Presidential debate moderators must call out Donald Trump’s lies
Over the next few weeks, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will participate in three debates. We expect these debates to command massive audience across all media platforms – and they may turn out to be decisive flashpoints in this year’s historic presidential election. Debate moderators must not fail in their critical responsibility to hold candidates – especially a notorious fascist, racist, sexist, serial liar like Donald Trump – accountable to tell the truth, in real time.
Unfortunately, one of the moderators chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) – Chris Wallace, host of right-wing leaning Fox News Sunday – has already said he will not hold the candidates accountable to the truth, stating, “I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad.”1
That’s not acceptable. We need to speak out now and send a strong message to the CPD making it clear that their moderators must correct any lie they hear during the debates. They must apply this standard not just to Chris Wallace, but to Lester Holt of NBC, Martha Raddatz of ABC, Elaine Quijano of CBS News, and Anderson Cooper of CNN as well.
Tell the Commission on Presidential Debates: Instruct moderators to correct candidates’ lies in real time during the debates.
On Thursday night, NBC’s Matt Lauer moderated a presidential forum on MSNBC and allowed Donald Trump to lie repeatedly. Numerous reporters criticized his performance. Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief for the Daily Beast, tweeted,
“Good job, Matt Lauer ... letting Trump get away with lying about his position about the war in Iraq. Well done, indeed.”2
Olivier Knox of Yahoo News added:
“I hate media-on-media violence, but Trump's support for the invasion of Iraq has been...rather well documented. No Lauer follow-up?”3
While others also stepped up to criticize Lauer, the bigger problem is a media environment where the elite political establishment does not expect moderators to hold candidates accountable to the truth. The Commission on Presidential Debates can set a new standard, but they need to hear from us now:
Tell the Commission on Presidential Debates: Instruct the debate moderators to correct candidates’ lies in real time during debates.
By claiming “it’s up to the other [candidate] to catch them on that,” Chris Wallace is participating in the same "he said, she said" brand of journalism that has allowed climate change denial to flourish along with dozens of other conservative lies.
Journalists and debate moderators should not be operating as stenographers, they should be arbiters of facts. When a candidate does not tell the truth, the moderators must call out the lies. If Chris Wallace, or any other debate moderator, does not believe he or she can hold candidates accountable to the truth then the Commission on Presidential Debates should replace him or her with a journalist who is up to the task.
It is disturbing that one debate moderator has already made clear his intention not to do his job. Now it’s time for the Commission of Presidential Debates to make sure the American people are informed by facts and not misinformed by lies.
There are few events as important in our democracy as presidential debates. Every four years these debates serve up critical moments when the American people are able to look at the two individuals who could become president of the United States, and reach a judgement on their qualifications for office. It’s time to make sure that it’s a truthful one.
Tell the Commission on Presidential Debates: Moderators must hold candidates accountable to the truth. If they can’t, then they should be replaced.
Thank you for speaking out.
- Josh Feldman, "Debate Moderator Chris Wallace: Not My Job to Be ‘Truth Squad’ If Candidates Lie," Mediaite, 9/5/2016.
- Media Matters Staff, “Reporters Castigate NBC's Matt Lauer For Letting Trump Lie About Opposing Iraq War,” Media Matters, 9/7/2016.