Hillary Clinton’s supporters are nervous about tonight’s debate with Donald Trump, but not for the reasons partisans normally hyperventilate prior to such forums. They aren’t worried that Trump will be more articulate, informed, or sound on policy than Clinton. Sharing her hubris, they take it for granted that that she is Trump’s superior in all such things. What’s making them jumpy is that the moderator might actually be fair, and refuse to join Hillary in a tag-team takedown of Trump. They quite literally want Lester Holt to reprise the contemptible role Candy Crowley played in the second 2012 presidential debate.
As Joan Walsh at the Nation reminds us, “Mitt Romney won the first debate against President Obama… partly because moderator Jim Lehrer played by traditional rules.… Then CNN host Candy Crowley made a different decision in the next debate.” For those who don’t remember, that decision resulted in one of the worst travesties ever committed by a moderator in any political forum. When Obama falsely claimed that he had condemned the attack on our Benghazi consulate as an act of terrorism the day after it occurred, Romney called him on the lie. Crowley then came to Obama’s rescue: “He did call it ‘an act of terror.’”
This “fact-checking real time,” as Walsh approvingly styles it, was nothing more than the reinforcement of what Crowley knew to be a lie when Obama uttered it. But her collusion served its political purpose and forever established her as a partisan hack cut from the same cloth as Dan Rather, who destroyed his own credibility by attempting to sabotage George W. Bush’s reelection campaign with a forged document concerning his National Guard service. Crowley admitted Romney had been right a few months after her candidate was reelected. Several months following that confession, she “resigned” from her job at CNN.
So, what have our friends in the “news” media learned from the Crowley travesty? Nothing. A couple of weeks ago, NBC’s Matt Lauer conducted a “Commander-in-chief Forum” that the New York Times described as a “dry run of sorts for the coming debates.” But, because Lauer declined to give Trump the Crowley treatment and compounded this sin by actually subjecting Clinton to a few substantive questions, he has since been lambasted by many of his fellow “journalists.” And, according to CNN, Lauer’s employers at NBC have also been critical of his performance: “One executive, speaking anonymously, was blunt about it: ‘Disaster.’”
In reality, Lauer asked both candidates tough questions and didn’t challenge the responses of either very much. But his media colleagues saw his mission differently. David Folkenflik of National Public Radio tells us, “I don’t think you abdicate your role as a truth-seeker and a journalist by being a moderator.” Margaret Sullivan, a Washington Post “truth-seeker,” offers moderators the following advice: “Be well-prepared enough to assert the truth in real time.” Angie Drobnic Holan, who works for the paragons of integrity at PolitiFact, writes: “I think moderators should fact-check… by asking tough follow-up questions.”
In reality, all this pompous balderdash is nothing more than code for “Call Trump a liar every time he opens his mouth.” Don Surber provides an excellent example of the kind of “truth-seeking” Drobnic Holan and her PolitiFact accomplices do every day. In a post titled, “‘Mostly true’ when Bernie said it, ‘mostly false’ when Trump did,” Surber points out that an easily verifiable statistic about African-American unemployment cited by Bernie Sanders got a thumbs up from PolitiFact, but that the very same stat was ruled untrue by the same crew when Trump quoted it. These people are not after the truth. They’re after Trump.
Meanwhile, all of the “journalists” named above and many more are wringing their hands because Fox’s Chris Wallace has steadfastly refused to imbibe the “real time fact-checking” Kool-Aid. Wallace, who will moderate the final presidential debate assuming neither of the candidates keels over or contracts a non-existent disease, puts it thus: “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad. It’s up to the other person to catch them on that.” Wallace, in other words, is going to perform his job in the way moderator Jim Lehrer did in the first 2012 debate rather than the way Candy Crowley conducted herself in the second 2012 debate.
Which brings us back to the hapless Lester Holt. It will come as no surprise that the Hillary Clinton campaign wants him to give Trump the Crowley treatment. Yesterday morning, one of her campaign officials told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “It’s unfair to ask Hillary both to play traffic cop with Trump, make sure that his lies are corrected, and also to present her vision for what she wants to do for the American people.” When pressed on why Clinton should not have to do her job as a debater, her minion said this case was “special.” In other words, Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to play by the same rules that apply to everyone else.
Pat Caddell, a Democrat and former pollster for Jimmy Carter, has said: “The press’s job is to stand in the ramparts and protect the liberty and freedom of all of us… from organized government power.” But Clinton and her creatures believe the role of the media is to protect her from her political opponents and the American people. That is why Lester Holt and every other debate moderator must assure that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet on a level playing field. If the latter cannot win under those circumstances, she does not deserve to be President nor does she have what it takes to do the job.