Sep 29, 2020 - Economy

Media prepares to fact check debates in real time

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

From live blogs to video chyrons and tweets, media companies are introducing new ways to fact check the presidential debates in real time this year.

Between the lines: The debates themselves are likely to leave less room for live fact-checking from moderators than a traditional news interview would.

The big picture: Media insiders have a running argument over whether and how much the media should fact check live political speech given the unprecedented amount of misinformation around complex issues this year, like COVID-19.

  • Chris Wallace of Fox News, who will be moderating the first debut on Tuesday, said on Fox News on Sunday that he hopes to be "as invisible as possible" during the debate.
  • Presidential Debate Commission co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said earlier that day on CNN that he doesn't expect any of the moderators to fact-check President Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden at the debates. "It's the role of the other person in a debate to be the one to raise that ... rather than the moderator," he said.

Driving the news: Nicole Carroll, editor-in-chief of USA Today, tells Axios that the USA Today Network, which includes over 200 local news sites as well as, will be live-checking the debate in real-time across all of its live video feeds and social channels.

  • "Sometimes, despite our best intentions, people may not come back to us for fact checking," says Carroll, which is why USA Today is pushing to get fact checks out on screens in real-time.
  • A group of 25 experts in niche topics across USA Today's local papers will consult more than 500 prepared fact checks (see an example) to provide in-screen information on USA Today's videos and its live blog.
  • USA Today is also sending text updates to users about the debate, Carroll says. It also has a dedicated fact check newsletter.
  • Experts include indigenous affairs reporter Debra Krol from the Arizona Republic, longtime Biden reporter Meredith Newman from the The Wilmington News Journal, and veteran health and science reporter Elizabeth Weise from USA Today.
  • Information about the experts, including bios, will be available on at, so that viewers can understand where the fact checks are coming from.

The big picture: USA Today joins several other media companies integrating new types of live fact checks into their coverage of tomorrow's debate.

  • The Washington Post's Fact Checker team — Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly — will be doing live fact checks during the debate, which will be included in the live blog accessible via the homepage. The Post will also have a full round-up of fact-checked claims that will post online, in video and will appear in the print edition.
  • NBC News' live blog of the debate will feature debate analysis that includes two reporters, Jane C. Timm and Adam Edelman, fact-checking in close-to-real time on
  • CBS News' chief Washington correspondent, Major Garrett, will be part of its live coverage offering fact checks during the coverage. Garrett is leading a newly-launched voter integrity unit for CBS that analyzes misinformation.
  • The New York Times' live fact check operation will draw on the expertise of more than two dozen reporters and editors from around the newsroom, including subject matter specialists and writers, according to a spokesperson.
  • Univision News Anchor Patricia Janiot will fact check the candidates' statements, which will be verified in real-time by the Univision team that runs ‘elDetector’, Univision’s data-checking platform. Viewers will also be able to interact directly with a FactCHAT via WhatsApp chat.
  • The Wall Street Journal launched a new tool called Talk 2020, which allows users to search a database of transcripts to find out what Biden and Trump have said about the issues over the years. The tool is meant to help readers fact check the debates in real-time.
  • NPR's homepage will have live fact-checking and analysis of the Presidential debates leveraging expertise from more than a dozen NPR reporters and editors.
  • CNN's in-house fact checker, Daniel Dale, will contribute real-time fact checking throughout the evening at and on the homepage.
  • ABC News says via a spokesperson that it will fact check the debate "during analysis on the network, streaming, audio and online.”
  • Twitter said it would be proactively monitor debate conversation by reviewing content — including hashtags and accounts that may violate Twitter's rules — through a combination of human and automated review throughout the debate.

Be smart: Most media companies have already introduced fact-checking programs into their workflow, given the enormous amount of misinformation that's flooded the 2020 election.

  • USA Today ran 19 livestreams for the coronavirus task force briefings which drove 3.3 million views between its website and YouTube.
  • CNN's Facts First database saw record traffic during the Republican convention. The company also debuted a second chyron to fact-check Trump's convention speech.
  • NBC News Digital had roughly 60 fact checks across both conventions in real time on

The bottom line: "This is a moment in our society when the truth and clear information is vital. That's always been the case in political campaigns and debates, but I think we're in a particular moment right now where this is going to be really critical." says Carroll.

Go deeper: Networks use live fact-checking during first night of RNC

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