By Jessica Roy / current.com / @CurrentJess
On Tuesday night, the presidential candidates practically came to blows over whether the other person was telling the truth. Is domestic oil production up or down? Are there more jobs in America today than there were four years ago? Did President Obama call Benghazi an act of terror? Finally, moderator Candy Crowley had to step in and correct Gov. Mitt Romney about that last one, much to the dismay of froth-mouthed conservative pundits.
All of this could be resolved pretty easily. Debates need people checking the facts live and reporting the results during the debate itself. In the Internet age, there’s no excuse for letting a candidate lie to the American people and waiting for news outlets to report on it — or not — the next day. We’re leaving it up to the voters to decide for themselves who’s being honest, instead of telling them immediately who told the truth and who didn’t. That is a failure on the part of the media.
The presidential debates present a unique opportunity for the American public to learn who’s telling the truth and who has a legitimate plan. In every other political arena, campaign messaging dominates reality. Political ads lie without repercussion. Politicians agitate their bases with half-truths and exaggerations. Somehow, “freedom of speech” has turned into “freedom to lie.” A certain conservatively slanted news network regularly regurgitates falsehoods without shame, and any time someone tries to point that out, they get hit with the “liberal ‘gotcha’ media” retort patented by the last election’s liar-in-chief. Never mind that an outside study proved that watching some conservative news outlets actually makes you a less informed voter than people who don’t watch the news at all — that’s just the liberal media conspiring against America! It reminds me of a Mark Twain quote: “It’s easier to fool someone than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
Watch Stephanie Miller and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina
discuss Romney’s Libya lie.
The American people deserve to be an informed electorate, and to that end, debates should have a team of fact checkers on the sidelines every time. It can be like a football game: when Candidate A wants to challenge something Candidate B said, he or she holds up a flag. The fact checkers get to work and before the next commercial break, someone comes up on stage and says, “Candidate B was correct.” If the fact-checking team finds out that a candidate is lying, the liar should have to apologize, especially if the lie is a serious misstatement of facts and not a minor slip or gaffe. And he or she should have to apologize on stage right then and there.
That’s something we never hear: an apology for misleading people. When celebrities and athletes mess up, they often hold a whole press conference apology tour to beg for forgiveness. Politicians have the luxury of lying over and over again until someone points it out (if someone points it out) — then they just move on. Most of the time they keep repeating the lie (remember “death panels”?).
Yes, it would add a little more time to the debates. Frankly, I’m OK with that. An hour and a half feels awfully stingy. We only get 90 minutes (minus moderator questions) to hear from the next potential leader of the free world in each debate. That’s less time in four years than most Americans spend watching “The Voice” in a week. The Super Bowl and the Oscars each run about five hours and they happen every year — and everyone attending them is drunk. The least we can do to pay homage to democracy is give the person who could be in charge of our country more time to explain his or her vision for America than is granted to a Best Actress acceptance speech.
Winston Churchill once said that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on. With the entirety of human knowledge a Google search away, we have an obligation to give the truth a head start.
(Photo: Getty Images)