The presidential debates for the 2020 election kick off Tuesday in Cleveland, and many Americans are uncertain about what to expect. One thing is for sure: Fox News Sunday anchor and moderator Chris Wallace will not be tasked with fact-checking the candidates in real-time.
“We don’t expect Chris or our other moderators to be fact checkers,” Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., co-chair, The Commission on Presidential Debates, told CNN’s Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources” Sunday. “The minute the TV is off there will be plenty of fact checkers.”
The topics for Tuesday’s debate, selected by Wallace himself, include: Trump and Biden’s records, the Supreme Court, Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.
If one of the candidates says something incorrect onstage Tuesday, it is the other candidate’s job to raise concern and essentially fact check live, Fahrenkopf said.
While fact-checking one another would seem essential for candidates’ strategies, it isn’t easy to accomplish.
“Lying works on live television,” Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, told Stelter. “Live fact-checking is almost impossible and generally not terribly effective.”
But it’s not the moderator’s job to step in.
“The moderator is the facilitator,” Fahrenkophf, Jr. said. “When we choose moderators we make very clear to them that there’s a vast difference between being a moderator in a debate and being a reporter who is interviewing someone.”
The debate comes as filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s spot in the Supreme Court looms. Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his pick to Saturday, igniting praise from many conservatives and backlash from many Democrats.
As for moderating the debate through a Fox News lens, “Daily Beast” editor-at-large Molly Jong-Fast said Wallace is the “real journalist at Fox,” citing his past experience in journalism and adding that he “comes from a different world.”
“I think he’s going to feel uncomfortable pushing back,” Jong-Fast said.