Election Connection

Just the Facts

Debates force candidates to think on their feet, and Thursday's sparring between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin was no exception. But getting the facts straight has become the real-time task of media outlets, blowing any chance of nuance to the wind.

Live factchecking tools for the debates and the campaigns have taken over the web - with online and broadcast events ranging from the very useful to the incredibly distracting.

Factcheck.org was founded in 2003, but has come into 2008 with the FactCheck Wire, which found fallacies in tonight's debate like Palin's assertion about the troop surge.

"Palin got her numbers wrong on troop levels when she said that troops were now down to "pre-surge" levels. The surge was announced in January 2007, at which point there were 132,000 troops in Iraq according to the Brookings Institute Iraq Index."

The Washington Post's live factchecker followed the debate on a timeline, giving policy updates and statistics to prove or disprove the candidates' claims.

The New York Times followed up immediately after the debate on their Caucus Blog, analyzing questions like Biden's claims on the cost of war.

"Mr. Biden said that "we spend more money in three weeks on combat in Iraq than we spent on the entirety of the last seven years that we have been in Afghanistan building that country." This appears to be exaggerated, although it is not exactly clear what Mr. Biden was including under "building that country.""

Current TV and Twitter's mash up, Hack the Debates, provided live updates from people following the debate and then broadcasted them overlaying the debate on the TV broadcast. The result was overwhelming, but gave an interesting mix of news content, snarky responses, and legitimate commentary.

And at Free Press, a Citizen Media Scorecard let you respond immediately with thoughts on how the candidates were performing in real time.


PBS has its own in-house factchecker to address journalistic integrity and editorial issues. The Ombudsman is an independent critic at PBS, who this week sets the record straight on debate moderator Gwen Ifill, a topic that has spurred its own debate on this blog.

"This is the second time the Commission has asked Ms. Ifill to moderate the Vice Presidential debates; she served in this same role during the 2004 election. When asked about Ms. Ifill's upcoming book, the Commission's Co-Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. stated, 'She's a woman of impeccable integrity. This won't interfere any way with her being a fair and objective moderator.'"

What untruths did you see in the debate? Where there issues that didn't get covered that you hope to see addressed in the remaining presidential debates?


katy mcquade said:

I was very intriqued that as a moderator, Gwen Ifill did not keep Gov. Palin on course and subject matter more. Was she caving to this ridiculous notion that Palin had to be treated with kid gloves?? She blatantly avoided questions, apparently Ifil condoned this behaviour. Would any other candidate have been treated so gently and allowed such free reign to change not just the tone but the QUESTION???

Rebecca said:

Though I had concerns about Ms. Ifill's objectivity in moderating this debate, I want to say that I thought
she was very good, fair, and I liked her questions and style. I stand corrected about her
ability to show true impartiality and equality between the candidates.

Patricia Hansen said:

I am a registered Republican. After the debate, I think the perfect ticket would be Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

gracie1273 said:

Ms. Ifill was great. Mr. Biden was amazing. Ms. Palin proved more than ever that her ticket is not the leadership that America needs. She needed to hit a homerun on this debate and she failed.

George Martin said:

I don't understand the reson for this...uh...debate?
What was the point of the "moderator"? Why not just call it what it was;
"THE SARAH PALIN SHOW"... Thanks to the moderator, or lack of...Palin simply decided
"to hell with Ms Ifill, I'll do and say whatever i want, when i want! Wow...I think the only person
out of there league at tonights debate was Ms Ifill. C'mon, for God sake...Couldn't Ms Ifill at least
Lets face it...Palin ate Ifill for breakfast...

Wow...all i can say is ...Wow

George Martin said:

I don't understand the reson for this...uh...debate?
What was the point of the "moderator"? Why not just call it what it was;
"THE SARAH PALIN SHOW"... Thanks to the moderator, or lack of...Palin simply decided
"to hell with Ms Ifill, I'll do and say whatever i want, when i want! Wow...I think the only person
out of there league at tonights debate was Ms Ifill. C'mon, for God sake...Couldn't Ms Ifill at least
Lets face it...Palin ate Ifill for breakfast...

Wow...all i can say is ...Wow

George Martin said:

I don't understand the reson for this...uh...debate?
What was the point of the "moderator"? Why not just call it what it was;
"THE SARAH PALIN SHOW"... Thanks to the moderator, or lack of...Palin simply decided
"to hell with Ms Ifill, I'll do and say whatever i want, when i want! Wow...I think the only person
out of there league at tonights debate was Ms Ifill. C'mon, for God sake...Couldn't Ms Ifill at least
Lets face it...Palin ate Ifill for breakfast...

Wow...all i can say is ...Wow

K. M. Williams said:

Palin's contrived folkiness, 'gosh darn hecksterism' fell flat in this debate. I'm from Main Street and we don't need to pretend to talk like that. Joe Biden invoked his Main Street Cred just twice-- in speaking of his single dad kitchen table and working class background in PA. Palin gets an 'F' from this teacher-- for copying straight out of
the Republican playbook. The 'Less Gov't gambit is as old-- OLDER than the hills and yet she claims Bidenis stuck in the past. She can insist on being 'born yesterday' but the past has certainly informed this present economic meltdown. We need substance in leadership--not phony slogans from Oil Moms. Just as FDR created the New
Deal in past hard times, Biden and Obama are the Real Deal today. Palin/McCain is a NO DEAL NO BRAINER.'
THe most that can be said for Mrs. Palin is that she memorizes well.

Keith said:

I am a long time viewer and contributor to the "News Hour" on PBS. I consider this program to be one of the few balanced and objective news programs available to the American public. That said, my respect for Ms Ifill was significantly eroded with her performance on last evening's debate. I expected the moderator to do more than provide the candidates with a stage and a forum to regurgitate banal partisan talking points. Ms Ifill's questions were broad, open-ended and predictable, doing little to elucidate substantive differences between the two candidates' readiness to assume the second highest office in the land. Ms Palin's open and unapologetic refusal to remain on subject and provide answers to the moderator's questions went unchallenged. We, the viewing public, were subjected to 90 minutes of campaign speech excerpts. I expected more. I didn't get it. I blame Ms Ifill. If Ms Palin, a wholly unqualified and cynical political choice by Mr McCain, ascends to the high office for which she is a candidate, rendering her a "heartbeat away" from the presidency of these United States, then Ms Ifill bears a measure of responsibility. I hope she can live with that. I'm not sure the rest of us can.

Debbie said:

It was very smart of the Demos to keep Biden focused on McCain rather than encouraging him to attack Palin. Though she didn't fall to the floor in tears or run from the room screaming, Palin didn't win it because she didn't lose it. Biden kept to the issues, and though a bit verbose at times, emerged victorious because he proved who was the more eloquent, informed candidate and the more promising world leader. We could make fun for days--and some of us will--but, gosh darn it, Sarah, the issues are just too damn important to risk having to hand over our country to the governor of a state with fewer than 700,000 people in it who's been in office for fewer than 3 years. Biden is a senator with over 3 DECADES of political experience who's worked in major metropolitan areas as opposed to the quaint snowy wilds. There's no comparison. Our country's leadership has been a bad joke for 8 years now--are we really having a serious conversation about this Palin person as vice president? C'mon, America. Time to get serious.

Jim said:

Why would you even agree to a debate on the issues when you refuse to answer the questions about the issues..? These "debates" have gotten fairly rediculous in my opinion. The "moderator" has no power to actually moderate anything. This person should be devoted to keeping the debaters on topic and moving things along instead of just asking questions and keeping them aware of when the buzzer goes off signaling their time is up. Can we also get some intelligent analysis of the debates afterward? These rediculous reporters who want to appear to remain "neutral" and who really have no qualifications at all to be commenting on an actual debate have to go. Get somebody in there who has actually debate experience, a debate instructor, somebody trained in the rigors of logic, somebody at all who has a clue and can offer some unbiased views on the actually "substance" of the debate. Thankfully there are unbiased organizations like factcheck.org that offer corrections on the overblow generalizations that both candidates make during any debate in order to paint the opposition as the "bad guy".

This, however, doesn't change the fact that Palin very obviously took the podium with her own agenda. Blatantly ignoring the questions laid out for both candidates to highlight what they offered in their role as a VICE president. Things like their understanding of the presidents policies and their role in implementing them, awareness of their short comings and ability to overcome them, and places that they may differ with the president on policies. In essence the questions are designed to allow them to showcase what they have to offer in a SUPPORTING role to the president.

So what in the world do any of the answers Palin gave have to do with this extremely important SUPPORTING role? I have to agree with most of the other posters that her answers seems extremely automatic, even if they didn't answer the question she fit them in there. It wasn't even a smooth transition most of the time, she'd just suddenly say she didn't want to talk about subject X and switch to one of the 2 (and variations them) memorized speaches, one of them being her and McCain being mavericks and their push for change, and the other being her experience with energy speech. She had several memorized attacks (same exact ones McCain had in the first debate) and one unique one in which she pointed out Biden tearing down Obama during their run for the democratic nomination and Biden voting for the war originally (I still haven't verified this). Now, this might be all well and good to promote McCain as president, which is exactly what it was intended to do. But what does this have to do with her supporting role as VICE president? By avoiding the questions or flat out refusing to answer them she misses the ENTIRE point of the vice presidential debate. The only thing we can gather from her views is that she supports him 100% in absolutely everything and her idea of resolving the differences in the senate is to give the vice president a much larger role in controling it. She does realize that we have 3 branches of government as a system of checks and balances on each other right? So why in the world would you blur those lines by giving somebody who is for the most part in argeement with the president control over the senate? This is absolutely absurd and extremely dangerous.

Now, Biden isn't perfect. He does appear to play politics a bit and is also guilty of exagerating certain facts. Indeed his major digging points were almost exactly those of Obama in the first debate. However, he answered the questions asked of him by the moderator decisively for the most part (think he might've dodged one) and as a result we know exactly what he offers in a supporting role as vice president. Biden says he isn't afraid to tell Obama what he thinks, he has a record of working within the senate to resolve isses, has a history of passing important legislature, etc...

Which means in a supporting role as vice president Biden has sucessfully debated the topic of the debate MUCH better than Palin.

There are also some important observations to be taken from this. Considering that the vice president does some traveling and also meets with many foriegn officials to negotiate terms to extremely important agreements between nations before the president goes in to finalize descisions, how comfortable are you with both of these vice presidents carrying out this role? I find it hard to put any stock in Palin's folksy talk, memorized speech, refusal to stay on track, and winking... How does this translate into being able to negotiate tough issues in sometimes very tense or downright hostile environments? If a subject is raised by the party she is negotiating with that she doesn't want to talk about is she simply going to ignore it and plug away with her own agenda? This may be some topic that seems minute to her, but it could be a potentially large sticking point for them and by simply ignoring it Palin may actually be insulting the other party to some degree and hurting negotiations. This is no way to carry yourself in life and certainly no way to carry yourself in a high political office like the vice presidency.

Biden's proclamation that he agrues points in the senate by discussing the issues and coming to solutions instead of attacking their motives as well as his taking an interest in resolving every question raised before moving on to the next instills much more confidence in his ability to carry out his role in political negotiations between foriegn countries.

Shamika said:

Although I too was concerned about Gwen Ifill moderating I believe I now see Sarah Palin more clearly after this debate. Ran across this clip too that really puts 'caribou barbie´┐Ż in her place. Ron Allen ferrets out the TRUTH about her qualifications. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN54Fb9dLKs&NR=1

Laurie said:

I used to support PBS.....but this 2008 election has exposed the true heart of PBS and its political adgenda. Too bad that this website is not fair and balanced........I was expecting PBS to be fair and balanced.....guess I sure "expected" wrong! At least PBS is not hiding its deep liberal adgenda and is being open.

Bill OConnor said:

The Biden-Palin "debate" had a terrible format with no mechanism to keep candidates on the topic.

You must have a way to keep candidates on topic--- perhaps only if the candidates can direct questions at each other can this be achieved.

Roxanne B said:

I am relieved to see that many others were also confounded, dumbfounded and just plain miffed at what appeared to be Ms. Ifill's lack of professional insight and concerted effort to keep both candidates on topic. The purpose of "debates" (such a misnomer!) is to investigate the candidates' thought processes when they don't have prepared scripts or when they are not in front of a decidely favorable audience. Ifill's work as moderator could have been fulfilled by a high school civics student.

Where were the probing questions? Where were the "what would you do if faced with..."scenarios? I wanted to hear both candidates tell me what the first thing they would do if the president ever became incapacitated....presidents have operations, you know, and the vice president is effectively 'in charge' during such times...what would either Palin or Biden do in such circumstances?

Ifill was apparently overly concerned with appearing 'biased' that she shirked her responsibility this go 'round. In 2004, her questions were much more incisive and penetrating. Even though CNN's Bernard Shaw's bold question to Dukakis was a bit over the line ( about the death penalty in the even that Mrs. Dukakis was raped and murdered), it allowed the American people to peer into a potential leader's mind...and to evaluate their critical thinking skills.

What Ifill gave us was the chance to view how well candidates memorized their ticket's "talking points' on the issues...anyone could do that...I was so disappointed at the line of questioning...The debate was a wasted opportunity, and Ms. Ifill, you failed.

JR said:

Can anybody on this liberal site explain something Berry Obama has done other than vote "present"? At least Gov. Palin has changed things for the better in Alaska. Here is a link that will show you the kind of politician Joe Biden is.

The leadership in Illinois.....all Democrats:
Sens. Barack Obama & Dick Durbin

Body count. In the last six months 292 killed (murdered) in Chicago - 221 killed in Iraq.
State pension fund $44 Billion in debt, worst in country.
Cook County (Chicago) sales tax 10.25% highest in country.
Chicago school system one of the worst in country.
(Look them up if your not afraid of facts).

This is the political culture that Obama comes from in Illinois.
He's gonna 'fix' Washington politics?

jc said:

Only 16 comments here? One would expect a greater turnout given the Captive audience PBS has.

The NOW poll here has the question: "Do you think Sarah Palin is qualified to serve as Vice President of the United States?"

No question of
"Since biden regularly embarrasses himself with his gaffes, do you think he is ready to be VP?"
"Even if Islamic terrorists think Obama is a Muslim, do you think they will be unable to respect him because he is black? Keeping in mind that the Arab word for "slave" has come to be synonymous with "African" in the Islamic world."
"Since Palin has just as much experience in office as Obama, shouldn't PBS ask: 'Do you think OBAMA is qualified to serve as VICE President of the United States?'

I found Gwen Ifill's moderation of the VP debate totally unsatisfactory. She asked no hard facts, did not challenge Sarah Palin on the most moronic statements and assertions the bible thumper made, and failed to even keep her to the topic of the question. I do a lot of facilitation in my own job and can't imagine letting someone hijack the conversation in this way.

Guess what, Gwen Ifill has been responsible for emoboldening Palin's pride in her own lack of knowledge, education, and experience so that now this "Hockey Mom" is busy smearing Obama. Gwen: you have done your country a great disservice by encouraging Sarah Palin.

On the subject of Sarah Palin: I can't recall anyone else who actually boasts of ignorance, narrowmindedness, inarticulateness, and stupidity as Palin. What is wrong with this country? Are we putting everything upside down so that education, learning, knowledge, wisdom, intellect, intellectualism, articulateness, literacy, literariness, are all bad things? I am disgusted.

In 2012, instead of having elections the regular way, which seem to be becoming more and more vacuous, why don't we just have a reality show called "Who Wants to be President?" I bettcha the likes of Sarah Palin will shine there. And we will save all the agony.

Sabrina Hardenbergh said:

southern Illinoisan said:
Regardless of the critique of Gwen in last Thursday's VP debate, I think she basically let the two candidates shine for themselves--why should she upstage them in this setting? Palin certainly let her colors show, whatever shade and depth they may be or lack thereof. Biden struck me as confident, diplomatic, just giving a glimpse of his more grounded long experience of internal and foreign government relations, about which he's probably happy to discuss in further detail given a different opportunity in working meetings focused on a number of specific issues.

M Turner said:

I find it interesting that after JR's post with facts and JC's post comparing Palins experience to Obama's no one has any responses?

I go on the premise that ALL politicians are lying used car salesman and you cant believe anything that they say. Quote Obama "Just words, Just speeches" - I agree. that's all that they are, empty words and speeches. How many times have you heard politicians tell you from the campaign trail that they are going to do something and it never happens? Do you remember all of the promises in the 80' and 90's about Term limits?? Do you ever hear about Term limits today? No?? because they realize that if that subject resurfaced people would remember all of the empty words and speeches in the last election.

Now you ask "If they are all lying, how do you pick one over the other?".
First Ask yourself "Why does this person want to be president?"
1. Power, fame and to write their name into the history books.
or 2. To help the American people and the country become a better place.

Then, you will need to look at what they have accomplished in their lives or I should say their "track record". Don't believe the speeches and slogans. YOU are hiring someone to run this country, YOU need to take the time to look at the FACTS in their Resume and ask yourself "What has this person done in the past?" What have they accomplished? you want CHANGE? What have they done in the past that represents great change?
Are they running for president because they are after Power and Fame?
or do they actually want to do something good for America?

In summary, I vote for the person who's record matches what they say in their speeches. If they have a long record of change and they speak of change on the stump then that's who I would vote for. If someone has NO record of change and they have "change" as the basis for their campaign, then you would be a fool the believe that the person would actually change anything once in office. That person is a used car salesman and they are selling you a load.
Many of you do not like S.Palin, But you cannot deny the Facts. In only a few years as Gov she has made sweeping changes in her state. Alaska has a budget surplus and she has a 80% approval rating. If a soccer Mom can do that in two years, then I suggest we elect as many as possible. Because the Harvard and Yale (used car salesman) that are currently in office are not going to change ANYTHING anytime soon. So far I have found nothing in Obama's record that indicates that he ever done anything besides seek political power, He does not have a record of Change. These are the Facts. There is no denying that he is a great used car salesman. I'm dismayed that he has got so many people sold on ideas of "political and social change" when that is something he has never done.

Unfortunately you cannot believe the anyting you hear in the Media, They are out to get ratings because high ratings bring in Advertisers and that makes them money, They do not care about you, your opinion or this country. Besides, the fact all of the major media outlets have taken sides and what use to be the news is now 24 hours of political commentary slanted to favor one side over the other. The days of reporting just the facts on TV are gone.

Jim said:

To M Turner... I find it interesting that you point out the lack of interest about the "facts" posted against Obama/Biden and completely ignore the rest of the posts against Palin and the debate. You remember the debate right? The REAL topic of this post. Pretty convenient that people who support McCain/Palin would fail to argue the point and instead resort to outlandish posts about Obama/Biden. Actually I don't find it that surprising, it's exactly the mentality your candidates seem to espouse daily. As for the "sweeping changes" you mention... The state of Alaska had a budget surpluss BEFORE Palin ever took office, so you giving her credit for it is rather rediculous. In fact since she took office she has passed more pork-barrel projects than ever seen before in that state. There's change for ya. In 2008 McCain has voted in agreement with the president on EVERYTHING, 100%. This number has been increasing ever since Bush took office to its present level. Guess that qualifies as "proven change".

As for JR... What exactly does the "culture" somebody comes from have to do with the type of person they are? Are you saying there can't be brilliant people that come out of Iraq? Brilliant people like Abraham Lincoln were self taught people that came from very poor families. Einstein worked in a patent office while he theorised things that would change the way science looks at the universe. Your argument is entirely falacious. If you are implying that Obama is somehow responsible for the crime and debt in Chicago instead of the governor of that state then you are also way off base. That is not a senators job.

JC... Biden regularly embarasses himself? Have you been watching the news lately? How often has Palin had a gaff in her extremely short stint in the media? Yeah, might wanna rethink that one. Also, what in the world do Muslims "possibly" seeing Obama as a slave have to do with his ability to run this country? They also see women as "slaves" if you wanna get right down to it. Guess we can't have Palin in any kind of office either. Lose-Lose corner you paint yourself into on that one. Funny that Condolesa Rice is both a woman and black and we haven't had any overt threats against her by the Muslim world at large. And the argument from experience has shown itself to be utterly wrong. Have you seen the manifestations of Palin's "experience" in action since she's been in the spotlight? She can't name a supreme court case? C'mon now, great experience in action there.

Let's cut all experience crap out already, they've both done things for this country. Let's cut all the crap about their past, they both have some questionable things there also. Let's vote for the most intelligent candidate. The one we think has the best plan to pick this country back up out of the crapper that we've been sliding into.

Theresa B. Smith said:

McCain quoted T. Roosevelt "Speak softly and carry a big stick..." but TR also said the following:
"Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense."... "We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.""The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."
New York State Fair, Syracuse, September 7, 1903

"A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled, and less than that no man shall have."
Speech to veterans, Springfield, IL, July 4, 1903

"We demand that big business give the people a square deal; in return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal."
Letter to Sir Edward Gray, November 15, 1913

from http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/quotes.htm

Leave a comment

We welcome your comments, and hope to host energetic, civil discussions. As you post, please keep the following in mind:

  • Keep your comments focused on the topic at hand.
  • Don't use profanity, personal attacks or hate speech.
  • Don't promote a business or raise money.
  • When all else fails, think "Golden Rule": Treat others the way you'd like to be treated yourself.

We reserve the right to remove posts that don't follow these guidelines. By clicking submit, you acknowledge that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

About this blog
PBS Engage, public broadcasting's social media initiative, and PBS Vote 2008 are finding the best elections content from across public media and our partners and bringing it to you. We're following the campaigns and highlighting in-depth coverage. Feel free to leave a comment, send us an e-mail, or suggest a topic!
Keep in touch with election coverage from PBS and public media. Sign up for our RSS feed.
Recent Comments

Support Provided By: