WASHINGTON – Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Chris Wallace of Fox News, who each moderated a presidential debate in the 2016 election cycle, said they believe fact-checking is not the role of a moderator during a debate.
Marvin Kalb of the Kalb Report asked both Wallace and Raddatz if it is their responsibility to highlight any untruths that are said on the stage at a debate.
“I don’t think that’s my responsibility to say ‘what you just heard is wrong.’ I think one of the ways I approach it is, ‘here are your words,’” Raddatz said during the latest edition of The Kalb Report filmed at the National Press Club on Dec. 5. “I mean, it’s what Frank [Fahrenkopf] said: Mr. Trump, do you have anything to say about what Secretary Clinton just said? I think at one point on public pronouncements of being against the Iraq War that had been litigated so many times through the debates and through the news media, I think at one point when he said that again during the debate I said something like, ‘I know critics say otherwise, period.’ Then it is the responsibility of others.”
“Do I think I should just sit back? I mean, if they say to me a no-fly zone is really easy to do I might, with some expertise, say, ‘actually, what so and so says about a no-fly zone is that it would take 10,000 troops.’ It’s not me debating Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. It is me trying to get answers from the candidates and let the others debate,” she added.
Raddatz told Kalb she was prepared with facts to cite in her responses to the presidential candidates if needed.
“You want to come back and have a follow-up that’s tough, but it is not my job to say you are wrong about that. It is my job to find, perhaps, some evidence where they have said something else or to let the other candidate,” she said.
In response, Kalb said to Raddatz that if she does not think it is her responsibility to “challenge,” then a lie would stay on the stage uncorrected.
“I’m not saying don’t challenge. I am just saying the way you worded that, Marvin – ‘you are wrong about that’ – I don’t think that’s the way to do it,” she said.
“I don’t either by the way,” Kalb said with a smile.
“Then you shouldn’t have said it,” Raddatz replied. “You have follow-ups, you have material. You have stuff you can talk about with that candidate and bring it up to the other candidate. They’re debating. You can make that conversation flow.”
Wallace said it is sometimes forgotten that both major party candidates exaggerated facts or told “untruths” during the debates.
“The other person on that stage told untruths as well. It wasn’t like it was just Donald Trump who told whoppers; so did Hillary Clinton. You get into a slippery slope, Marvin. If you start to say, ‘well, I am going to fact check and say what Donald Trump said here is wrong.’ Do you have an obligation then to do it to Hillary Clinton?” he said, and Kalb agreed. “Well, then, if you are going to do it on this level, you know, what you consider to be an outrageous whopper, well, how about the kind of medium whopper? I mean, I don’t want to sound like Burger King here, but in other words, you then run into, ‘at what level do I intervene and at what level do I not intervene?’ And at a certain point it stops being a debate between the two presidential candidates.”
Reflecting on the mainstream media’s coverage of the presidential race overall, Wallace argued that a perceived lack of “fact-checking was the big problem” during the campaign.
“I think we did a lot of that, and I think to the degree that people cared that the record was set straight on things that all the candidates said,” he said. “I think, generally speaking, people knew the truth or falsity of what they were saying.”
Wallace said cable networks should not have given as much air time to Trump’s rallies during the primary.
“The thing that bothered me the most particularly during the primaries was the over-coverage of Donald Trump’s rallies – that was I think a business design. I’m talking particularly about cable news and frankly, we [Fox News] were not the worst offenders,” he said.
“If Donald Trump was giving a rally and you didn’t have him on and your competitor did have him on that you were going to lose eyeballs to your competitor. And so it was not only that they would carry the rallies, but we all know they would show the podium before the rally for 45 minutes and say, ‘waiting for the Donald Trump rally.’ And I know that just drove the other companies in the primaries nuts. I think that was a terrible mistake we shouldn’t have done it,” the Fox anchor added.
Wallace pointed out that there are obviously more “viable” candidates than others and the media provides more coverage to certain campaigns.
“But the over-coverage of Trump because he was good for business, I mean money, the bottom line, was a mistake — but having said that, people say, I think they get it wrong, they say we were trying to push Trump. No, we were leading public opinion. We were following public opinion. He was driving rates so we, and fortunately I didn’t have to make that decision, caved to it,” he said.