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Stephen Colbert and Fox's Chris Wallace get heated debating the Mueller testimony

Chris Wallace, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

“I’m glad one of us did,” responded Fox News’ Chris Wallace to Late Show host Stephen Colbert saying that he’d enjoyed their last conversation on the show. Wallace, on Wednesday’s episode to promote his documentary, Mike Wallace Is Here, about his legendary newsman father, instead spent his first segment engaged in another contentious debate with Colbert, this time about their wildly differing interpretations of Wednesday’s congressional testimony by Robert Mueller.

Things started off cordially enough, with Wallace sharing the observation that having a groundbreaking interviewer and investigative journalist for a dad was “a pain in the ass” growing up. Then Colbert brought out a printout of Donald Trump—subject of hours of testimony outlining, in detail, his various crimes as outlined in Mueller’s report—tweeting Wallace’s early-on live-tweet calling the proceedings “a disaster” for Democrats and Mueller, and things quickly tensed up. Colbert, noting that Wallace made his Trump-pleasing pronouncement 90 minutes into a six-hour hearing, asked Wallace if it’s Fox News policy to “report, and decide before the thing’s over,” and it was on.

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Wallace defended his action, his argument that the 74-year-old investigator looked, well, like a 74-year old man on camera, occasionally having trouble picking out which lawmaker was asking him a question. Colbert took issue, asking Wallace if he’d ever testified in front of Congress as Colbert has, and pointing out that the acoustics of the speaker setup occasionally confused the then-46-year-old Colbert as well. Wallace, who, to be fair, enjoys the dubious distinction of being possibly the least laughably despicable propagandist at the propaganda outlet that is Fox News, attempted some of his father’s no-bullshit “Come off it” big-timing, condescendingly telling Colbert that they both know that Mueller’s testimony was “a disaster.” Seeming genuinely baffled, Colbert told Wallace, “I promise you I don’t,” before calling the hearing “a well-oranized and choreographed recitation of the moral, ethical, and criminal failings of the President of the United States,” and accusing Wallace of evaluating a public airing of the many damning details contained in the Mueller report on the basis of its entertainment value.

“You’re giving performance notes,” parried Colbert (and Wallace agreed). Continuing, Colbert summed up the failings in that approach by telling Wallace, “and they only mean something because we’ve been desensitized to the shock of the information that they were laying out for us.” Wallace didn’t argue that point, falling back on his thesis that “all of that was in the report” already, and that, since the hearing itself was political theater, it should be reviewed in theatrical terms. Colbert was dogged, however, responding to Wallace’s tangent about the factionalism of current political discourse (and his use of the enduringly problematic term “tribal” to describe it) by pronouncing himself not part of what Wallace called “the anti-Trump tribe” so much as the “don’t lie to prosecutors tribe,” and the “do not welcome the help of a foreign country to win our elections tribe.” “What tribe are you in?,” asked Colbert pointedly, to which Wallace pronounced himself part of the “journalist tribe,” and, once more referred to the spectacle of a hearing enumerating the various ways Donald Trump lied, conspired, and obstructed on his way to (and during) the presidency, like a game.

Calling his role as that of an umpire, calling balls and strikes, Wallace ran up against Colbert once more asking,He seems old’—Is that a strike?” Wallace didn’t answer that, but reiterated that he’s the guy who confronted White House hate-lizard (not Wallace’s description) Stephen Miller on his show earlier in the week for “stoking racial divisions.”(Colbert deadpanned that he didn’t watch.) And Wallace did indeed do that bare minimum of calling something what it is, even on Fox News, presenting that lowest of journalist bars to Colbert as an example of him leaping to the newsman heights of his justly illustrious and respected father.

[Should you care to give your representatives your take on the facts laid out by Robert Mueller’s testimony, and what actions, if any, should be taken, here you go.]

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.