There have been a lot of concerns voiced from both sides of the presidential debate — both from Donald Trump and from Hillary Clinton — prior to Monday night’s debate that it might have been biased or rigged. Is there any basis to these claims? Is Lester Holt biased against Clinton or Trump? And if so, did it affect how the debate was run?
Here’s what you need to know.
Lester Holt of NBC News was the moderator of Monday night’s debate. He was very secretive before the debate about his plans, not giving much indication of what he planned to do or ask, CNN reported. Because of this, concerns were raised before the debate about Holt and the entire debate process, but people close to him said he was simply trying to tune all that out and just focus on doing his job.
Trump claimed about a week before the debate, during an interview with Bill O’Reilly, that Holt was a Democrat, laying the groundwork for later claims that Holt may be biased. However, Holt has been a registered Republican since 2003. Breitbart praised Holt last year, saying he was a pro journalist who delivered the news and stayed out of the way, reporting fairly.
Meanwhile, the week before the debate, Clinton’s campaign called for every statement to be fact-checked during the debate itself, concerned that Holt wouldn’t be tough enough on Trump. But Trump supporters argued that Clinton was likely to not be honest either, and would need just as much fact-checking.
After the debate, in a phone interview with Fox News on Tuesday morning, Trump said that Holt leaned “more than a little” left during the debate, compensating for the controversy surrounding Matt Lauer’s Commander-in-Chief Forum. He later said that he thought Holt was fine, but gave him unfair questions at the very end. However, immediately after the debate on Monday, Trump said that Holt had been very fair and did a great job.
Despite concerns, Holt — and all the debate moderators – were chosen for their experience, qualifications, and reputation for being fair and even-handed, without any past controversial history with either candidate, CNN reported.
The Commission on Presidential Debates calls for candidates to challenge each other, while giving moderators freedom to ask whatever questions they want without editorial oversight. It will be an interesting tug-of-war, since NBC came under fire already for not challenging a statement made by Trump during the Commander in Chief Forum. However, there’s concern that fact-checking during the debate could go too far. In a Romney-Obama debate, Candy Crowley came under intense scrutiny when she appeared to side with and possibly even make excuses for Obama during a debate that she moderated. How this type of fact-checking could play out — and whether it would indicate a biased Holt or a rigged debate — varies depending on who you ask. The Nation, for example, loudly proclaimed that Clinton would only lose the debate tonight if Holt allowed Trump to lie. Meanwhile, Spectator stated that Clinton’s biggest issue would be if Holt was fair and did not tag-team with her to take down Trump.
Before the debate, it seemed that whichever side did not appear to win the debate would accuse Holt and the debate itself of being rigged and biased. Since the debate aired, viewers are in disagreement about which candidate came out on top.