How the Biden-Trump Debate Will Play on TV (Don’t Expect Fact-Checks)


That sink-into-the-background approach extends to fact-checking, which Mr. Wallace has regularly argued is outside the purview of a debate moderator, calling it “a step too far.”

“I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad,” Mr. Wallace said in the run-up to his 2016 debate. “It’s up to the other person to catch them on that.” Those comments caused a minor stir at the time, but the debates’ organizers have made clear they agree.

“There’s a vast difference between being a moderator in a debate and being a reporter who is interviewing someone,” Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., a co-chairman of the debate commission, told CNN on Sunday. “We don’t expect Chris or our other moderators to be fact checkers. The minute the TV is off, there are going to be plenty of fact checkers in every newspaper and every television station in the world. That’s not the role, the main role of our moderators.”

Some media pundits have called on TV networks to impose their own fact-checks in real-time, through onscreen graphics, clarifying captions or cutaways to reporters offering context. Anchors on CNN and MSNBC occasionally broke into speeches during the Republican National Convention in August, pointing out falsehoods or baseless accusations.

That interventionist approach is less likely to occur on Tuesday, according to executives and producers at several TV networks. Unlike the conventions, executives said, the debates are intended as an unfiltered test of the candidates’ wits, stamina and ability to persuade the electorate.

“The debate is one of the rare opportunities where the public is seeing both of the presidential candidates together on the same stage, where they have a chance to not only respond to and address each other, but to speak directly to the American public,” said Caitlin Conant, the political director at CBS News. “We don’t want to get in between the voters and the candidates.”

That doesn’t mean Ms. Conant or other executives plan to shy away from correcting falsehoods. CBS, for example, has its Washington correspondent Major Garrett on standby for fact-checking during its prime-time broadcast. CNN’s in-house Trump fact checker, Daniel Dale, will be featured in the network’s coverage. Many TV news outlets are providing live fact-checking and analysis on their websites.



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