For moderator Lester Holt, too, the debate was a test

NEW YORK — NBC News anchor Lester Holt, the moderator of the presidential debate, tried Monday night to meet the widely held expectation that he would act mostly as a facilitator and not inject himself into the proceedings as a real-time fact-checker.

Holt, who was moderating his first general election debate, acknowled he was nervous before taking the stage at Hofstra University. He was solely responsible for the questions asked each candidate and for steering the conversation.

His performance was closely scrutinized in light of a dispute over the extent to which he should call politicians out for making untrue statements.


Holt, 57, took over as NBC ‘‘Nightly News’’ anchor last year after predecessor Brian Williams was found to have lied about his role in news stories.

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He hosted a Democratic primary forum in January and has interviewed Clinton and Trump three times each during the campaign.

In a reflection of the attention that was being paid to Holt, his voter registration became an issue last week. ‘‘Lester is a Democrat,’’ Trump said in a Fox News Channel interview. ‘‘It’s a phony system. They are all Democrats.’’

Holt, however, is a registered Republican, according to New York state voting records.

Asked about the misstatement Monday, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on MSNBC that it wasn’t a lie because Trump didn’t know Holt’s registration.


Voting records show that Anderson Cooper of CNN, who is moderating the Oct. 9 debate, is registered as unaffiliated in New York, and Chris Wallace of Fox News, the moderator on Oct. 19, is a registered Democrat in Washington, D.C. Martha Raddatz, who will join Cooper, lives in Virginia, which doesn’t register voters by party.

The issue of to what extent moderators, and journalists covering the debate, should point it out when a candidate says something untrue became part of the pre-debate discussion when Holt’s NBC colleague Matt Lauer was criticized for not confronting Trump this month when the Republican falsely claimed he had not expressed support for the war in Iraq during a candidate forum.

The Clinton camp says moderators should police false statements. Trump’s campaign says it’s not their role. Among journalists, there’s no consensus.

Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said on CNN Sunday that in past debates moderators have generally believed the candidates should call their opponents out when something false is said.

‘‘I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica,’’ Brown said.


NBC News said that it was teaming up with PolitiFact for digital fact-checking. CBS assigned fact-checkers who will provide context during the debate on the website.

In past years, some networks have assigned their reporters post-debate to examine the accuracy of particular statements.

The television industry was watching to see if Monday’s debate can smash the previous record for the biggest presidential debate audience, the 80.6 million people who watched the only debate of the 1980 campaign between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.