Chris Wallace's Fox News Sunday, regularly in the hunt for the ratings prize, turns 15 on April 28—on the air longer than the Fox News Channel itself. "This is the best job," says Wallace, who took over from the late Tony Snow in 2003.
When he left ABC for his dream job, Wallace thought: "Don't screw it up." He hasn't, making the show a Sunday news mainstay. Along the way he had a famous run-in with Bill Clinton over Osama bin Laden and shamed Barack Obama into coming on. And he's walloped Republicans too, most recently Newt Gingrich over his personal life.
His aggressive but folksy style have put the show on the ratings map and made it the first stop for many of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates. "I think that some of the candidates understand that Fox News Sunday is maybe the very first primary," he says. So far potential candidates Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty have appeared, and Rep. Michele Bachmann is slated for next month. [See editorial cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
For a cable show up against the network Sunday public affairs programs, his ratings are impressive, say industry insiders. Consider his April 3 show. Fox News Sunday had a combined 3.7 million viewers between cable and Fox broadcast channels. In March, he averaged a combined 4.1 million viewers.
Because he has over three decades as a Washington correspondent and is the son of fabled 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, he brings a different perspective to the job. "At this particular point in my career to be able to take the benefit for all that I've learned in 35 years in Washington and to put it to use, and you just sort of know how it's going to play out, and to be able to attack an issue or question a newsmaker with the benefit of all that perspective is very satisfying," he says.
His reputation for fairness has helped to clear the way for Fox-bashers to appear on his show. "We are, I like to think, in the very best sense of the words, that our show is fair and balanced," he says, adding, "I think we do provide a counterbalance to some of the other shows."
Of course, he adds, the job's a lot harder than it looks. He spends much of the week studying the topics and newsmakers planned for his show so that he can make news on Sunday. It's a lesson his dad taught him. "One of the things my father taught me in terms of interviews very early on is just do a tremendous amount of research," says Wallace. "Necessarily when you are interviewing somebody, they know more about the subject than you do."
So he hits the books, Goggle, and phones to do his research on the Sunday topics and guests. "If you've done enough research and you've talked to enough people," says Wallace, "it becomes pretty clear that you can't spin me because I know too much for you to do that. That makes for a more interesting and more candid interview."
Every Sunday starts early. He's up at 5:15 a.m., in the office by 6 a.m. and rehearsing at 7:15. The show airs at 9 a.m. and afterward he does some work for the Fox News site. Then it's home for a bowl of his wife's famous soup which she wrote about in Mr. Sunday's Soups, followed by a nap.
It's an understatement to say that Wallace loves his job. "If the media relations people ever say that Chris Wallace is leaving to spend more time with his family, it's a lie. I would be very happy to stay on this show and, given my father's ambition, into my 70s and 80s and beyond."