It works for the NFL and Major League Baseball, and it could work in politics too. What our presidential debates need is not just fact-checkers – they need instant replay.
Last night, moderator Candy Crowley took politics a giant step forward by fact checking Mitt Romney on his claims about what President Obama said the day after the Libya attack, stopping Romney in his tracks as he tried once again to use a televised debate to rewrite the truth in the minds of viewers.
But today, we have people fact-checking the fact checker, claiming that her interpretation of what President Obama said in the Rose Garden is not reflected in the actual wording of Obama’s televised statement.
To their credit, the news shows have been showing the statement to let viewers draw their own conclusions. But only a few million people will see the next day coverage, not the 70 million who saw it live.
Our presidential debates should have the same immediacy as an NFL call to help reduce the effect of that most fallible human error: memory.
With instant replay, instead of just ruling that Obama had said it was a terror attack, Crowley could have stopped the proceedings, rolled the tape, and let the viewing audience make their own judgment about who was playing fast and loose with the facts?
Here’s my proposal (if somewhat tongue-in-cheek) on how it would work:
Each candidate has 2 optional fact challenges – video or newspaper clip – that they can call for during the live debate. A team of researchers stands at the ready to find and roll any public statements that exist.
Using last night’s Libya confrontation as an example, instead of urging Crowley to “check the transcript,” as Obama did, he could have called for an instant replay.
We momentarily stop the debate and roll the tape for the moderator and viewers to see.
If Crowley deems that Obama is essentially in the right on that point, the debate moves on. If the the call goes against the candidate making the challenge (Obama), the other candidate (Romney) gets an extra 30 seconds to make his point (with that time coming out of Obama’s rebuttal).
If it sounds a bit goofy at first, remember that Jon Stewart and Meet The Press already use this technique to great effect. But they can’t do it in real time, and their audiences pale in comparison to a prime-time presidential debate.
Yup, it’s time for American politics to catch up to professional sports.
As Daniel Moynihan once famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” It’s time that presidential candidates are not entitled to their own facts – whether in TV ads or on the national debate stage.
Were Moynihan alive today, he might say, “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion. Now let’s go to the video tape!”