New York Magazine Pundit: If Debate Moderators Act as Fact-Checkers, Republicans Will Stop Debating

September 28th, 2016 5:18 PM

Unlike a lot of his fellow liberals, New York’s Jonathan Chait doesn’t believe presidential-debate moderators should be on-camera fact-checkers, but Chait’s reason for opposing the idea is unambiguously anti-conservative.

In an item posted a few hours prior to Monday night’s Clinton-Trump clash, Chait argued that the way Republicans dealt with Candy Crowley’s intervention in a 2012 Romney-Obama debate “suggests the party would never tolerate such a role by the media on an ongoing basis,” given that “the GOP exists within an epistemic bubble that creates its own reality and disregards the findings of mainstream experts in economics, science, and other fields…Conservatives created this alternate ecosystem precisely to insulate their side from scrutiny from journalists who were not working within the conservative movement. And the simple reality is that, if debates become forums for media to subject candidate claims to fact-checking by the standards of independent arbiters, Republicans will refuse to participate in them.”

Chait predicted that such real-time fact-checking would ruin a quadrennial tradition that started in 1976 (or 1960, as long as you ignore that the major-party nominees didn’t debate in ’64, ’68, or ’72):

Perhaps you imagine the GOP would pay a price for such a boycott. I don’t. The far more likely outcome is that any political cost associated with boycotting the debates would be brief, short-lived, and subsumed by ordinary partisan rancor, and the end result would be that presidential debates would simply disappear as an institution.

…Many liberals are enthusiastic for debates to be fact-checked not only because they believe it would serve the cause of informing the public, but also because they believe that informing the public would aid their own side. Republicans aren’t going to cooperate with that.

In a Wednesday post, Chait commented that the “alleged bias” of Monday’s Clinton-Trump moderator, NBC’s Lester Holt, “was a favorite subject on the right. Every question that exposed Trump’s unprecedented violation of political norms simply proved to conservatives that their party was being singled out for unprecedented scrutiny. Conservatives expressed a mix of resentment and confusion that Trump faced hostile questions and scrutiny for his refusal to take the expected and routine step of releasing his tax returns. They present Trump as an innocent man, guilty of nothing worse than failing to adequately defend himself.”