Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has famously avoided giving a press conference for 240 days now, also doesn’t do a whole lot of sit-down interviews. So when she does, they are closely watched. And when one of those sit-downs is granted to Fox News, the scrutiny is even more pronounced.
Fox, home to unapologetic conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, is widely regarded as the media proxy for the Republican Party. While the network employs plenty of talented journalists, the network’s claim to be a “balanced” news source is generally regarded as questionable.
So it was surprising, on Sunday, to tune in and watch Clinton sail unscathed through a lengthy interview with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.
Wallace is generally tough but fair when he takes on political figures, regardless of their party affiliation, but on Sunday he allowed Clinton to blow through a number of subjects vitally important to her political opponents without significant pushback or follow-up questioning.
For example, Wallace asked Clinton about the report by FBI Director James Comey, in which he described her use of a personal email server for her official correspondence while serving as secretary of state as “extremely careless.”
He allowed Clinton to get away with claiming that Comey had said she had been “truthful” in her statements about her email -- a gross mischaracterization of what Comey said that The Washington Post Fact Checker rated as a “four Pinocchio” lie.
He ran clips of testimony and public comment in which Clinton expressly said that she had neither sent nor received classified information on her private email server.
Clinton responded by, in effect, throwing her State Department employees under the bus.
“I relied on and had every reason to rely on the judgments of the professionals with whom I worked,” she said. “And so, in retrospect, maybe some people are saying, well, among those 300 people, they made the wrong call. At the time, there was no reason in my view to doubt the professionalism and the determination by the people who work every single day on behalf of our country.”
Wallace, rather than pressing the point, moved on to a different topic.
The Fox host gave similarly short shrift to what is probably Clinton’s biggest challenge with the electorate: the fact that people don’t trust her. He allowed Clinton to address the fact that two-thirds of the American people do not believe she is honest and trustworthy with the claim that after 25 years in public life, they still don’t know her well enough.
The extent of the follow-up was this: “You don't think that there’s any legitimate reasons people would have doubts about your -- to use the phrase in the polls -- honesty and trustworthiness?” And Clinton was allowed off the hook with an appeal to her record of public service.
The conservative social media sphere lit up with criticism of the interview after it aired, slamming Wallace for serving up “softball” questions to Clinton, but the interview was in large part overshadowed by other events of the day -- specifically, Donald Trump’s continued assault on the family of a US Army captain killed in Iraq. The soldier’s father had criticized Trump for his proposed ban on Muslim immigration, which he said, would bar men like his son from entering the country.
If there is an upside to the Wallace-Clinton encounter, it might be that it makes the Democratic nominee a little more comfortable putting herself in front of the camera for interviews with journalists. Because there are still a lot of questions that need asking.