Lester Holt’s One-Way Fact-Checking

With 6 challenges of Trump vs 0 for Clinton, it seems the media wanted 'fact-checking' for only one candidate

Moderator Lester Holt listens during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York.
Moderator Lester Holt listens during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The first 2016 presidential debate is in the history books and likely to be forgotten in another 24-hour cycle or two. It wasn’t the train wreck the media thought it would be, but it also wasn’t very memorable. GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump dominated the first half hour, but fell for every piece of bait Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton set out for him during the final hour.

Trump has room to improve and if he does so, then the next couple general election debates could be interesting.

What I found so fascinating, however, is that no one in the media is attacking debate host Lester Holt for failing to fact-check Clinton. Holt challenged Trump on no less than six occasions throughout the debate, but didn’t challenge Clinton once.

When Trump claimed that an audit prevented him from releasing his tax returns, Holt said that audits don’t preclude someone from releasing their returns, and asked if public interest “outweighed” those audit concerns. Trump then changed his tune and said he would release his tax returns—insisting it would be against his lawyer’s wishes—if Clinton turned over the 33,000 emails she deleted that she claimed were personal.

Holt again challenged Trump when the GOP nominee brought up New York’s stop-and-frisk policy. Holt said the policy was “ruled unconstitutional.” Trump was prepared here; he corrected Holt with a t-shirt ready phrase to say the judge that made that ruling was “a very against-police judge” and that the case was taken away from her, but that new New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio refused to take the case further.

“They would have won an appeal,” Trump maintained. Holt then switched tactics and pressed again: “The argument is that it’s a form of racial profiling.”

Holt also pressed Trump on his birtherism switch, and why it took him so long. He pointed out that Trump had brought up the birther issue each year even after President Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate.

Trump’s timeline of his opposition to the Iraq war was also challenged. Trump paraphrased a remark from himself before the war which seemed wishy-washy at best, but then pointed to the article written in 2004 (he correctly noted the year) that showed he was opposed to the war. Holt said there was no record of him opposing the war prior. That doesn’t mean he didn’t, it just means he wasn’t telling the press as much. There’s also no evidence he was for the war either.

Meanwhile, Clinton wasn’t challenged on any of her falsehoods. In a tweet prior to the debate, Politico claimed Trump “spew[s] falsehoods” while Clinton merely “detours from the truth.” If anyone needed an example of media bias, here it is.

In fact, Hillary’s penchant for stretching the truth has been on display throughout the campaign.

The first one I noticed was about equal pay for women. Clinton and the Democrats, to borrow a phrase from Politico, spew this falsehood constantly, and the media doesn’t correct them. It’s not discrimination that leads to lower pay for women, it’s the different career choices men and women make. The government can’t do anything about those choices unless it starts dictating what men and women do—and no one could be for that. Clinton also claimed that she would “finally” guarantee equal pay for women, but that was already guaranteed in 1963, in a little bill called the Equal Pay Act.

No one ever calls Clinton on this.

Clinton also straight up lied about her stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trump correctly noted that Clinton called it the “gold standard” for trade deals. Clinton said “no” and accused Trump of living in his “own reality.” Clinton then claimed that she had merely stated she “hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated.”

The Washington Post called her out on this, but Holt didn’t. Clinton said in 2012: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” Clinton said. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

That’s not mere “hope,” that’s pretty clear. Trump was trying to sell himself when he claimed Clinton changed her position after hearing what the GOP nominee said about trade, but it’s more likely Clinton changed her position after her primary rival, Bernie Sanders, discussed trade.

Holt also didn’t press Clinton on her claim that her use of a private email server to conduct official State Department business while she was secretary of state was merely a “mistake.” By all available evidence, Trump was correct to state that this was no “mistake,” but Holt let the issue die.

And yet, there are no calls for Holt’s head or media firestorm after he failed to fact-check Clinton. The same cannot be said of NBC’s Matt Lauer after he didn’t fact-check Trump at a recent town hall-style event. It’s clear the media is only interested in fact checking one candidate. If debate moderators are going to “fact check” the candidates, they need to challenge both. Clinton should not be able to get away with stating falsehoods any more than Trump.

Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, publisher of Observer Media.

Lester Holt’s One-Way Fact-Checking