On Sunday morning, the Trump campaign sent out surrogates and staffers to make the case before Monday’s debate that fact-checking the GOP candidate is unnecessary and wholly offensive. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway rejected the notion that debate moderators should act as “virtual fact-checkers,” telling ABC’s This Week that she doesn’t think the media should call out blatant falsehoods.
But, it isn’t just Trump loyalists who are working the refs. The actual debate commission has come out and said they frown upon fact-checking during debates. Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources, debate commission executive director Janet Brown stated that a moderator should stay out of highlighting lies because you can’t be sure which ones are “big lies.”
“I think, personally, if you are starting to get into the fact-check, I’m not sure what is the big fact, and what is a little fact? And if you and I information, does your source about the unemployment rate agree with my source? I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica. And I think it’s better for that person to facilitate and to depend on the candidates to basically correct each other as they see fit.”
So, essentially, the debate commission has given Donald Trump the greenlight to lie without repercussion in front of tens of millions of Americans. However, there may be some good news heading into Monday evening. NBC’s Lester Holt, who will moderate the 90-minute debate, has been very tight-lipped about his preparation, doing no interviews ahead of the big event. Yet, CNN’s Brian Stelter was able to pump some sources and get an idea on Holt’s mindset going in.
According to Stelter’s report, Holt realizes he can’t do what Matt Lauer did in the Commander-In-Chief Forum earlier this month and allow Donald Trump to tell a bald-faced lie to his face without pushback.
With regards to fact-checking, “Lester is not going to be a potted plant,” one NBC staffer close to Holt said.
Another staffer seconded that sentiment.
This doesn’t mean Holt will interrupt every time he hears a lie. Officials at the Commission on Presidential Debates say the candidates should challenge each other.
But Holt will strive to avoid a repeat of NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum” earlier this month, when Trump falsely said he opposed the invasion of Iraq and interviewer Matt Lauer let it slide.
Lack of preparation was cited by observers as one possible reason for the widely-criticized performance.
Now, this isn’t to say Holt is going to hold Trump’s feet to the fire and shame him for saying something that is absolutely untrue. Considering Trump’s long record of pathological lying, it would stop the debate dead in its tracks if he kept fact-checking him. But this does show that Holt will potentially call him out when a big lie is said and repeated.
This flies in the face of what Fox News’ Chris Wallace has said about his views on moderating. Wallace, who will oversee the Fox News debate next month, has gone on record with his feelings that moderators should not engage is checking facts, instead leaving it up to the candidates to duke it out.