I was really looking forward to seeing Donald Trump in a one-on-one debate. Unfortunately, Monday night the Republican nominee was engaged in a two-on-one affair with moderator Lester Holt doing everything he could to assist Hillary Clinton and put Trump on the defensive.
Let’s start with the topic selection and questions directed tot he candidates. This is the single most influential component of the moderators role and responsibility in these made-for-TV, pretend debates, and Holt did Clinton’s bidding with the topics he selected and, most importantly, the topics he ignored.
Trump’s tax returns:
Mr. Trump, we’re talking about the burden that Americans have to pay, yet you have not released your tax returns. And the reason nominees have released their returns for decades is so that voters will know if their potential president owes money to — who he owes it to and any business conflicts. Don’t Americans have a right to know if there are any conflicts of interest?
Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation’s first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks, you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years: The president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?
Stop and frisk:
Your two — your two minutes expired, but I do want to follow up. Stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men.
Iraq war support:
Mr. Trump, a lot of these are judgment questions. You had supported the war in Iraq before the invasion, in 2002… [Long exchange over whether this is a true premise or not] …why is your judgment any different than Mrs. Clinton’s judgment?
Mr. Trump, this year Secretary Clinton became the first woman nominated for president by a major party. Earlier this month, you said she doesn’t have, quote, “a presidential look.” She’s standing here right now. What did you mean by that?
Nearly all of Holt's followups and fact-checking efforts were directed at Trump, not Clinton. Look for a big debate over his role
— HowardKurtz (@HowardKurtz) September 27, 2016
And then, there were the questions he didn’t ask.
Clinton Foundation: Nothing
Clinton’s record as Secretary of State: Nothing
Clinton’s support of the Iraq War (which is not in question): Nothing
Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” attack on Trump supporters: Nothing
Did I mention immigration? Let me repeat: NOTHING!
.@LesterHoltNBC asked Trump questions about things he's said and Hillary questions about things he's said. Little on what she said/did.
— Derek Hunter (@derekahunter) September 27, 2016
And then there was Holt’s so-called “fact checking” authority. Joe Concha at The Hill lays out how Holt seemed to only find facts that needed checking from the podium on his left:
Holt did indeed fact-check on several occasions, almost exclusively with Trump.
Holt said the GOP nominee had once supported the Iraq War, a statement that Trump pushed back upon.
“I did not support the war in Iraq,” Trump said.
When Holt began to mention a 2002 interview with Howard Stern in which Trump did voice support for the war, the real estate magnate called it “mainstream media nonsense” put out by Clinton.
A few seconds later, Holt said “the records shows otherwise” before asking a separate question.
— Brent Bozell (@BrentBozell) September 27, 2016
All in all, it was a performance worthy of an Upper East Side cocktail party in Manhattan which Holt has secured an invitation to for the next four years. That’s his reward for learning the Matt Lauer lesson. His NBC colleague was ripped apart by the Clinton campaign and their willing accomplices in the media over the past several weeks after Hillary’s dismal performance at a forum on the peacock network.
Lesson learned. Lester is safe and, maybe he can ring Lauer to the cocktail party so he can properly prostrate himself and beg for forgiveness.