Breitbart, the alt-right website whence came Donald Trump’s latest campaign guru, Steve Bannon, is today awash in alt-reality.
Drop in and you will learn that Donald Trump actually picked up more support following Monday night’s debate than did Hillary Clinton; that moderator Lester Holt “lived down to the worst expectations of conservatives” by diving into the tank on Clinton’s behalf; and that Clinton’s shimmy following a particularly unhinged Trump soliloquy went on just a bit too long, “getting awkward toward the end.”
In fact, as most people who watched the debate have concluded, Clinton defeated Trump decisively. To offer just one data point, an instant poll by CNN/ORC showed that viewers thought Clinton won by the lopsided margin of 62 percent to 27 percent. I thought Trump’s bullying, interrupting, scowling, and lying added up to the worst presidential debate performance I’ve seen—and I’ve seen just about all of them starting with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976.
The big question going into tonight’s debate is whether moderator Lester Holt should call out blatant lies by the candidates—and especially by Donald Trump, whose relationship with the truth is tenuous, to say the least.
I don’t think it’s realistic for Holt or the moderators who come after him to act as a real-time fact-checking machine. He’ll have enough to do with keeping Trump and Hillary Clinton on track and making sure they’re both getting more or less equal time. But if someone—again, most likely Trump—tells a whopper, then Holt shouldn’t let it go. It’s all in how he does it. I’ll adopt the wisdom of my fellow Beat the Press panelists Callie Crossley and Jon Keller, who have both said that the way to do it is through tough follow-up questioning.
For instance, Candy Crowley took a lot of heat four years ago for essentially calling Mitt Romney a liar when Romney claimed that it took President Obama many days before he was willing to refer to the attack on Benghazi as “terrorism.” Given the pressures of the moment, I have no real problem with what Crowley said. But here’s what she could have said: “Governor Romney, didn’t the president refer to the attack as an ‘act of terror’ the next day?” Yes, that’s a loaded question, but it’s not an assertion, and Romney would have had an opportunity to respond.
In other words, fact-checking can be done with persistent questioning rather than by calling out BS. Even when it’s BS.
I really don’t understand why the folks at NBC News think serial fabricator Brian Williams can be rehabilitated. CNN’s Brian Stelter reports that Williams’ second act could be announced as early as today.
Yes, Williams is receiving a significant demotion — he’s supposedly being shipped off to MSNBC, which had a nice run as the liberal alternative to Fox News before plunging into unwatched obscurity the past couple of years. But given that NBC News major domo Andrew Lack is reportedly seeking to revive MSNBC with an injection of actual news, how can a guy who set fire to his own credibility be part of that? As Jay Rosen put it on Twitter: “NBC has to explain how he’s lost the credibility to anchor the nightly news but still has the cred to do the news on MSNBC.”
Remember, we’re not just talking about Williams’ lies regarding his helicopter ride in Iraq. There have been multiple instances in which he overstated the facts or just made stuff up. The New York Times reports:
Almost immediately after the controversy erupted, NBC opened an investigation into Mr. Williams, led by Richard Esposito, the senior executive producer for investigations. Over the last several months it uncovered 10 to 12 instances in which he was thought to have exaggerated or fabricated accounts of his reporting, according to people familiar with the inquiry.
And just wait until one of Williams’ anonymous enemies posts a “closely held” clip reel on YouTube that is said to document his worst moments. The Washington Post has this to say:
The video, produced by the team of NBC journalists assigned to review Williams’s statements in media appearances, makes a vivid case against the anchor, according to people familiar with it, isolating a number of questionable statements Williams has made.
Professional cynic Michael Wolff told old friend Mark Leibovich recently that NBC never should have abandoned Williams in the first place. Rather, he said, the network’s executives should have done their best Roger Ailes imitation and defended him as aggressively as Fox News has defended its own business interests.
But this is stupidity masquerading as sagacity. NBC News is not the Fox News Channel. Fox’s product is right-wing talk. NBC News’ purported product is news, served up truthfully. In that market, Williams’ value plunged to zero or close to it within days of his exposure last winter. (The next person who says he would rather see Williams back in the anchor chair rather than Lester Holt will be the first.) I suspect Wolff knows that, but the man does enjoy being provocative.
As for Williams, he needs to leave journalism. And it’s not up to NBC to help him figure out how.
Photo (cc) by David Shankbone and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.