Chris Wallace says working at Fox News became “unsustainable” after hosts embraced election lies

Wallace was no longer "comfortable" at Fox when the network began to question election results, Capitol riot

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 28, 2022 3:59PM (EDT)

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Former Fox News host Chris Wallace told The New York Times that he left the network because he was no longer "comfortable" with its coverage of the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Wallace, the longtime former anchor of "Fox News Sunday," declined to renew his contract in December after 18 years at the network and instead signed with the new streaming platform CNN+.

"I just no longer felt comfortable with the programming at Fox," Wallace told the Times.

Wallace had spent nearly two decades at a network that caters heavily to the right, but said he could no longer stomach his colleagues' talking points in the wake of Donald Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election. 

"I'm fine with opinion: conservative opinion, liberal opinion," Wallace said. "But when people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable."

Wallace added that he spent "a lot" of last year "looking to see if there was a different place for me to do my job."

RELATED: Veteran anchor Chris Wallace leaving Fox News after 18-year run

After the election, Fox News expanded its opinion programming at the expense of its news division and fired politics editor Chris Stirewalt, who was the first to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night. The network also leaned into its opinion hosts' conspiracy-theory mongering, airing Tucker Carlson's "Patriot Purge" documentary that suggested the Capitol riot was a "false flag" operation aimed at demonizing Trump supporters. The Times reported in December that Wallace had gone to management to "express concern" about the documentary.

"Before, I found it was an environment in which I could do my job and feel good about my involvement at Fox," Wallace told the Times. "And since November of 2020, that just became unsustainable, increasingly unsustainable as time went on."

Wallace argued that the network had gone beyond what it had been prior to the 2020 election but acknowledged that some viewers may question why he did not leave the network earlier.

"Some people might have drawn the line earlier, or at a different point," he told the Times. "I think Fox has changed over the course of the last year and a half. But I can certainly understand where somebody would say, 'Gee, you were a slow learner, Chris.'"

Wallace, whose father was the legendary "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace, was one of several high-profile departures from the network during the Trump era.

Former longtime news anchor Shep Smith, who routinely pushed back against Fox News opinion hosts' talking points, left the network in 2019 and joined CNBC. He told CNN that he felt his role at the network was to counter the "mis- or disinformation" viewers were getting from opinion hosts like Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

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 "When people begin with a false premise and lead people astray, that's injurious to society and it's the antithesis of what we should be doing: Those of us who are so honored and grateful to have a platform of public influence have to use it for the public good," Smith told CNN, adding that he "stuck with it for as long as I could" but ultimately gave up.

"I don't know how some people sleep at night," he said. "I know that there are a lot of people who have propagated the lies and who have pushed them forward over and over again who are smart enough and educated enough to know better."

Former political correspondent Carl Cameron, who was at the network for nearly two decades, left around the same time after the "opinion hosts in prime-time and elsewhere on Fox had become more than I could stand," he told CNN.

Former Fox News White House correspondent Kristin Fisher left the network last year to join CNN as well. Liberal pundit Juan Williams was abruptly removed from the panel of "The Five" in May. Fellow liberal commentator Donna Brazile, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, exited the network shortly after.

Some former Fox News employees share Wallace's view of the network after the 2020 election. Stirewalt, who drew Trump's ire for declaring that Biden had won Arizona before any other network, said after his firing that Fox staffers were "stunned to see that the phrase 'Fair and Balanced,' which had been our core, had been removed" during the Trump era.

Stirewalt said that after former longtime Fox News chief Roger Ailes was fired amid mounting sexual harassment scandals, the "conduct for the opinion hosts went way down."

"We would have never been in a place where Sean Hannity could appear onstage at a rally with Donald Trump," he said. "It's bad for business, it's bad for the country, it's bad for everything when you become an arm of a political party."

Conservative pundits Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes also quit the network in October over Carlson's "Patriot Purge" documentary.

The documentary, Goldberg told the Times, was "a sign that people have made peace with this direction of things" and there was no plan for a "course correction."

"The 'Patriot Purge' thing meant: OK, we hit the iceberg now, and I can't do the rationalizations anymore," he said. "Whether it's 'Patriot Purge' or anti-vax stuff, I don't want it in my name, and I want to call it out and criticize it," he added. "I don't want to feel like I am betraying a trust that I had by being a Fox News contributor. And I also don't want to be accused of not really pulling the punches. And then this was just an untenable tension for me."

Read more on the news channel formerly known as "fair and balanced":

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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