Why select journalists for presidential debates?

The selection of moderators and qualifying Democrats for the first presidential debate of the 2020 campaign.

We can only hope the moderators are up to the challenge of not allowing as many whoppers stand as did during the 2016 campaign debates.

Why do we have journalists as moderators for presidential debates? The answer would seem to be rooted in the fact the profession allows the people in the hot seats to fact check the answers the politicians give in real time. Journalists, presumably, have a better handle on the reality of the situation and can counter distortions as they happen.

Not that you would have known it from watching the first debate between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump at Hofstra University in 2016.

NBC News’ Lester Holt served as moderator for that first head-to-head matchup. While online fact-checkers were burning up their keyboards, scrutinizing each point, Holt only pushed back on two issues, and they were both Trump’s: his support for the Iraq war before the conflict began, and the timing of his push for the release of then-President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

That’s it.

He never corrected anything Clinton said, and let long stretches of time pass during both their monologues. Trump’s fib about his view on the origin of the idea of climate change could have been cleared up by Holt conducting a simple Google search. “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump posted on his Twitter account Nov. 6, 2012. And, Trump was right to say Clinton called the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the “gold standard,” but Holt remained mum while she spun.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee named the 20 — that’s not a typo — announced candidates for president who’ve qualified for the first, two-night debate of the 2020 campaign on June 26 and 27. Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and Jose Diaz-Balart will moderate. We can only hope they’re up to the challenge of not allowing as many whoppers stand as Holt did in 2016.

But don’t count on it.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica,” Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told CNN in 2016.

If the moderators are just meant to keep the flow of the debate moving and nothing else, maybe we could get that deep-voiced guy who does the voice-overs in all the movie previews to do it? Why have a journalist serve in this role at all?