Photo Source: Make Me Feed
As with any Presidential Debate, the first question on the mind of many afterwards is: who won the debate? Each campaign rushes to the spin-room where surrogates hurry to talk to frenzied journalists and insist that their candidate came out on top. Following the third and final Presidential Debate, the winner was not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but moderator Chris Wallace and the American people.
At the Presidential Debate held in Las Vegas, Nevada, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday on Fox News displayed the best performance of any moderator this election cycle. Wallace checked off every qualification for what constitutes a good journalist at a debate. He was able to ask hard-hitting questions of both candidates. For instance, Wallace introduced the topic of the Supreme Court nominations. After allowing the candidates to both address how they believe the seat should be filled, he got into constitutional issues that follow each candidate. For Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he asked questions regarding the Heller case and controversy surrounding second amendment rights. For Republican nominee Donald Trump, Wallace pressed him on Roe v. Wade and the issue of reproductive rights.
Like in any debate, throughout the evening, each candidate would have their own way of dodging questions or at least evading them. However, Wallace did not let them off so easily. This was best on display when Wallace brought up the topic of entitlements. Whether it be for a lack of preparation or a lack of comfort with the subject, both candidates danced around the issue. Wallace pressed for further details, forcing the candidates both to address the question. When Trump made the claim that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, Wallace insisted to know how Trump expected this to happen, getting the response “it would happen automatically.”
photo source: StyleCaster
To point out obvious falsehoods in candidates claims is not the job of a journalist at a debate – it should be left to the journalists and commentators to afterwards pick these claims apart. This spills into the issue of fact checking, something that has been hotly debated following Matt Lauer’s Presidential Town Hall where many felt he did not fact check Trump enough. The issue continued when following the first Presidential Debate, many especially in the Trump camp felt moderator Lester Holt did too much in-debate fact checking. Before the debate, Wallace stated he would “let the candidates speak for themselves” and try to stick to the issues. This he did, and he has received praise for it. For example, when Trump made the claim that there are “bad hombres” coming from Mexico, Wallace did not insert himself into the debate, but let Clinton address Trump’s claim. When the candidates went into familiar attacks and repeated lines such as “Clinton’s 30 years of public service” from the previous debates, Wallace was quick to reign them in.
In any debate, the moderator is up against the clock. Even with time spent trying to rein in the candidates and the audience, Wallace did his best to allow the candidates their equal time to speak. Following the debate, Wallace himself noted that Clinton had more speaking time than Trump in this debate, but noted it was because when the candidates were allotted their two minutes to speak, Clinton used every bit of that time and more, while Trump spoke quickly with brief vague lines. While this debate still had its moments of bitter back and forth, Wallace kept both in check, and did not let the candidates speak over him.
The universal praise from both the right, the left and anywhere in between for Chris Wallace is well deserved. As he promised, he let the candidates speak for themselves. It is not the role of the journalist moderating to insert him/herself into the debate. He was able to ask substantive and hard hitting questions to both candidates, allowing each of them equal time. Beyond Wallace, the real winner is the American people. Now these Presidential debates are finally over, and all that is left is to vote on November 8th.