Hillary Clinton may have a reputation for being less than truthful, but Donald Trump is a liar. Last week Politico found that, over five hours of speaking time, Donald Trump lied every three minutes and fifteen seconds. Trump’s unprecedented untruthfulness has led many—particularly, it should be said, in Clinton’s camp—to call for moderators to fact-check the candidates in real time. There have also been calls for networks to deploy resources—a chyron, for instance—to fact-check the debates without interfering with them. But according to Politico, “None of the major networks has publicly committed to doing concurrent on-screen fact-checking during the debate, when the audience is highest.” This means that the decision to interject and correct will be moderator Lester Holt’s and his alone.
The networks have claimed that fact-checking the candidates would simply be too hard to do because they “would need to be nearly instantaneous to correlate with the answer the candidate is giving, leading to some high editorial and technical hurdles.” There is a grain of truth here: Fact-checking would have to be nearly instantaneous. But debates tend to stay on the same topic for several minutes at a time. Even a candidate who lies as frequently as Trump could probably be adequately fact-checked in something approaching real time—anyone who looks at Twitter during debates sees virtual real-time fact-checking.
NBC did not respond to Politico’s inquiries, so it’s possible that Holt is operating with different instructions—we’ll find out at 9 p.m. this evening. In any case, “editorial and technical hurdles” are not the reason that the networks are refusing to commit to fact-checking the debates. The networks aren’t fact-checking the debates because they don’t want to seem biased. Refusing to commit to on-air fact-checking is, hilariously, a commitment to supposed objectivity, which shows that it has nothing to do with journalistic standards and everything to do with not appearing partisan. Donald Trump will get away with lying to a hundred million Americans tonight so ABC, CBS, CNN, et al. can claim that they don’t have a liberal bias.