Fox News anchor Chris Wallace ended his Sunday interview show this weekend with a big announcement: After 18 years in the host’s chair, he would leave Fox News. “I want to try something new, to go beyond politics, to all the things I’m interested in,” said Wallace, who is headed for a new streaming service from CNN. “I’m ready for a new adventure, and I hope you’ll check it out.” While the announcement was unexpected, Wallace’s departure did not entirely take me by surprise. There’s only so long anyone can stand the burden of being the most credible person at Fox News.
As host of Fox News Sunday, Wallace is—was—good at his job, in large part because he clearly understood that it required him to commit actual journalism, rather than just launder inane partisan talking points. “I have been free to report to the best of my ability. To cover the stories I think are important. To hold our country’s leaders to account,” he said on Sunday morning, correctly. The fact that Wallace persisted in attempting to do all of those things both during and after the Trump administration is what set him apart from many of his Fox News peers.
Over the past several years, Wallace consistently drew both headlines and Republican ire for using his program to confront Trumpists with the sorts of questions that were only “hard” by the standards of a network on which literally no one else was asking them. In January 2021, for example, when Mick Mulvaney resigned as the president’s special envoy to Northern Ireland, Wallace asked the former Trump chief of staff why the Capitol riot was the tipping point for him, as opposed to any of the other horrible things that had happened while he was part of the administration. “You were a top member of the administration when the president offered a defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville. You were a top member of the administration, not chief of staff, when the Trump administration separated parents coming across the border from their children,” Wallace asked. “Why not resign over those?”
Again, the remarkable thing wasn’t that a journalist was asking these sorts of direct, adversarial questions of a Trump administration official, but that Chris Wallace was asking them while working for the same network that also once employed Sebastian Gorka. Since Trumpism has consumed the Republican Party, Fox News has had less and less room than ever for fact-based reporting and analysis, and less and less tolerance for hosts and contributors whose work cuts against the interests of Donald Trump. Over the past two years, a bunch of reasonable people have preceded Wallace out the door at Fox in what amounts to a very tiny exodus of the principled.
In October 2019, the immensely capable Shepard Smith abruptly left the network after quibbling with Tucker Carlson’s risible framing of the allegations that precipitated Trump’s first impeachment. Chris Stirewalt, the network’s longtime political director, was fired not long after the 2020 presidential election; he was one of the main faces of the network’s decision to accurately call Arizona for Joe Biden well before any other network was willing to do so. More recently, Fox contributors Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes—considered conservative stalwarts in an earlier generation—resigned in protest of a documentary produced by Carlson for Fox’s streaming service in which the host pondered whether the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false flag event.
According to the New York Times, Wallace also “had expressed concern to Fox management” about Carlson’s documentary, but he surely knew that if Fox executives didn’t interfere with him when he was saying things that the angry, irrational shut-ins in the network’s demographic didn’t want to hear, then they definitely wouldn’t stop Carlson from saying things that those angry, irrational shut-ins very much do want to hear. I am sure that Wallace is at least a bit relieved to be out of the circus, just as I’m sure that Fox News wanted Wallace to stay in the ring. It’s no secret that the network has long flaunted the few reasonable journalists in its news division as a way of deflecting attention from the vast phalanx of frothing maniacs arrayed alongside them. Wallace’s exit raises the question: Who is the new most reasonable person at Fox News?
I’ve assembled a quick, noncomprehensive list of the 10 least despicable marquee names remaining at Fox News. It’s not a blanket endorsement, since many of these personalities, particularly the ones from the opinion side, are plenty guilty of tribal sophistry, Trump toadyism, and general culture-war saber-rattling. It wouldn’t at all be a “gotcha” if you unearthed a clip from any of these people saying that Dr. Fauci invented COVID or something like that. This list is not an absolute measure of non-horribleness, but a relative measure. As the Fox News of the Trump era and beyond has sunk to new lows, these broadcasters have remained somewhere north of the very bottom.
10. Sean Hannity. On at least two occasions I have heard the generally bloviating primetime host gently suggest that wearing masks to inhibit the transmission and contraction of COVID-19 is not, in fact, tantamount to mental slavery. This small concession to rationality means that Hannity is, at present, somehow the network’s most tolerable nightly opinion host.
9. Greg Gutfeld. What happens when a Gen-X guy gets a taste for power while still retaining his distaste for authority? If that Gen-X guy is Greg Gutfeld, he ends up not wearing a tie during his multiple daily appearances on Fox News. The irascible Gutfeld is the funniest person on Fox, which is sort of like being the best driver on the bumper-car floor. His late-night show on the network, Gutfeld!, is deeply strange, a disjointed right-wing Real Time With Bill Maher in which it always feels like there’s a nonzero chance that the host will bite one of the panelists, just for fun. Even so, a Fox News host who might bite you for the sake of a strange joke is infinitely preferable to a Fox News host who just constantly snarls about great replacement theory.
8. Steve Doocy. The Fox & Friends co-host is more of a “morning show guy who somehow found himself cheerfully spouting cryptofascist propaganda for a living” than a “cryptofascist propagandist who somehow ended up hosting a morning show,” which to my mind makes him slightly less terrible than his early-rising colleagues at the network. (His co-hosts Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade never stood any chance of making this list.) Doocy also gets points for seeming not to want his viewers to die of COVID-19 in order to own the libs, and because he seems to truly love and be proud of his handsome tall son Peter.
7. Bill Hemmer. Seems fine. “Basically fine” is my assessment of Bill Hemmer, who co-hosts America’s Newsroom with Dana Perino, who is slightly more fine than Bill Hemmer. “Just a guy” would also be a fair assessment of Bill Hemmer, as would “reads the news real good,” “did not himself storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021,” and “is the sort of guy whose Wikipedia page features a photograph captioned ‘Hemmer at a bar in November 2009.’” Bill Hemmer is a guy who is fine.
6. Harris Faulkner. Consistently better than the time slots Fox News gives her, and consistently smarter and more reasonable than most of the other panelists on the execrable Outnumbered. Faulkner has a conservative outlook and does not often deviate from the network’s topics of the day, but over the years she has shown herself to be willing to listen to opposing viewpoints and to occasionally foster substantive debate. Full disclosure: I have not watched much of her relatively new solo daytime show The Faulkner Focus, but from what I can tell it looks like it’s pretty similar to her old solo daytime show, Outnumbered Overtime, except earlier.
5. Dana Perino. Perino, who co-hosts both America’s Newsroom and The Five, is an increasingly rare specimen on Fox News: a holdover Republican who has not tacked conspicuously to the lunatic right during the Trump and Biden eras. George W. Bush’s former press secretary seems basically smart and normal, and as far as I know has never been a full-throated culture warrior. She is probably on a group text with Jonah Goldberg, and while 15 years ago that line would have been meant as a sick burn, today I guess I mean it as a compliment? I don’t know. The world has changed, man.
4. Bret Baier. A perfectly cromulent news-talking guy, Baier, who hosts Special Report with Bret Baier and anchors the network’s coverage of marquee political events, is about as even-handed as they come at nights on Fox these days. I have never seen him literally hiss or sneer at a guest professing liberal opinions, which cannot be said for many of the other people who anchor Fox’s nightly shows. That said, while Baier clearly wants to get things right, he is basically nonconfrontational in classic news-anchor style, which is not necessarily an asset. In his final years at the network, Shepard Smith would spend entire segments of his show methodically rebutting the weird theories generated by his colleagues on Fox’s opinion side, Baier is not the sort of guy who will fact-check his own network live on the air. But he’s also not going to deliberately introduce inflammatory misinformation into the discourse, and I do recall having seen him push back on especially egregious stuff. Baier is willing to acknowledge that facts exist and should be respected, and that’s what you want from a news-talking guy.
3. Neil Cavuto. I am not entirely sure why Neil Cavuto is still on the air every afternoon at 4 p.m. Perhaps Fox executives have simply forgotten that his show exists? Maybe Cavuto has a really good hiding spot somewhere in the Fox offices, and his bosses just plain can’t find him to tell him that they want to bump him to weekends and give his slot to Corey Lewandowski? Cavuto’s show is very boring and basic; he talks about the stock market and business stuff, seems to believe in science, wastes very little time on culture-war nonsense, and comes across as a nice, regular person. Wherever he’s hiding, I hope his bosses never find him.
2. John Roberts. The network’s former White House correspondent was bumped up to a hosting role this year, apparently because Fox executives decided that Steve Doocy’s handsome tall son Peter would be better at asking trollish and irrelevant questions during Biden administration press briefings. Roberts is an actual reporter whose resume includes long stints at CBS and CNN, and he occasionally got very frustrated at the evasive maneuvering of the Trump administration. Roberts has gravitas, perspective, and credibility, and to my mind he is the clear and obvious choice to fill Wallace’s chair. The fact that he would work well in the role is probably exactly why he won’t get it.
1. Geraldo Rivera. OK, objectively speaking, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera probably isn’t more credible and competent than John Roberts or Neil Cavuto. But if you grade him on a curve, he is the eighth wonder of the world. Geraldo has good takes—not exclusively good takes, but he does have them—even though literally nobody in the world expects or needs Geraldo to have actual good takes. We’d all think it was completely normal if Geraldo was the sort of guy who went on Fox to announce that antifa had stolen his mailbox, or that Crystal Light cured COVID, or that marksmanship should be a mandatory course in junior high school. If this was the sort of guy that Geraldo had become, then he’d be just like every other washed up right-wing celebrity, and nobody would think twice.
Instead, Geraldo has decided to become a broadly credible pundit. Speaking to the New York Times about Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge documentary, Geraldo noted that the real story of Jan. 6, 2021 “is pretty damn clear, that there was a riot that was incited and encouraged and unleashed by Donald Trump.” On a July episode of The Five, he argued that remaining unvaccinated “is an arrogant, selfish, reckless act,” and that “if you come into my grandchildren’s house and you are not vaccinated, I’m going to kick you in the ass.” Geraldo has been reasonable for awhile; in 2017, after watching him yell at extremist blogger Pamela Geller on Hannity for being “a very unhelpful commentator… because you don’t listen to reason and you’re a radical,” I dubbed him “the most sane person on the crazy side of Fox News.” More than four years later, the observation still rings true. God help us all.