Veteran journalist Chris Wallace shared his take on the day’s news and politics at a packed lecture in Blackwell Auditorium at the Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 3.
The event was part of the Arthur McKinley Reynolds speaker series and began with introductions from RMC President Robert R. Lindgren and Madison Brown ’24, editor of The Yellow Jacket newspaper. Joan L. Conners, the Charles J. Potts Professor of Social Sciences and chair of the College’s Department of Communication Studies, led a moderated discussion with Wallace on a wide range of topics across politics, news media, and his half-century-long career in journalism.
His comments ranged from amusing anecdotes about his interactions with former presidents to his take on the historic motion to vacate that ousted Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, which was news that broke as Wallace arrived on campus. He also reflected on his role as a moderator for debates in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, first between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, then between Trump and Joe Biden. He spoke candidly of his exasperation about the latter debate, for which he was criticized when President Trump repeatedly interrupted both his opponent and the moderator. In expressing his goal in each debate to be “invisible” and serve as a conduit for the American electorate to evaluate the candidates, he observed “like a prize fight, nobody goes to watch the referee.”
Wallace commented on his 18 years at FOX, during which he says he was valued for his even-handedness and felt proud of management’s commitment to keeping opinion separate from news. He said that he believes things changed at his former network after the 2020 election. He bemoaned the polarization of our nation, and when asked about the media’s role in it, quipped flatly, “Well, we don’t help.”
Before the talk, Wallace met with a group of RMC political science and communication studies students for an informal Q&A session where he provided guidance on conducting successful interviews and general career advice. He stressed the importance of preparation and pushing past talking points to have a real conversation. Drawing on his experience interviewing prominent figures from presidents to Mother Teresa to Vladimir Putin, Wallace advised that when faced with a non-answer, approaching the question from a different angle can “give you a real answer, even if they didn’t mean to.”
Wallace has worked in broadcast journalism for more than 50 years, winning three Emmy Awards, the DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton, the Peabody Award, and the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. He is currently an anchor at CNN, which he joined in January 2022 after 18 years at FOX News, where he was the anchor of FOX News Sunday.
Prior to FOX News, Wallace worked at ABC News for 14 years where he served as the chief correspondent for PrimeTime and a substitute host for Nightline. Before joining ABC, Wallace was NBC’s chief White House correspondent, moderated Meet the Press, and anchored the Sunday edition of NBC Nightly News. A graduate of Harvard University, Wallace began his career as a city hall reporter for The Boston Globe.
Arthur McKinley Reynolds, Jr.
The Reynolds Speakers Series is made possible by the generosity of Arthur McKinley Reynolds, Jr., a retired ophthalmologist who earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from RMC in 1947 and a degree in medicine from VCU School of Medicine. In a twist of fate, Chris Wallace was once Dr. Reynolds’ patient – a coincidence discovered only weeks before Wallace’s lecture, which led Wallace to joke to the crowd, “If I wasn’t near-sighted, I might not be here.”