Biden looked relieved. And Trump was still talking.
With Cross Talk, Lies and Mockery, Trump Tramples Decorum in Debate With Biden Interrupting Joe Biden nearly every time he spoke, President Trump made little attempt to reassure swing voters about his leadership. Mr. Biden hit back: “This is so unpresidential.”
Interrupting Joe Biden nearly every time he spoke, President Trump made little attempt to reassure swing voters about his leadership. Mr. Biden hit back: “This is so unpresidential.”
“The last four years, you have promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, but you have never in these four years come up with a plan, a comprehensive plan —” “Yes, I have.” “— to replace Obamacare.” “Of course I have.” “Well, I’ll give you —” “We got rid of the individual mandate.” “I’m going to give you an opportunity —” ”Excuse me. I got rid of the individual mandate.” “I’m not here to call out his lies — everybody knows he’s a liar.” “But you agreed — Joe, you’re the liar.” “I want to make sure —” “You graduated last in your class, not first in your class.” “I — [laughs] — God. I want to make sure —” “Mr. President, could you let him finish, sir?” “The question is, the question is —” “A lot of new Supreme Court justices, radical left —” “Will you shut up, man?” “One of the big debates we had with 23 of my colleagues trying to win the nomination that I won were saying that Biden wanted to allow people to have private insurance still. They can, they do, they will, under my proposal.” “That’s not what you’ve said, and it’s not what your party has said.” “That is simply a lie.” “Your party doesn’t say it — your party wants to go socialist medicine.” “My party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party.” “And they’re going to dominate you, Joe, you know that.” “I am the Democratic Party right now. The platform of the Democratic Party —” “Not according to Harris.” “— is what I, in fact, approved of.” “Is it true that you paid $750 in federal income taxes each of those two years?” “I’ve paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax. Let me just say something, that it was the tax laws. I don’t want to pay tax. Before I came here, I was a private developer, I was a private business people. Like every other private person, unless they’re stupid, they go through the laws, and that’s what it is.” “I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts.” “Good.” “And we’re going to, I’m going to eliminate those tax cuts —” “OK.” “— and make sure that we invest in the people who in fact need the help. People out there need help.” “But why didn’t you do it over 20, the last 25 years?” “Because you weren’t — because you weren’t president screwing things up.” “You were a senator —” “You’re the worst president America has ever had. Come on.” “You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out antifa and other left-wing —” “That’s right.” “— extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups —” “Sure.” “— and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.” “Sure, I’m willing to do that, but —” “Then do it.” “Go ahead, sir.” “I would say, I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.” “So what are you, what are you saying —” “I’m willing to do anything — I want to see peace.” “Well, then do it, sir.” “Say it. Do it. Say it.” “You want to call them — what do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name.” “White supremacists and —” “Go ahead, who would you like me to condemn?” “Proud Boys.” “Who?” “White supremacists and right-wing militia.” Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing —” “His own F.B.I. director said the threat is —” Are you questioning —” “No, I think masks are OK. You have to understand, if you look, I mean, I have a mask right here. I put a mask on, you know, when I think I need it. Tonight as an example, everybody’s had a test, and you’ve had social distancing and all of the things that you have to — but I wear masks when needed. When needed, I wear masks.” “OK, let me ask —” “I don’t wear masks like him — every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from — he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” “Masks make a big difference. His own head of the C.D.C. said if we just wore masks between now — if everybody wore masks in social distance between now and January, we’d probably save up to 100,000 lives. It matters.” “And they’ve also said the opposite. They’ve also said —” “No serious person said the opposite.” “The fact is that there are going to be millions of people because of Covid that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots, like he does by the way. And this is all about trying to dissuade people from voting, because he’s trying to scare people into thinking that it’s not going to be legitimate.” “As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster. A solicited ballot, OK? Solicited is OK. You’re soliciting, you’re asking. They send it back. You send it back. I did that. This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen. The other thing: It’s nice, on Nov. 3, you’re watching and you see who won the election. And I think we’re going to do well, because people are really happy with the job we’ve done. But you know what? We won’t know, we might not know for months — because these ballots are going to be all over.” “Now that millions of mail-in ballots have gone out, what are you going to do about it? And are you counting on the Supreme Court, including a Justice Barrett, to settle any dispute?” “Yeah, I think I’m counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely. I don’t think we’ll — I hope we don’t need them in terms of the election itself, but for the ballots, I think so. I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it. I am urging my people — I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election —” “You’re urging them what?” “— I am 100 percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.” “Here’s the deal: They count the ballots. As you’ve pointed out, some of these ballots in some states can’t even be opened until Election Day. And if there’s thousands of ballots, it’s going to take time to do it. No one has established at all that there is fraud related to mail-in ballots, that somehow it’s a fraudulent process.” “It’s already been established.” “He has no idea what he’s talking about. Here’s the deal. The fact is, I will accept it, and he will too. You know why? Because once the winner is declared, after all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that will be the end of it.”
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
New York City to fine people who refuse to wear masks as Covid rates rise. Common sense, I wish the Georgia governor was smart enough to do this. Sadly Brian Kemp is no Andrew Cuomo.
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