While reviews of Candy Crowley’s performance Tuesday night have been predictably mixed, everyone seems to agree that asserting a policy fact in the middle of a political debate is “news.”
In case you missed it: Tuesday night, Governor Romney accused President Obama of having taken two weeks to call the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya an “act of terror.” President Obama said Governor Romney was wrong. Governor Romney said something to the effect of “Uh – huh!” Obama responded with a version of: “Uh – uh!” Romney: “Uh – huh!” Obama: “Uh – uh!” Then Candy Crowley stepped in and basically said: “Look, Governor Romney has a point, but if you want to get all technical about it, the President used the phrase “acts of terror” the day after the attack. Now that that is settled, do you think we might try to have a substantive policy debate given that one of you will be the next leader of the free world?”**
Chris Matthews called Crowley brave, pointing out the guts it must have taken the CNN anchor to audaciously assert a fact just when the fight was getting good for Republicans. “If she had been wrong on that, the hell she would have taken from all of these media watchers from the right.” Media watchers from the right have decided to give Crowley hell anyway. And others, like Rachel Maddow, praised the moderator by saying how incredibly hard it is to fact-check in real time.
With all due respect to Mr. Matthews and Ms. Maddow, I disagree.
I’m not saying it isn’t rare to see facts get in the way of a good political debate. Daily Show writers would have to work a lot harder if the air waves weren’t full of political pundits, spokespeople and strategists passionately arguing for and against policies they barely seem to understand. And, I’m not saying it isn’t hard for a well-intentioned commentator to fact check in real time. It’s impossible for even the most well-prepared anchor to become an expert on every issue their show covers and guests can’t engage in real-time fact checking if they don’t know anything about an issue beyond the two or three talking points they memorized before the show. (Or they aren’t allowed to admit when they are wrong and the other side has a point. More on that later.)