The Commission on Presidential Debates, a tax-exempt organization that has sponsored every general election presidential debate since 1988, announced its 2016 debate moderators on Friday. For the first time since its inception, a representative from Fox News will among them.
Chris Wallace, who hosts Fox News Sunday, will be the sole moderator for the third debate, to be held October 19 in Las Vegas. While Wallace has not been as overtly pro-Trump as many others on the conservative network, he does have a huge conflict of interest: his relationship with Roger Ailes.
Ailes, who was the founding CEO of Fox News from its beginning in 1996, resigned from the network in July after multiple former employees accused him of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors. New York Magazine reported on Friday that former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson secretly recorded her former boss’ harassing comments — Ailes has denied the allegations.
Trump defended Ailes, saying “he’s been a friend of mine for a long time,” and dismissed the women’s claims, noting that Ailes had helped them in the past. “It’s very sad. Because he’s a very good person. I’ve always found him to be just a very, very good person,” he added, “And by the way, a very, very talented person. Look what he’s done. So I feel very badly. But a lot of people are thinking he’s going to run my campaign.”
Since his departure from Fox News, Ailes has reportedly been advising Donald Trump including helping the real estate millionaire with debate preparation. The campaign has denied that Ailes has any formal role in that or any other area, but acknowledged that the two “speak occasionally.”
Wallace too has been fiercely loyal to Ailes. Here is what he told the New York Times shortly after the Ailes’ resignation.
Roger Ailes is the best boss I’ve had in almost a half a century in journalism. I admired him tremendously professionally, and loved him personally…
There are people in tears. I shed mine a couple of days ago when the stories started to come out, that made this day seem like it was likely. I never knew a boss who transmitted a sense of mission, a team of common purpose, more than Roger did. And the thing that’s different from any place I ever worked is, people feel a personal connection to Roger, and I think a lot of people feel a deep sense of personal loss.
So Wallace, who is moderating the final and decisive presidential debate, has a longstanding personal and professional connection to Ailes, who is said to be advising Trump on strategy for that debate.
This morning Chris Wallace has the best political show on television – but that's only because I'm on it (kidding)! Have fun.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2015
Happy belated birthday to Chris Wallace! Chris does a great job every week on @FoxNewsSunday. Like father, like son.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2014
Wallace told the Late Show’s Stephen Colbert in April that he does not believe Fox News is a conservative network, claiming a firewall between the prime time conservative opinion shows and the daytime “hard news” and asserting, “we commit journalism every day.” But even Ailes had seemingly abandoned the fiction of Fox News neutrality before his departure, reportedly saying, “I want to elect the next president” in 2010. And in 2011, Wallace told Jon Stewart that Fox News was a “counterweight” to MSNBC.“I think they have a liberal agenda, and I think we tell the other side of the story.”
Ailes effectively turned Fox News into an arm of the Trump campaign. An hour of primetime airtime is devoted to Sean Hannity, who has also been advising Trump. Hannity has provided Trump with hours of free airtime, worth millions of dollars, and has never asked a tough question.
With the other debates to be moderated by Lester Holt of NBC News, Elaine Quijano of CBS News, Martha Raddatz of ABC News, and Anderson Cooper of CNN, no liberal network counterpart will be serving in a similar role. Trump insisted last month that he hope to participate in the debate, but “I want to have fair moderators … I will demand fair moderators.”