Politics & Policy

Chris Wallace Was Right about How to Moderate a Debate After All

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Pool/Reuters)
His outlook on how to question the candidates led to a more smooth and substantive debate.

In the run up to last night’s debate, moderator Chris Wallace was widely maligned for declaring that he would not fact-check the candidates during the event; in its aftermath, he’s been widely praised for a performance that easily made him the best moderator of the 2016 cycle. He must feel vindicated.

Despite the long history of moderators favorable to Democrats, in the lead up to the debates the Left continually peddled the narrative that Hillary Clinton — and the American people watching — were in danger of being snookered by corrupt debate moderators who refused to fact-check Donald Trump. Wallace, however, said from the very beginning that he would let the candidates speak for themselves, and he turned out to be right: Last night, he was at once the fairest moderator of the cycle and the one who drew the most substance out of the candidates.

Wallace pressed Clinton and Trump on their positions not by contradicting their facts, as previous moderators had, but by asking questions with policy specifics. He posed questions that were narrow rather than loaded. Asked about constitutional interpretation, Clinton was forced to discuss the Heller case and declare her opposition to its outcome, which buttressed Second Amendment rights. In the previous debate, she offered similarly faulty principles without the hassle of referencing specific cases, since she was only asked what she would “prioritize” in selecting a justice.

Wallace could have called out the deficiencies in her answer, but true to his word, he allowed her to speak, letting other journalists do the fact-checking. This led to a pacier debate that covered more ground, as did his smooth, authoritative quashing of crosstalk and audience noise.

RELATED: In Las Vegas, a Tale of Two Debates

Candidates like to talk about their plans, and debate moderators often ask about a plan and allow them to ramble. In the first debate, Lester Holt asked directly for specifics from Trump:

How are you going to bring back the industries that have left this country for cheaper labor overseas? How, specifically, are you going to tell American manufacturers that you have to come back?

While intended to draw out specifics, the breadth of Holt’s question allowed Trump to go through his favorite economic platitudes — renegotiating trade deals, bringing manufacturing jobs back from Mexico, and making America great again — without acknowledging their shortcomings. On the same question, Clinton waxed on unchallenged about “failed policies of the past” and solar panels. Viewers didn’t learn much.

When Wallace asked the candidates about the economy, he did a better job hemming them in, because he framed the questions around specific aspects of their plans. He followed up when they did not address the question posed, and he even had the gall to ask how they would manage entitlements. On that topic, the candidates again failed to articulate a satisfactory plan, but at least their weaknesses were put on display for the world to see. Exposing politicians equitably is one way to describe the job of a political journalist.

#related#At a time when trust in the news media has slipped down to 32 percent, Wallace demonstrated how the industry can regain some lost respect. Some may find it ironic that a Fox News anchor would ultimately point the way back for the much-maligned business of journalism. Working for the network that is positioned on the right while living in Washington, D.C., Wallace has certainly experienced more ideological friction than the average reporter in his career. As a result, he was better equipped than Holt (NBC), Martha Raddatz (ABC), or Anderson Cooper (CNN) to understand the way both sides think.

It’s no accident that the third debate was the best moderated and most substantive. Wallace had the right idea from the day he was named as a moderator, and he was impervious to Democrats’ attempts to work the refs, most notably in their crucifixion of Matt Lauer for not fact-checking Trump about Iraq in September. The media’s selective use of “fact-checking” will continue, but Wallace did viewers a service last night by leaving that endeavor to others.

— Paul Crookston is a Collegiate Network Fellow at National Review.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Kat Timpf Chased Out of Brooklyn Bar

Fox News personality and National Review contributor Kat Timpf was forced to leave a bar in Brooklyn over the weekend after a woman she had never met became enraged upon learning she worked in conservative media. Timpf, who has twice previously been harassed while socializing in New York City, first described ... Read More
Film & TV

The Dan Crenshaw Moment

Given the spirit of our times, things could have gone so differently. On November 3, when Saturday Night Live comic Pete Davidson mocked Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw’s eye patch, saying he looked like a “hit man in a porno movie” — then adding, “I know he lost his eye in war or whatever” — it was a ... Read More
Elections

Fire Brenda Snipes

Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections in Florida’s Broward County, does not deserve to be within a thousand miles of any election office anywhere in these United States. She should be fired at the earliest possible opportunity. Snipes has held her position since 2003, in which year her predecessor, ... Read More
U.S.

The Present American Revolution

The revolution of 1776 sought to turn a colony of Great Britain into a new independent republic based on constitutionally protected freedom. It succeeded with the creation of the United States. The failed revolution of 1861, by a slave-owning South declaring its independence from the Union, sought to bifurcate ... Read More
World

How Immigration Changes Britain

Almost nothing is discussed as badly in America or Europe as the subject of immigration. And one reason is that it remains almost impossible to have any sensible or rational public discussion of its consequences. Or rather it is eminently possible to have a discussion about the upsides (“diversity,” talent, ... Read More
Elections

Florida’s Shame, and Ours

Conspiracy theories are bad for civic life. So are conspiracies. I wonder if there is one mentally normal adult walking these fruited plains -- even the most craven, abject, brain-dead partisan Democrat -- who believes that what has been going on in Broward County, Fla., is anything other than a brazen ... Read More