Presidential debates have long been flawed, and they have been for quite some time. They have let candidates walk all over the American people.
As mentioned previously in part I of this piece, the role of the moderator in debates have been largely underscored by many. For some like Bob Schieffer, the role of the moderator is a last resort. The opposing candidate has the first opportunity to point out something that their opponent stated that was factually inaccurate. The moderator is only to interject and set the record straight after that opportunity is squandered.
For others, like Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the debate moderator is not supposed to interject at all, and the role of fact-checker is not one the moderator should undertake.
Though these are interesting points, we here at Tuesday believe this model, from HBO’s the Newsroom, is a more productive platform:
While this is clearly a fictional setting that is controlled by script-writers, this is still a plausible idea for a role the debate moderator can take: The Defense Attorney for the American people.
The idea that Chris Wallace proposes, that candidates are the one’s who should be fact-checking each other, is wrong based on two conclusions.
First many will not see the fact-check done by Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump as legitimate, and vice versa. If a Trump supporter saw Hillary Clinton fact-check Donald Trump, their minds would not in anyway be swayed by their opponent’s attempt to fact-check. They would simply see it as an attack on their candidate that comes from a place of bias and competition, which is not untrue.
Second, the campaigns have become so filled with rhetoric, and outright lies, that this has ultimately spilled over into the presidential debates, to the point where the statements made by candidates are not based on policy or facts, but based on tag-lines and inaccuracies.
That is where the moderator comes in.
The moderator’s duty to the American people is to hold candidates accountable. To be our last line of defense. Their ability to question the facts presented by each candidate and to make them answer questions fully would lead to real policy debates that this country so desperately needs. It would also be legitimate questioning, as opposed to their opponents attempt to fact-check, because their one job is to be unbiased.
Debate moderators should proudly take up the role that will promote real debate. They should stand as America’s defense attorney questioning candidates on a theoretical witness stand, when the candidates do not hold themselves accountable.