The Slatest

Presidential Debate Commission Chief Wary of Moderators as Fact-Checkers

Students acting as stand-ins for the presidential candidates rehearse for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University on Sunday in Hempstead, New York.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Commission on Presidential Debates isn’t too fond of the idea that moderators should stand in the way of determining what is truth. Even if there are clear things that one of the candidates—ehem, Donald Trump—often likes to say that are factually incorrect, as pointed out by Slate’s Josh Voorhees, the moderator should stay out of it. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica,” Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told CNN. If a candidate tells a lie the moderator should “depend on the candidates to basically correct each other as they see fit,” she added.

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Why is Brown so uncomfortable with the prospect of moderators calling out lies on the debate stage? Because once you start, where do you stop? “I’m not sure, what is the big fact, and what is a little fact?” she wondered. “Does your source about the unemployment rate agree with my source?”

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That position sounds pretty much in line with what is being espoused by the Trump campaign. “I really don’t appreciate campaigns thinking it is the job of the media to go and be these virtual fact-checkers and that these debate moderators should somehow do their bidding,” Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on ABC News.

In contrast, the Clinton campaign says that failing to point out Trump’s lies during the debate leaves the Democratic candidate at a disadvantage. “All that we’re asking is that if Donald Trump lies, that it’s pointed out,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook also told ABC News. “It’s unfair to ask that Hillary Clinton both play traffic cop with Trump, make sure that his lies are corrected, and also to present her vision for what she wants to do for the American people.”

All views aside, whether to play fact-checker or not is up to the person doing the moderating. The commission “asks independent, smart journalists to be the moderators and we let them decide how they’re going to do this,” Brown told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign. 

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