The anatomy of a FOX "interview"

by Josh Nelson

In what will perhaps become Chris Wallace’s proudest moment, yesterday’s interview of Barack Obama offers a glimpse into the subtle efforts FOX makes to frame the debate.

In the first 9 minutes all of Wallace’s questions and comments were about race.

9:03 A.M EST: WALLACE: But some observers, and some liberal observers say is that part of your problem is you come off as a former law professor who talks about transforming politics when the lunch bucket crowd really wants to know what youre going to do for them. Bob Herbert, columnist for the New York Times, happens to be a black man, says that Hillary Clinton seems tougher than you do.

9:06:32 Senator, for all your efforts to run a post-racial campaign, isn’t there still a racial divide in this country that is going to make it very hard for you to get elected president?

Which created a perfect transition into… the real issue at hand.

9:09 WALLACE: I wasn’t sure whether I was even going to ask you about your former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but he made it easy for me because he’s now begun this…

Which continued through 6 questions and 6 minutes, to lead into this.

WALLACE: Senator, you say a lot of good stuff. Reverend Wright (INAUDIBLE) are distractions from the real issues. But especially for someone like you, who’s a newcomer to the national scene, people don’t know a lot about, don’t voters have a legitimate interest in who you are and what your values are?

Obama swung back at this one fairly hard, forcing Wallace to pivot his line of questioning to William Ayres, which continue for the final three minutes before first television break.

20 minutes in, no questions related to policy.

First question after the break:

Over the years, John McCain has broken with his party and risked his career on a number of issues, campaign finance, immigration reform, banning torture. As a president, can you name a hot button issue where you would be willing to cross (ph) Democratic party line and say you know what, Republicans have a better idea here.

Shorter Chris Wallace: John McCain is a maverick, are you? You want Republican votes? Prove it.

Everyone on the Internet seems to have gotten the message that John McCain is not a maverick anymore. As Arianna said on Real Time last week, he has been reduced to a “pandering pawn” of the “agents of intolerance” he once repudiated.

Obama was then allowed two minutes to talk policy, in order to talk about situations where Republicans have better ideas than Democrats. Having his victim exactly where he wants him, Wallace completes the trap.

9:24:46 WALLACE: But, Senator, if I may, I think one of the concerns that some people have is that you talk a good game about, let’s be post-partisan, let’s all come together — just a couple of quick things, and I don’t really want you to defend each one, I just want to speak to the larger issue.

The larger issue, excellent!

On some issues where Democrats have moved to the center, partial-birth abortion, Defense of Marriage Act, you stay on the left and you are against both.

9:25:22 And so people say, do you really want a partnership with Republicans or do you really want unconditional surrender from them?

Shorter Chris Wallace: If you really wanted to be post partisan, you’d chip away at a woman’s right to choose and discriminate against homosexuals.

Obama was then given another two minutes to bend over backwards to appeal to conservative voters.

With all of the fluff out of the way, Wallace has one more thing to get off his chest. Opposition research.

9:28 WALLACE: I want to ask you about more area during this segment. Tax and spending, the Republicans are keeping a running total of all of your plans. They say it’s $662 billion over four years.

And onto the question.

Question, John McCain is going to go after you as another classic liberal tax and spender.

That is a Republican talking point, not a question. Obama was then given about three minutes (almost) uninterrupted to talk about taxes and the economy (#1 issue for voters) before the final commercial break.

Wallace sets the next trap:

9:35 WALLACE: Senator, this week President Bush named David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to be the head of Central Command, which controls overseas military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia. Will you vote to confirm his nomination?

If he says no, he hates America (Go Wallace!). If he says yes…

9:36 WALLACE: Petraeus, I don’t have to tell you, is the architect of the troop surge, a strong advocate of our continued engagement in Iraq. If you become commander-in-chief and he says your plan to get out of Iraq is a mistake, will you replace him?

But Petraeus wants war forever, and you don’t. Gotcha!

One more follow up on Petraeus, where Obama sneaks in one minute about Iraq (#3 issue for voters)

That’s enough substance for now (a total of 5 minutes). It’s time for the lightning round!

Lets clear out this campaign business. Why are you ducking another debate with Hillary Clinton?

Clinton talking point.

9:38:48 WALLACE: You say its premature to discuss running mates. Are you at least open to the possibility of running with Hillary Clinton with places on the ticket to be determined?

You answered your own unoriginal question right before you asked it.

9:39 WALLACE: If the voting ends in June and you’re still leading in the popular votes and delegates and the superdelegates hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton, do you think the young people, the African American people, the young first time voters you brought into this campaign, aren’t they going to be awful angry?

Translation: Any chance the primary process will tear the Democratic party apart?

Wallace spends the next 90 seconds trying to determine what it would take for Obama to give up his massive fundraising advantage against John McCain. Obama raised more in March than McCain did in the first quarter.

Wallace, apparently out of ammo, goes fishing with his final question.

9:41:13 WALLACE: Finally, and we have about a minute left, what have you learned in this campaign? And I don’t mean, gee, what a great country this is answer.What mistakes have you made?

Here is the breakdown of the questions, with issue rating determined via Yahoo and AP:

  • Jeremiah Wright: 8 questions
  • Race: 6 questions
  • Reaching Across the Aisle to Republicans: 3 questions
  • The Economy (#1 issue for voters): 2 questions
  • Gas Prices (#2 issue for voters): 0 questions
  • Health Care(#3 issue for voters): 0 questions
  • Iraq (#4 issue for voters): 0 direct questions, 3 through the lens of Petraeus

Here is the amount of time devoted to various topics:

  • Total interview time minus commercials? 37 minutes.
  • Time devoted to commercials? Over 6 minutes.
  • Time devoted to the four most important issues for voters? 5 minutes.
  • Time devoted to Jeremiah Wright? 9 minutes.

The homepage currently lists the transcript of the interview as a subheading under a story about Rev. Wright. Because let’s be honest, we all know what the real story is here.

Cross posted at The Seminal.

11 replies »

  1. My increasing level of dismay at the conduct of “moderators” in the last three presidential elections has reached a bottom-line disgust.

    If I happen to chat with John, Hillary or Barack any time soon, I’ll ask for proposals for illuminating meetings between the candidates for president sans mass-media moderator.

    The reason for having a moderator — keeping candidates from uttering vague, laudatory statements about their backgrounds and positions on issues — has been usurped by blatant electioneering by moderators themselves.

    Gee. Surely decent moderators unaffiliated with mass media could be found. Josh, how about you?

    Nice post. Thanks for contributing to S&R.

  2. Pingback:
  3. You’re right Denny, it really is getting old.

    I like the idea of the Lincoln-Douglas style debates Clinton recently proposed. Although I’m an Obama supporter, I’m pretty disappointed that he is shying away from the idea.

    Unfortunately, until the infrastructure of alternative media is built up sufficiently, candidates will have to continue to rely on mass media for getting their messages out.

  4. I would be disappointed that he’s shying away, except for one thing. Unless something really unprecedented goes wrong for Obama, he has the nomination more or less sewed up. At this point I’m not sure he stands to gain anything from debating her again.

    However, I’d love that kind of format for some eventual Obama/McDubya tangles.

  5. Pathetic. Thank you for watching it enough times to tabulate the questions… the discourse is depressing, but clear-headed analysis is always heartening. Loved it.

  6. You’re welcome Euphrosyne. Although, I have to admit, I only watched it once. It was pretty painful to parse through the transcript though.

  7. Thanks, Josh, for that breakdown. I watched the show when it aired.

    The right subverts itself because it resorts to so few talking points. Thus allowing someone like Obama to thoroughly familiarize himself with them.

    He was totally prepared and parried everything gracefully.

    Please post again at S&R, Josh.

  8. I’ll echo the others: Thanks Josh. I know this took a lot of time, and I appreciate it.

  9. I watched, too. I was not surprised by Wallace’s questions, and Obama no doubt was not. What you call a “gotcha” moment, however, is not nearly as simple as you suggest. Obama could have, for example, suggested that General Petraeus would have to answer some tough questions about the region and about his understanding of CENTCOM’s mission as it pertains to Iran, for example. And Obama could have used that moment to take some steam out of what I think of as a bomb Iran disinformation/propaganda campaign. But no. As I listened to Obama I felt that the “gotcha” didn’t get Obama; it got all of us who look for an honest, truthful discussion of policy options. It would have been quite fair, in other words, for Obama to have turned the tables and put Petraeus, and Wallace, on the spot. In short, I think Wallace’s question was entirely fair and absolutely timely, and I am disappointed by Obama’s quick expression of support for General Petraues.

  10. This hole Country is nothing but Nosense,as far as politic go’s! Its silly or Country is at stake! get real about things.Try and help straten things out!