The Presidential Debate: Big Facts And Little Facts

Tonight is likely to be the single most important event of the 2016 electoral season. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off two other times before November 8, but tonight’s debate at Hofstra University is expected to sit atop the others as the most watched and consequential.

All eyes are on the candidates. But after criticism of Commander in Chief forum moderator Matt Lauer and some less-than-stellar primary debate moderator performances, tonight’s moderator, Lester Holt, will also be under intense scrutiny.

The executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates Janet Brown told CNN: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

She added that once moderators start fact-checking the candidates, it is hard to tell “what is the big fact, and what is a little fact?” According to Brown, it should be up to the candidates to fact check each other, on stage.



This will lead to the inevitable -- that’s a lie, no it’s not, yes it is. That's a singularly unhelpful circular dialogue. Keeping the neutral moderator removed from questions of fact doesn't educate viewers on the truth. Worse, it will fuel both the “Donald Trump is a raging liar” and “Hillary Clinton is a scheming insider” camps.

Debates should be enlightening; voters want to learn more about the candidates and their policies. They want to know if what they’ve been tod over the past months of the general election can be trusted. Moderators will frame important questions about policy and past positions with facts; there are plenty of opportunities to do so with both candidates.

The issue is whether they answer the questions or deflect them.

And will Holt interrupt or push back when the candidates say something that is blatantly false?

Both camps fall on opposite sides of this question.

KellyAnne Conway, Trump campaign manager, told ABC: "I really don't appreciate the campaigns thinking it is the job of the media to go and be these virtual fact-checkers."

Conversely, Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon said that if moderators “close their ears to Donald Trump’s lies, it will extend an unfair bias to Donald Trump. It will be the equivalent of giving him more time to speak.”

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