The (Fact) Challenge Flag: A New American Model for Debates

Last week I was talking with Joe Kahne about the presidential debates. I was expressing my deep concern about the willingness of candidates to make inaccurate statements during debates. We were both musing about how debates could be fact checked in real time. Joe came up with a great idea that would bring an innovation from football into politics: the challenge flag.

In NLF games, coaches are given two red flags to throw if they want to challenge a referee’s call. When a coach throws a flag, the call is reviewed. If the ref made the right call, the coach loses a time out. If the ref made the wrong call, the call is corrected and the coach isn’t charged a time out. If the coach makes two correct challenges, they get a third challenge flag to throw.

Joe suggested that each candidate receive a few challenge flags. The flags are limited, so you wouldn’t want to throw it willy-nilly. But, if something was off enough and important enough, out could come the flag. The statement would be immediately fact checked. It would be like a presidential debate game show! If the statement turned out to be correct, the candidate throwing the flag would look silly. If the statement turned out to be incorrect, we would have real time calling out of candidate falsehoods. And, think of the excitement of waiting for the flag…

Joe’s idea would likely increase the accuracy for candidate statements and viewership of the debates—that’s a democratic win-win.

(For more on Joe’s idea, see his Huffington Post blog post:


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