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What Chris Wallace's move from Fox News to CNN+ means for the future of TV news


Chris Wallace's announcement that he is leaving Fox News is drawing attention to behind-the-scenes strife at Fox over its right-wing rhetoric. It's also raising questions about the ways digital habits are reshaping the TV news business. Wallace is headed to the new CNN Plus digital service, which is supposed to come online sometime next year. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us to tackle both of those.

Hey, David.


KELLY: Start with what more you are learning about why - why Wallace left Fox News.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look - Wallace is 74. He's been at Fox News for 18 years, and he says he wants to get beyond just focusing on politics every week. But there were certainly tensions that would show up on the air when Wallace would sometimes correct or try to temper the sort of pro-Donald Trump rhetoric and misstatements and sometimes lies that would emanate from his opinion colleagues. And off the air, he became increasingly concerned, most recently going to the CEO of Fox News, Suzanne Scott, with Bret Baier, another one of their political anchors, saying that lies being sort of folded into a Tucker Carlson series on the January 2021 insurrection at Capitol Hill were undermining the credibility of Fox News. Things needed to change. They got no sign that things would change. And then suddenly, a few weeks later, Wallace has announced he's going to CNN.

KELLY: Yeah. And what's the plan for him there at CNN Plus?

FOLKENFLIK: So what we know is that he'll be doing a daily weekday hour-long news program focusing on interviews with newsmakers - politics, yes, but also presumably popular culture and sport, other tastemakers and influencers, people who affect society at large. And it will be sort of appointment viewing on this streaming service. He's one of the big names, along with Kasie Hunt, who was lured over from NBC, MSNBC, and one presumes others will follow.

KELLY: Background question, David - what is CNN Plus? Do we even know yet?

FOLKENFLIK: Totally fair question. It's supposed to emerge sometime early next year, probably first quarter of next year. What it is is CNN's push to get viewers on smartphones and tablets as well as online. Obviously, like everyone else, they're seeing people decouple from or consciously uncouple from cable payments and the like. They'll have scheduled shows like those involving Hunt and Chris Wallace, and they also offer what they say will be a rich back catalog of cultural programs like Lisa Ling, Anthony Bourdain, Stanley Tucci.

Think of this, though - it's intended to draw on the hundreds, if not more than a thousand journalists globally, and there will be a lot of sort of more straight-ahead news reporting than I think the high-intensity, high-heat talk template that we've seen on cable news, particularly here domestically. I think it'll be a lot more like CNN International and that it will differ, though, from CNN and CNN International because they've made these contractual promises to places like Spectrum and Comcast that are paying them good money to carry their channels that they won't simply just slough (ph) them over on the digital side. They've got to come up with a new formula for paid subscribers to pay every month. That's their financial model.

KELLY: It's going to be really interesting because of course, we can all get CNN on our phones and we don't have to pay, so it'll be very interesting to see how that all unfolds. CNN is putting money in this, though. They obviously think this is the future.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they're intending to hire hundreds more folks. They think that not only will they bring international resources, but that they'll have an international appeal, that they'll get subscribers in the way that The New York Times has gotten subscribers in sort of cultural centers around the world. There's a crowded field at the moment. MSNBC is offering through the Peacock kind of analogous NBC online. And let's not forget Fox Nation, which is apparently for people who want to pay money because they think Fox News is run by Marxists.

KELLY: (Laughter) It's quite a note to leave at there.

FOLKENFLIK: Not conservative enough.

KELLY: OK. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.