Rieder: De­bate mod­er­a­tor must be the heavy,

Matt Lauer showed what not to do; can Lester Holt do bet­ter?

- Rem Rieder @rem­rieder USA TO­DAY U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Presidential Debates · Hofstra University · Donald Trump · Partido Libertario de los Estados Unidos · NBC · Republican Party (United States) · Democratic Party (United States) · Iraq · Howard Stern · Anderson Cooper · Twitter · Washington · Barack Obama · Laos · Hillary Clinton · Gary E. Johnson · Lester Holt · Matt Lauer · Chuck Todd · Chris Wallace · Jim Lehrer

When the cur­rent pres­i­den­tial cam­paign’s first de­bate gets un­der­way on Sept. 26 at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity, there will be a great deal at stake for ri­vals Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump — and Lib­er­tar­ian Gary Johnson if he makes the cut. Not to men­tion the mod­er­a­tor,

NBC Nightly News an­chor Lester Holt.

Mod­er­at­ing a pres­i­den­tial de­bate has al­ways been a high-pro­file un­der­tak­ing, but never more than this year.

Rarely has the me­dia’s role in a cam­paign been sub­ject to as in­tense scru­tiny as it has this time around. Repub­li­can Trump has made press-bash­ing a leit­mo­tif of his cam­paign. The forces of Demo­crat Clin­ton com­plain that their can­di­date is held to a higher stan­dard. Crit­ics rail that an abun­dance of “free me­dia” has fu­eled the rise of Trump.

And the de­bates, with their big buildup and massive au­di­ence, serve as par­tic­u­lar flash points.

We got a pre­view of what can hap­pen with last week’s com­man­der in chief fo­rum on NBC. Mod­er­a­tor Matt Lauer was bru­tally lam­basted for his per­for­mance, for wak­ing from a deep, long sleep and dis­cov­er­ing Clin­ton’s emails, for go­ing too easy on Trump. (And wouldn’t NBC have saved it­self a lot of headaches if it had given the reins to Meet the

Press host and po­lit­i­cal guru Chuck Todd rather than Lauer?)

But the big­gest knock on Lauer was his fail­ure to call out Trump on his demon­stra­bly false as­ser­tion that he had op­posed the war in Iraq from the get-go. Fact says there is no ev­i­dence to sup­port Trump’s claim, and the bump­tious bil­lion­aire in fact told ra­dio bad boy Howard Stern six months be­fore the war started that he sup­ported it.

De­spite that Trump’s claim has been widely dis­cred­ited, Lauer let the as­ser­tion go un­chal­lenged.

Which brings us to a ma­jor ques­tion for this year’s de­bate moderators: If one of the can­di­dates says some­thing that is clearly un­true, is it the mod­er­a­tor’s job to point that out?

Fox News’ Chris Wal­lace, who will mod­er­ate the third and fi­nal de­bate on Oct. 19, says that’s sim­ply not part of his job de­scrip­tion.

“I do not be­lieve that it’s my job to be a truth squad,” Wal­lace told Fox’s Howard Kurtz. “It’s up to the other per­son to catch them on that.”

(What about the other up­com­ing de­bate moderators? ABC says Martha Rad­datz isn’t talk­ing pre­de­bate. Holt and CNN’s An­der­son Cooper didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.)

Wal­lace was pil­lo­ried on Twit­ter for his re­mark. But for­mer PBS an­chor Jim Lehrer, who has mod­er­ated 12, count ’em 12, pres­i­den­tial de­bates, sup­ports Wal­lace’s po­si­tion.

“I usu­ally left (fact check­ing) for the can­di­date or used the can­di­date to do it,” Lehrer told Politi

co. “Usu­ally the way you do that with sim­ply the can­di­date there, you say, ‘Would you agree with that, is that how you see it?’ ”

But that’s just the wrong ap­proach. That’s turn­ing it into a par­ti­san thing, a he-said, she-said. It’s a fine way to ap­proach a pol­icy ques­tion. But not a ques­tion of facts, or lack thereof.

One of the more en­cour­ag­ing jour­nal­is­tic de­vel­op­ments in re­cent years has been the rise of the fact-check­ing move­ment, where the as­ser­tions of of­fi­cials and can­di­dates are put to the test. Rather than just print­ing what the ri­vals say, this ap­proach in­volves go­ing the ex­tra mile and de­ter­min­ing the truth — do­ing journalism., Poli­ti­Fact and

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler have been in the fore­front of this un­der­tak­ing and de­serve a great deal of credit. Now their ef­forts have spread to many other news out­lets. The key is to make sure the fact-check­ing is guided by, well, facts, not fu­eled by par­ti­san spin.

It’s frus­trat­ing that myths and lies of­ten en­dure even af­ter they have been to­tally blown out of the wa­ter. (The birther non­sense is a per­fect ex­am­ple.) But that’s no rea­son to give up the fight.

It’s also a rea­son for real-time fact-check­ing when pos­si­ble. The longer a ca­nard is out there un­chal­lenged, the longer it will en­dure.

It’s par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal for this year’s de­bates be­cause of the an­tics of one Don­ald Trump. Hil­lary Clin­ton is of­ten chas­tised for her lack of trans­parency, and with good rea­son. The de­cep­tive ap­proach to her re­cent med­i­cal ad­ven­tures is a case in point.

But when it comes to be­ing truth-chal­lenged, Trump is in a league of his own. Ac­cord­ing to Poli­ti­Fact, of the Trump state­ments it has in­ves­ti­gated, 71% were rated “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire.” For Clin­ton, that num­ber was 28%. once said of The Don­ald, “In the 12 years of ’s ex­is­tence, we’ve never seen his match. He stands out not only for the sheer num­ber of his fac­tu­ally false claims, but also for his brazen re­fusals to ad­mit er­ror when proven wrong.”

It pro­claimed him the “king of whop­pers.” (Both of these out­fits are non-par­ti­san. Pres­i­dent Obama once won Poli­ti­Fact’s cov­eted “Lie of the Year” Award for “If you like your health plan, you can keep it.”)

Un­der the bright de­bate lights, fact-check­ing is a weapon that should be used spar­ingly. Con­stant in­ter­rup­tions would blow up the whole thing. And it needs to be brought to bear only when there is in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence that the state­ment is false.

“Be­cause do­ing so in­ter­rupts the flow of the de­bate,” said Kath­leen Hall Jamieson, direc­tor of the An­nen­berg Public Pol­icy Cen­ter, ’s par­ent.

But when the ev­i­dence is clearcut, a la Trump and the Iraq War, the mod­er­a­tor must pounce.

The public de­serves it.

Of the Trump state­ments Poli­ti­Fact has in­ves­ti­gated, 71% are rated “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire.” For Clin­ton, it’s 28%.

 ?? EVAN VUCCI, AP ?? Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump speaks with To­day co-an­chor Matt Lauer at the NBC fo­rum on Sept. 7. Lauer was crit­i­cized for go­ing too easy on Trump.
EVAN VUCCI, AP Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump speaks with To­day co-an­chor Matt Lauer at the NBC fo­rum on Sept. 7. Lauer was crit­i­cized for go­ing too easy on Trump.
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