Martha MacCallum doesn't like it when critics paint Fox News with a broad brush.
MacCallum, the anchor of The Story who will coanchor the network's live election-night coverage for the first time on Tuesday alongside fellow news anchor Bret Baier, said the biggest misconception among Fox News critics is that the network and all its hosts are "state-run television" being run out of the White House by President Trump.
"Clearly Fox News overall and in our opinion sections leans right, there's no doubt about that. Just like CNN and MSNBC lean left," MacCallum said in an interview. "But I think we have terrific reporters across the board. And I think we have really strong panels and we have really strong political coverage. There are a lot of different voices here."
Most cable news networks stick with a formula of news coverage during the day and opinion at night. But Fox News has been criticized for its opinion hosts moving from commentary to outright advocacy, with personalities like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro acting like informal Trump advocates and advisers. Both took the stage at Trump's rally in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Monday night. Fox News said in a statement it "does not condone" its hosts "participating in campaign events."
MacCallum, who despite hosting a prime-time show that's solidly on the "news" side, confronted that perception of coziness recently when she landed an exclusive interview with then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after sexual-assault allegations emerged. Many media critics, such as the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan, predicted that MacCallum's interview would be a "challenge-free infomercial." But MacCallum asked several piercing questions that led to some revealing moments, including Kavanaugh making the awkward admission that he was a virgin throughout high school and parts of college.
"It's ridiculous on its face to comment on an interview before it happens and I don't put too much credence in that kind of assessment, before or after," MacCallum said.
MacCallum isn't the only news-side host who has been put into an awkward position by the network's Trump-friendly opinion coverage. Baier, who took nearly 600 days to land an interview with the president, told the New Yorker recently that it pains him to hear Fox called "state TV" for the Trump presidency. And Shepard Smith, who routinely criticizes the administration as vigorously as anyone you'd see on CNN or MSNBC, said the network's opinion programming exists "strictly to be entertaining."
MacCallum said the views the network's opinion hosts hold don't factor into the stories she covers and the guests and experts booked to discuss the day's events. Obviously, Trump remains in the forefront of most cable news shows, but MacCallum also devotes significant airtime to stories involving the #MeToo movement and abuses in the Catholic Church.
"I think that's one of the great things about the different personalities and the different professionals that make up Fox News, because we all have areas that have great meaning to us that we might do more on our shows that other people would do on their shows," MacCallum said.
MacCallum spoke with the Inquirer and Daily News about Trump's affinity for Fox News' opinion hosts, his heated rhetoric about the media, and her love of Villanova basketball. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
On the frustration over Trump avoiding sitting for interviews with the network’s news hosts:
"[The news side] would always rather have that interview than someone else. That's a competitive nature in a news organization. It does frustrate me. I'm glad I've had opportunities to sit down with him on several occasions [MacCallum last interviewed Trump after his first 100 days in April 2017]. Every reporter wants to interview the president no matter who that president is.
"My pitch to the president would be that I think I'd give him a fair hearing. And I honestly think in some ways that the interviews overall are perhaps stronger when you're answering questions from somebody who is more in the news background."
On Trump calling the press the “enemy of the people”:
"I just don't think it's a helpful phrase right now. I think that if the relationship between the media and the president cooled down a little bit, I think that'd be a positive thing. … And I'm certainly not alone in that — there's a lot of people here who feel that way. There's people who work in the White House with the president who also wish that he didn't use that phrase.
"That being said, this president puts himself out there with the press more than any I have ever covered. Just look at the moments when he's getting on the helicopter, almost every day lately. He's stopping to answer questions. … I think there's a lot said about this animosity between the press and the president, but the truth is he's out there answering questions all the time."
On speaking to Trump:
"Last year before the State of the Union. he invited in all the anchors who were covering it. It's a long-standing tradition that's been at the White House with other presidents. He said, 'You know, I watch your show. You're show's going great. Sometimes you're nice to me, sometimes your not.'
"So yes, he indicated that he watches and certainly I'm happy to have every viewer. … It certainly doesn't enter my mind as I do the show every night. And he watches everything — he's a massive consumer of media. I wouldn't feel any differently about that than anybody else. He watches everything."
On the media’s treatment of Trump, and Trump’s treatment of the media:
"I think that he's not being covered fairly. However, I think that his own rhetoric allows that to happen in a lot of ways. I think there's a chicken-and-egg syndrome that's happening here. And everything has gotten to this level of hysteria and hyperbole that if he's not getting the coverage that he really wants, it's partly his fault."
On rooting for Villanova basketball (her husband and daughter are both alums):
"I think Jay Wright has just built an incredible franchise. He provides such an amazing spirit for that team and sets a standard that I think is so unique in college basketball and so admirable.
"I just have respect for the school and Father Peter and Jay Wright. I think they're incredible leaders. I interviewed both of them after they won their first national championship [in 2016]. We're not buddies or anything, but I certainly admire them."
On being Catholic while covering abuses within the church:
"I had the Fortney sisters, five of whom were all abused by someone who was a beloved, trusted priest, on my show. As a Catholic, those are heartbreaking stories for me. They're also extraordinarily important to me in terms of the transparency that has to happen in order to keep the church strong. As a person of faith that's important to me. But it's also really important to me that justice is served, and the victims in these cases find some sort of justice."