Fact Checker or Debate Moderator--Will Holt Set a Trap for Trump?

Fact Checker or Debate Moderator--Will Holt Set a Trap for Trump?

REUTERS/Mike Segar

The focus of the news today is not what issues may loom large in tonight’s presidential debate, but whether NBC anchor Lester Holt, a Republican, should act as fact-checker. The liberal media is keen for him to do so, suggesting that Donald Trump has littered the campaign trail with falsehoods and that calling him out on his lies is Holt’s duty to American voters. The New York Times, for instance, says that “Mr. Holt cannot waiver when Mr. Trump dissembles.”

While Trump has indeed bent the truth in any number of ways these past several months, there is a vast difference between the lies told by Hillary Clinton and those from the GOP nominee. Lies about how you handle national secrets are a bit more consequential than those concerning when you started opposing the Iraq war. Politically convenient lies about what caused the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi on your watch are more damaging than whether or not "Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they have ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever," for which Trump was awarded “pants on fire” by Politifact.

Related: With Clinton and Trump in a Virtual Tie, Monday’s Debate Could Tip the Balance

There’s a difference between the self-serving, corrupt falsehoods that Hillary Clinton regularly dishes up – like deliberately misconstruing FBI Director James Comey’s condemnation of her behavior – and exaggerating something to make a point.

Voters get this, which is why a recent CNN poll showed that half the country – 50 percent -- considers Trump “more honest and trustworthy” than his rival while only 35 percent think the same of Clinton. In March, asked the same question, Clinton was winning the honesty battle, with 43 percent saying she was the better truth-teller.

The reality is that Americans have watched Hillary Clinton lie to us for decades – about the “right-wing conspiracy” fomenting charges of Bill’s philandering, to how she made $100,000 trading cattle futures, to whether her recent cough was, in fact, an allergic reaction. Sadly, she has so undermined her credibility, especially telling one lie after another about why and how she set up her off-the-books email server and destroyed public documents that many voters now suspect everything she says.

Many of us are dismayed by the choice of candidates in this race. Many are incredulous that Hillary Clinton, the seasoned pol, cannot leap ahead of an individual who has never campaigned for office, who is way behind in fund-raising and organization, who has said any number of intemperate and insulting things during the past year and whose own party is still barely in his corner. When the history books are written, and political experts comb the ruins of this election for why Hillary could not run away with the lead, the trustworthiness and honesty issue will stand tall.

Related: As Debate Looms, Paul Ryan Polishes a Participation Trophy for Trump

The debate tonight may catch one or the other candidate out on facts or falsehoods, but it is unlikely to redefine this issue. Having watched Matt Lauer get scorched by the liberal media for pressing Hillary Clinton on her email deceptions, Lester Holt might treat the issue gently. He will be the darling of the mainstream media if he takes a hard line with Trump, so that is more likely what he will do.

Holt will try to corner Trump on his foundation missteps while ignoring evidence of pay-to-play involving the Clinton Foundation while Hillary was Secretary of State. He might charge Trump with making heinous remarks about women while avoiding Hillary’s demonizing of the women who accused her husband of sexual assault.

To be fair, Holt has an almost impossible job. But his management of the debate will have little impact on Trump supporters, who deeply suspect media bias. It also might not impress the public since only 32 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair” amount of trust in the media. That’s the worst reading in Gallup’s polling history. The coverage of this campaign, and most especially the incredible ongoing assault on Donald Trump, is at least partly to blame.

Bottom line? There is enough deception to go around, including amongst those charged with playing referee.