Robert Schmuhl, the Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair in American Studies and Journalism at Notre Dame, suggests that fact checking is not a moderator's role. It is fair ground for the moderator to push candidate to "repeat or clarify" facts. "Preparation of the questions is crucial," he added.
NBC has suffered short-term damage to its brand, but University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller suggested the network does not face a political blacklist because of the recent gaffes. "No one is going to shut them out," Miller said. "Maybe a network like CNBC that has not been in the moderating game as much may face a risk that they could be excluded."
Do the Debates Matter?
The debates are "entirely too staged and inconsequential anyway," Miller said. Even in the case of the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate and Al Gore's eye rolls and audible sighs, Miller suggested, "decades of people in my field polling" show little proven impact from the televised sparring matches.
Voter turnout is more important than the debates and their alternating rounds of self promotion in terms of the swing votes, he said.
While the debates may or may not drive voters to the ballot box, they will provide fodder for social media, which does not share Holt's concerns for judicious propriety.
On the 56th anniversary of the Kennedy-Nixon debate televised from CBS's Chicago studios, Facebook (FB) is the official social media sponsor. Snapchat will track the debates with its "live story" features and Twitter (TWTR) will livestream the event in partnership with Bloomberg.The MIT Media Lab is sifting through a database of tweets, digital media and other sources to map the burning issues in a deeply polarized electorate.
"There is no doubt that given the role of technology in atomizing audiences, it is time for a significant review of the debates and a consideration about alternative ways of going about the work," Harvard's Mele wrote. The question is whether Clinton versus Trump is really the best time to rewire the debates. "With the two most unpopular candidates in history, it is clear we need to evaluate the entire political process -- from voting on Tuesday to voter registration to the primary [and] caucus system," Mele added.
Tonight's debate will do little to shift the balance of power between the broadcasters and social media. The party with the most directly at stake could be Lester Holt, who is still building his personal brand after taking over for NBC anchor Brian Williams after yet another scandal. Fixing the debates is one thing. Holt can burnish his image by avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors.