The Corner

Politics & Policy

Yes, Moderators Really Aren’t Good at Fact-Checking

Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum takes issue with my argument that moderators shouldn’t try correcting candidates about even things like the unemployment rate. He says Trump does not do with unemployment what I’m saying lots of people do – argue that the unemployment situation is worse than what the federal government’s headline 4.9 percent number suggests — and this is the kind of thing the moderators need to call out. His claim that the real number is something of an entirely different magnitude — 35 percent, 42 percent, or whatever — suggests he thinks we should be using a totally different metric (“if you start adding [the numbers] up…” he says). 

But Drum is right that he’s also done something else: claim the official number is a “hoax” — which carries an unfortunate and baseless implication that undermines a perfectly competent federal agency.

So let’s say Trump claims that in the debate. Lester Holt is presumably supposed to say, “No, it’s actually 4.9 percent, and there is no evidence it’s a conspiracy.” Trump could say, in a half-truth that characterizes much campaign rhetoric and debate answers, “No, there is a conspiracy: That number leaves out millions‎ of people who want a job.” To that, the right answer would be: Yes, but that’s not evidence of a conspiracy (which is true, but can’t be proven without further explanation), and even when you take into account those millions, you don’t end up with a number like Trump’s.

I don’t see why we should want Holt rather than Hillary to study up on points like this and make them during the debate — they’re never as simple or clear-cut as you think. (Should he also study up on Hillary’s brazen invention of an unbelievable study of corporate executives? Obviously not.) In a complex world there are still some facts that can be checked, Drum says. Sure. I’m just saying we should leave it to the candidates, not distrusted, ill-prepared moderators to decide what they are and take the time to limn them tonight.

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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