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Amid intense speculation about tonight’s first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the role of the moderator has been hotly debated: Should NBC’s Lester Holt merely facilitate the debate, or actively step in to correct mistakes—or even call out a candidate for lying?
On CNN Sunday, the head of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Janet Brown, said she does not want moderators to do real-time fact-checking, or, in her words, to “serve as the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
On CBS This Morning Monday, Bob Schieffer, who has served as a presidential debate moderator, said the chief fact checkers on stage tonight at Hofstra should be the candidates themselves. “But if they don’t,” Schieffer said, “I think the moderator has to step in and say, ‘for the record, folks’ and take it from there.”
Schieffer expanded on that in The Washington Post, where he shared his advice for the moderators, including the question of fact-checking:
I believe the chief fact-checkers are the candidates. If one of them says something that is dead wrong or inconsistent with what he or she has said previously, the other candidate should have the first opportunity to call his or her opponent on it.
This gives the viewers a chance to judge how knowledgeable both of the candidates are.
If neither candidate catches the inaccuracy, then the moderator must step in, set the record straight and, if necessary, ask a question about it. With more and more misleading, distorted and downright wrong information finding its way into campaign dialogue this year, moderators should be prepared to say, “Candidates, for the record, there is no evidence to support that,” or words to that effect.