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Jim Crawford: Debating with FactCheck

Suffice it to note that this election year is like no other.

Of course, that is true of every election, but, this year, with a pandemic across America, a growing civil rights movement perhaps more broadly supported than any time in our past and likely the oldest two candidates to ever run for the presidency in our history, this year has its standout uniqueness built-in.

Given the limitations on campaigning publicly this season, the presidential debates may play a larger role in the 2020 election than in other, more traditional, elections. It is, therefore, crucial that the debates fairly allow us to examine the proposals and views of the two candidates in a forum that reflects the importance of communicating plans and programs to the voters.

Joe Biden brings to the debates nearly 40 years of government service, including eight years as vice president of the United States. Donald Trump brings an equally long business career and four years as president.

There is no question both are qualified by experience to be able to debate policies and issues across the broad spectrum of American interests.

But there is a significant question that the debates will be at all informative. We may learn little, and that is unfair to the voters who must pick the next American president.

The problem is, Trump seems wholly unable to discern truth from fiction, regardless of the forum. And debating a candidate who finds the facts so disposable they are not troubled to be noticed is like debating in different languages.

Take, for example, the coronavirus. As you read this article, 39 states are showing increases in identified cases. California, Florida and Arizona are running out of health care providers and ICU beds. Yet, Trump says the virus is “in a good place” and under control. Actual expert Anthony Fauci says we are “knee-deep” in the coronavirus and we should be genuinely concerned. Trump is lying.

This week, Americans found out that our intel agencies have reported Russian payments as bounties in Afghanistan for killing American soldiers.

President Trump calls that fact “a hoax.” Trump says he was never informed of the bounties, but Great Britain was warned and his daily briefing included the information.

The problem? The president does not read — therefore, he claims it is not his fault he did not know. Is this possible? Perhaps, but ignorance, the refusal to read crucial national security information, is not an excuse for a commander-in-chief. And how do you debate “a hoax” that is, in fact, an act of incompetence?

Trump says the economy is “roaring back,” but over 15 million Americans are unemployed, and several states have been forced recently to re-close their economies due to the expansion of the coronavirus. Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, says the economy is “extraordinarily uncertain.” Do Powell’s words sound remotely like “roaring back?”

So, how do you debate a president unbound from the truth, from facts, from common knowledge? Joe Biden cannot spend three debates correcting every sentence of the untethered president, yet, if he does not, the false claims of this president are left unchallenged.

The answer lies in a format changed to suit the character of the participants. Former Vice President Biden should only accept debates where there is a live fact check. The fact check corrections, used only for mostly false, or false statements, should run across the bottom of the screens on the broadcast. Fact checkers from Factcheck.org should utilize their extensive resources on both candidates to ensure that blatantly false claims are not accepted without challenge.

America deserves the truth.