On Fox, tough questions demolish Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ talking points

The paradigm of journalistic objectivity, in which I was indoctrinated during the early decades of my now-ancient scribbling career, is in a world of hurt. Yes, it still exists, in several important places, especially metro newspapers. But the internet, talk radio and cable news (which were nonexistent or much less important when I started scribbling for a living in 1973) have fundamentally undermined the old system’s belief in neutral facticity, except on the editorial pages.

Fox News for the right and MSNBC for the left symbolize the new normal pretty well. I’m not saying Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow are equivalent in, let’s say, intellectual honesty. Hannity’s show is a place where intellectual honesty goes to die. But they do pretty well symbolize the new post-objectivity normal where the left and right can go to have their biases affirmed.

It’s daunting to try to imagine how a society divided between those networks can hope to find common ground. But it’s good to also point out and praise, on those networks with a clear partisan/ideological bias, the journalists who ask tough questions of all comers.

Chris Wallace of Fox News, who, among other duties, hosts “Fox News Sunday,” is a leading example of this, as he demonstrated often during the 2016 Republican primary debates.

So I wanted to highlight an example of this from Wallace’s interview Sunday with Trump spokester Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You might almost feel bad for Sanders as Wallace, who was loaded for bear with incredibly relevant talking-point-demolishing facts, made some serious hash out of Sanders’ effort to invoke the threat of terrorism as one of the justifications for the Trump-beloved border wall-fence-barrier-curtain. Thus:

SANDERS: [President Trump] wants the wall and he wants a number of other things. We have a completely broken immigration system. We have national crisis, not just of safety and security, but a humanitarian crisis.

We have drugs, we have human traffickers, we have terrorists that come across our border and there has to be a stop to that and we want to do — not just the wall; certainly that’s one of the most important factors. We know that it works; we know that in the places that it’s been, it’s 95 percent effective….

WALLACE: Let’s talk about the wall. Because there is no question that there has been a big spike in the number of family units coming across the border. The president talks about terrorists potentially coming across the border. And here is Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen. Take a look.

(VIDEO CLIP) KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The CBP has stopped over 3,000 what we call “Special Interest Aliens” trying to come into the country in the southern border. Those are aliens who the intel community has identified are of concern. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: But Special Interest Aliens are just people who come from countries that have ever produced a terrorist. They’re not terrorists themselves. And the State Department says that there is, quote, their words: ‘no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.’

SANDERS: We know that roughly, nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.

WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait — I know the statistic; I didn’t know you were going to use it. But I studied up on this. Do you know where those 4,000 people come — where they’re captured? Airports.

SANDERS: Not always.

WALLACE: At airports.

SANDERS: Certainly a large number —

WALLACE: The State Department says there hasn’t been any terrorists that they’ve found coming across the southern border with Mexico.

SANDERS: It’s by air, it’s by land and it’s by sea. It’s all of the above. But one thing that you’re forgetting is that the most vulnerable point of entry that we have into this country is our southern border, and we have to protect it. And the more individuals that —

WALLACE: But they’re not coming across the southern border, Sarah. They’re coming and they’re being stopped at airports.

SANDERS: They’re coming a number of ways. They’re certainly — I’m not disagreeing with you that they’re coming through airports. I’m saying that they come by air, by land and by sea.

And the more and more that our border becomes vulnerable and the less and less that we spend time and money protecting it, the more that we’re going to have an influx, not just of terrorists but of human traffickers, drug inflow and people that are coming here to do American citizens harm.

The full interview transcript is viewable here.

The Fox News audience is overwhelmingly pro-Trump. It’s interesting to think about what might be going through some of their minds if they sat through that exchange.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/08/2019 - 10:39 am.

    Glad to see Chris Wallace is still on the job. The surprise is not so much that Sarah Sanders is either lying through her teeth or criminally misinformed, it’s that her dishonesty and/or blatant ignorance are being exposed on Fox News, which habitually has fed the distorted worldview of Trumpworld. Kudos to Mr. Wallace. Would that more of his compatriots did something similar.

    It’s only a guess, but my guess is that this was only allowed to happen because someone higher up in the White House assumed that a questioner from Fox News would, automatically, be friendly to whatever line the administration was pushing, and would be tossing lazy softball questions at Ms. Sanders. They might be more careful next time – or they might not, since facts rarely dissuade “true believers.”

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/08/2019 - 11:29 am.

      Chris Wallace is about as honest as Bernie Madoff. He has always been a “never trumper”. Sanders was not wrong. Wallace was playing fast and loose with the facts and ignoring that which didn’t fit his narrative. Those 3,000 special interest people crossing the border are listed as such for a reason. There are a lot of people crossing the border that are never caught (at least not when they cross). Sanders rightfully pointed out that border security is about more than just terrorists.

      • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 01/08/2019 - 11:58 am.

        Bob, my jaw drops open when you call Wallace dishonest, then finish the rest of your comment with which I’ll politely call “fabrications”. Those people are listed as “special interest” solely based on where they come from, a point Wallace made that neither Huckabee or you understand. And the rest of your comment is textbook Fox fear-mongering innuendo.

        Clear thinking Americans will support meaningful improvements to border security. You and your President need to educate yourself about what that really means.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/08/2019 - 12:42 pm.

        Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen :

        “The term (special interest alien) does not indicate any specific derogatory information about the individual — and DHS has never indicated that the (special interest alien) designation means more than that.”

        But hey, work on dismantling the TSA by not paying TSA workers who have stopped many more terrorists at the airports. In the “full-employment” days, who’s going to stick around for “someday you’ll probably get paid…”

        So much for the pursuit of safety for Americans…

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/08/2019 - 11:13 am.

    Is fox news sunday broadcast on the fox news cable channel? Or just over the air, through local affiluates?

  3. Submitted by Misty Martin on 01/08/2019 - 11:42 am.

    Chris Wallace did an excellent job interviewing Sarah Huckabee Sanders – I watched it with much enjoyment. And I LOVED the way he answered so confidently, when he told Sarah that “he had studied up on this” – meaning the 4,000 alleged terrorists who had come into the country – through airports. He was ready, armed with the facts and unflinching. And on Fox News, no less! I was SO impressed. Keep up the good work, Chris!

  4. Submitted by Misty Martin on 01/08/2019 - 12:04 pm.


    I’m logging in again today, to just point out that there’s a great article published in “The Atlantic” by George Parker, “The Suicide of a Great Democracy.” I hoped you wouldn’t mind my mentioning it to your readers as President Trump is set to go to prime time television tonight to promote the border wall. This article sums it up nicely, I believe, about the present government shut-down.

    Thanks for all you do. We appreciate all of your hard work.

  5. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 01/08/2019 - 12:24 pm.

    The whole wall argument makes me think of that old joke where the drunk looks for his keys under the streetlight, not because he lost them there but because that’s where the light is.

    In this case, we’re talking about spending AT LEAST $25 billion (keep in mind the $5 is just a down payment) to address a tiny part of the problem. And don’t forget that wall has to be maintained, so there is significant ongoing cost. That money would be far better spent in port security to prevent drugs (that’s how most arrive) and (even worse) a dirty bomb.

    I’ll put it another way. You have 2 holes in your boat. One is above the water line letting rainwater in. The other is below the water line letting seawater in. Where do you focus your limited resources?

    The wall isn’t about security, it’s about fulfilling a campaign pledge in advance of an election. If a wall is to be built, let the RNC pay for it.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/08/2019 - 12:54 pm.

      Actual campaign pledge and inauguration speech promise was that Mexico was going to pay for the wall.

      He went to “tariffs will pay for the wall”–ignoring the fact that tariffs are paid by US citizens.

      Now it is taxpayers (and future generations of debt-payers) must pay for the wall because the government will be shut down until further notice until they do.

      As for cost…The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 5 that his administration outlined to a group of senators plans requesting nearly $18 billion to build new and replacement barriers along more than 700 miles of the nearly 2,000-mile long U.S.-Mexico border….

      So if it is $18 billion is for a third of the length, you could assume a full wall would be close to a hundred-billion…

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/08/2019 - 12:56 pm.

      The New York Times carried a story a few days ago that quoted a Trump adviser as saying that reminding Trump to say “wall” was always a way to keep him focused on immigration. With a loose cannon like Trump, it takes some effort to keep him on message.

      Now, his mnemonic device has led him to shut down the government.

  6. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/08/2019 - 03:17 pm.

    Chris Wallace is an anomaly on Fox News, and we should remember that when Eric echoes the cliche about MSNBC being as bad on the left as Fox is on the right. Or–to use a truly vile opposition–that Sean Hannity is the right’s equivalent of a Rachel Maddow. MSNBC is connected tightly not only with its mother network–NBC–and its proud history of trying to bring truth to the newscasts the public gets, but to intellectual vitality and not bland and vague political slogans and shadings.

    I frequently hop between CNN, MSNBC and Fox for a couple of hours of TV news on weeknights. CNN often includes panels of commentators, some of whom have expertise on something like the law (Jeffrey Toobin, for example), and some of whom are Republican or Trumpite shills who tend to spout a line that they repeat and repeat and frequently interrupt others who speak in contradiction. There are lots of shouting matches on CNN, especially on the Cuomo show, that make watching an irritable chore that wastes time. [Why do right-wingers interrupt, repeat the same stuff over and over, and keep talking over others all the time, no matter what channel they’re on?]

    On Fox there is total right-wing emphasis, in the topics they pick or avoid as much as in slanting of the news–some days I can’t believe the dross they pull up to talk about, to avoid focusing on the real news of the day! Intellectually, unless you’re really into conspiracy theory, there’s no There There on Fox. When they have a left-leaning guest, often an expert on something, Hannity and his peers take over the interrupting, shouting over the guest who dares to speak truth. Unlistenable shouting and talk-overs. UGH.

    One thing the Chris Hayes and Rachel Matthews don’t permit is shouting matches. Hayes often has panels of experts, but he doesn’t let them talk over one another, so the viewer has a chance to hear actual thoughts from people. Maddow doesn’t even do panels: she has this or that prominent person (James Comey by himself, or Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren, by themselves, etc.) or significant news sources and reporters who have broken new stories of importance. She frequently brings journalists from other news outlets–Vox, Pro Publica, WaPo, The NYTimes, the Atlantic, The New Yorker, etc.–to ask for details about their discoveries. Of truths. You can listen to Hayes and Maddow (I’m not a fan of Chris Matthews, who interrupts too much) and actually learn about the law (Maddow loves reading the day’s court transcripts to us!) and history. Maddow gets excited about other reporters breaking real news! And she’ll tell you if some breaking news somewhere hasn’t yet been verified by someone else’s news team: Think of that–trying to verify a news item, on the spot!

    I don’t find that kind of challenging news on Fox at all. Ever. Sorry, Eric.

  7. Submitted by Kathleen Castrovinci on 01/08/2019 - 04:22 pm.

    If anything Chris Wallace learned from his father, the late great Mike Wallace, is that you do not argue with a LIAR without the facts.

    How Sarah Huckabee Sanders sleeps at night is interesting. When she looks in the mirror, I wonder who is looking back.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/08/2019 - 06:43 pm.

    She’s doing it for the money.
    There’s a name for that….

Leave a Reply