No Pressure

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This week’s third and final presidential debate will be an enormous test for Chris Wallace of Fox News.

The long-time Washington, D.C. based journalist has always worked under the additional scrutiny that comes with being the son of legendary CBS News interviewer Mike Wallace. Unlike his father, who made a name for himself taking viewers to unexpected and even uncomfortable places as one of the original hosts of 60 Minutes, Chris Wallace has always presented himself as a straight arrow – just the facts – reporter. He asks tough, respectful questions with tenacity.

As he heads into Wednesday’s debate, the state of the campaign puts Wallace in the position of being the host of dinner party in which one of the most important guests is expected to mis-behave. It will be his job to prevent the debate from devolving into a junior high school cafeteria fight. How will he approach the job?

The Holt/Lehrer Path – Toss out a question and let the candidates show themselves with little moderator interference.

The Raddatz/Cooper Path – Try not to interfere on content, but be tough when it comes to enforcing the rules.

Or a Wallace Path – Based on his performance as the one-time moderator of Meet the Press and as the current moderator of Fox News Sunday, will he both ask tough questions and force the candidates to answer those questions through persistent follow-up, even if that means interrupting the agreed to format?

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Also at stake, as a subtext, is the future of Fox News. This is the first time a Fox News host has been selected to moderate a presidential debate. It is seen as recognition by the elite that Fox News is now to be viewed as a legitimate news organization, not simply an arm of the Republican Party, as many of its critics believe.

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In the aftermath of the departure of Roger Ailes (who is widely believed to be advising Trump), there is reported to be a struggle over the direction of the network. One camp wants the network to lean toward the center and be led by on-air personalities, like Megyn Kelly, Brett Baier and Wallace; while others want to continue down a path that recognizes the value of Bill O’Reilly(WFSB) and Sean Hannity.

A strong performance by Wallace could convince leaders inside Fox News that a tilt toward the center might be in the long-term best interest of the network.