Should moderators fact-check the presidential debates? | The Tylt
Should moderators fact-check the presidential debates?
Washington Postmedia columnist Margaret Sullivan has five suggestions for moderators:
1. Maintain control. 2. Be well-prepared enough to assert the truth in real time. 3. Be willing — and able — to stop the candidates in their tracks. 4. Set clear guidelines at the start and hold the candidates to them. 5. Be willing to pursue a logical line of questioning, with repeated follow-up questions.
While it's a nice ideal for moderators to fact check, the logistics of doing so are incredibly difficult for a single person. Newsrooms are dedicating multiple staff members to fact check the debates. It's unrealistic to expect moderators to be able to do so real time, on the fly, while also moderating.
“There is a journalistic component to what the moderator does. But there’s so little time—that’s the problem—and that time really belongs to the candidates,” says Alan Schroeder, a Northeastern University journalism professor and presidential debate historian. “I’d rather trust PolitiFact or The Washington Post, which have done their homework and written [fact-checks] in a nuanced way, than rely on a moderator making a decision in real-time.”
Andrew Clark argues that fact checking isn't the moderator's responsibility. Rather, it's the candidate's. If moderators fact check, they risk getting bogged down and may end up choosing sides.
But for a moderator to definitely say whether something is correct or incorrect plugs them into an equation where they shouldn't be. The only fact-checker should be the other candidate on the stage, lest they are unprepared to defend themselves. If someone says something untrue, the other candidate is more than able to call them out, as Mitt Romney did when he "fact checked" a spurious Obama claim.