Editorial: Don’t back down, Lester Holt

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Lester Holt of NBC News

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Don’t back down.

In advance of Monday night’s presidential debate, Donald Trump is working the refs as shamelessly as Phil Jackson did when he coached the Chicago Bulls — but this is no game.

Trump has questioned the fairness of the moderators of all three scheduled debates, calling it “a phony system.” But the only thing phony is Trump’s whining. God forbid anybody should ask him a tough question. Or correct his facts (that would make for a long night). Or ask for the evidence behind one of his outlandish generalities, such as the supposed criminal propensities of immigrants.

So don’t back down, Lester Holt. Go at it like a real newsman on Monday night. Hold both Trump and Hillary Clinton to the highest standards of veracity. Call them out when they don’t tell the truth. Drag them back to the question at hand when they try to duck and run. Cut them off when they’re just killing the clock.

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Their most zealous supporters will howl, but they howl about any journalist who pitches anything but softballs. Both Trump or Clinton have been ducking the media — by which we do not mean sycophants like Sean Hannity — for months, making these debates so important.

Trump is working the refs to soften them up. But he’s also trying to undermine the credibility of the entire process, in case he loses. In Trump’s mind, he never really loses. He either wins or the game is fixed.

NBC’s Matt Lauer failed the test earlier this month when he questioned Trump and Clinton at a forum. He pushed Clinton repeatedly on her classified email troubles, and good for him. Despite her denials, Clinton really did throw good sense to the wind when she used a private server to conduct state business. But when Trump said “I was totally against the war in Iraq” — a well-documented falsehood — Lauer challenged him not at all.

Trump actually said last week that he thought Holt would be “very fair.” But then, like Jackson praising a referee before leaning on him, he added, “But a lot of people are going to be watching to see if that’s true.”

Many more people will be watching to see if Donald Trump finally is held to account for a campaign built on falsehoods and lies.

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