Schadenfreude overload: Chris Wallace joined CNN+ because Jeff Zucker would be his protector there, now reportedly ‘irate’ at his departure
Apparently, nobody told Chris Wallace that rats are supposed to jump from sinking ships, not onto them. After leaving Fox News for the nascent CNN+ streaming service (and watching ratings soar for his old show, Fox News Sunday, once he was gone), Wallace now finds himself abandoned by the person who lured him away, Jeff Zucker. Radar Online reports:
In a move that stunned Beltway television circles, the no-nonsense veteran anchor — son of legendary CBS correspondent Mike Wallace — announced he was leaving Fox News after 18 years for a prized gig at CNN’s new streaming-video outlet CNN+ in December.
At the time, the former Fox News Sunday anchor specifically cited Zucker as one of the reasons he joined the network.
“I am honored and delighted to join Jeff Zucker and his great team,” Wallace gushed in a statement just two hours after he quit Fox on December 12.
That “team” bloviation obscures the reality of the snake pit nature of TV news, especially at a failing operation like CNN. Wallace has got to be worried about the long knives and his ample back at his new employer that looks like it is about to clean house. Notably, there are no reports of him bringing any staff with him from Fox, and his old support staff at Fox News Sunday must be popping champagne corks with the new ratings they enjoy with Shannon Bream helming the broadcast. For what it is worth, her colleagues at the Fox News Washington Bureau refer to Shannon on-air as "the nicest person in the building" -- which is consistent with her on-air persona.
Wallace is very unhappy, according to Radar.
In wake of the decision from WarnerMedia suits to oust Jeff Zucker, Wallace is said to be “second guessing his decision” even though he is believed to be earning $8 to $10 million per year.
“Chris is the type of person who makes it known if he doesn’t like something,” said a TV industry insider.
“He went over there for Zucker and now Zucker is gone. Wallace feels that he has been stiffed. He’s got no staff, no Executive Producer and the guy he gave up a prized gig for has just walked out the door.”
Zucker is said to have allayed Wallace’s concerns about two heavyweight figures at CNN: Jake Tapper, the host of The Lead, and Sam Feist, the cable giant’s Washington bureau chief and senior vice president.
“It’s no secret in DC that Wallace hates Jake Tapper and despises Sam Feist,” the source added.
“Zucker spun his magic to allay Chris’ concern about the pair, promising that his status as a ‘premiere journalist’ would not be compromised while working out of the DC bureau.”
As the new guy at CNN’s Washington bureau, with a huge salary at a time when others are likely to be fired, Wallace isn’t going to have a lot of friends to help make him look good. And on-air talent only looks good when supported by research, writing, and production staff. A misplaced light can make someone look old, sick, or weird, for example.
Now, CNN’s ownership is about to be transferred from AT&T to a new entity dubbed Warner Bros. Discovery, managed by talent from Discovery, whose largest shareholder is John Malone, an industry legend. Malone is on the record as seeing streaming services such as CNN+ (and more importantly for the new company, HBO Max) as the future of television now that people are “cutting the cord” and unsubscribing from cable.
It is faintly possible that under Discovery management, CNN+ will turn to Wallace to build a new organization there. But I see no evidence in Wallace’s past to suggest that he is a leader, someone capable of recruiting and managing a team. His close association at CNN with the now-departed Zucker would not help him much in that monumental task. And his personality as visible on-air is not exactly inspiring or reassuring or even caring -- some of the many qualities a leader requires.
It seems more likely to me that isolated and friendless in his new sinking ship post, Wallace will be on his own. If I were he, I’d be wining and dining John Malone and building the case for a budget to recruit outside talent to lead CNN+. But the big question is: who would follow him to the new company? His former staff at Fox? The ones who watched ratings jump after he left? And how good a manager (or judge of people) is Wallace, anyway, who is, after all, a guy who tied his fate to Zucker.