If anyone wondered whether progressive partisans view the mainstream media as little more than adjuncts and foot soldiers in their ideological enterprise, the growing calls for live debate fact checking should remove all doubt. After all, if moderators asked questions designed to elicit standard candidate responses, then the debate will be a lie-rich environment — on both sides. Clinton and Trump are both brazen liars, sticking to obviously false stories long after the facts are known.
And make no mistake, this hurts Clinton more than Trump. Her campaign is built around the notion that Trump is uniquely dangerous and deceptive — that she’s responsible and “steady” while he’s a loose cannon who can’t be trusted with, well, anything. Show that she lies like he does (and she will lie on matters great and small), and voters are treated to the dreaded notion of equivalency.
But progressives seem to believe — with much justification — that if moderators were given free reign, then they’d focus their efforts on Trump. Thus the calls — the howls, even — for someone, anyone to call out Trump in real time for his inevitable lies, exaggerations, and outright expressions of ignorance. If the debate moderators won’t do it, now they want to networks to scroll text during the debate itself.
As Jake Tapper pointed out on a recent episode of “Keepin’ it 1600” — my favorite left-of-center political podcast — candidates tend to repeat their lies, and good moderators can anticipate and address the common falsehoods in the question itself. We saw good moderators do this in the primary debates, when they sometimes confronted candidates with video montages of past statements — montages that made outright lying much more difficult. Moreover, effective campaigns can and should immediately broadcast their own fact checks.
If moderators take it upon themselves to fact-check (really, to debate the candidates), then it is easy enough not just to put their thumb on the scales, but to throw their whole body on one side of the balance. Choose a topic that one candidate tends to lie most about (for example, Trump’s incredible and sustained insistence that he opposed the Iraq war) while ignoring the opponent’s favorite falsehoods, and the moderator could perhaps decisively sway the debate. Yes, facts are facts, but human beings can choose which facts to focus on, and it is progressives’ obvious hope that moderators will do their “duty” and give Hillary a pass.
If they don’t, then the results can be ugly indeed. This CBS report — from back in the day when the media had generally cast its lot with Barack Obama — is a classic. Are we sure Hillary wants live fact checks?