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Just the facts: WSU prepares for debate

Oct. 17 marks a historic night for Weber State University; from 6 to 7 p.m., WSU will be hosting a live fact check event of the debate for Utah’s First Congressional District.

Republican incumbent, Rob Bishop, is seeking his ninth term in Congress. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Bishop said this would be his last term in office if re-elected.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT/1st). (MCT)

Bishop is opposed by Lee Castillo, a Democrat and WSU alumnus, and Eric Eliason, who is representing the United Utah Party.

As the candidates answer questions about their political inclinations and policies, WSU students will be checking each statement for accuracy and truthfulness in real time.

Statements will be rated on a scale: true, mostly true, partly true, mostly false, false, not verifiable and pure opinion.

The fact-checking event is the brainchild of Teresa Holt Martinez, the program coordinator for the WSU Center for Community Engaged Learning.

As part of CCEL’s “Matter of Fact” theme for 2018, Martinez wanted WSU to be the first school in Utah to attempt a real-time fact checking of a major political event.

The event itself has support from both faculty and students in the Signpost, Studio 76, the Weber State debate team, the student-run PR firm Ogden Peak Communications, an independent study investigative journalism group and the American Democracy Project at WSU.

Leah Murray, PhD, is a professor of political science and the faculty adviser to the ADP. Murray said the ADP has, for years, provided programming on campus to try to introduce students to politically engaged opportunities. Those opportunities will then, hopefully, educate and mobilize students to vote.

Murray believes a debate is a unique opportunity for students and the community at large to become better informed about the beliefs of the candidates before casting a ballot.

“Instead of hearing interest group ads, or the spin that you get in politics that’s really loud in election time, a debate is a nice reasonable quiet hour, to an hour and a half, of just listening to people talk about policy,” Murray said. “Any voter should get a good idea of where the candidates stand and where the voter stands in relation to those candidates.”

For over a month, students have been doing research in preparation for the event. Tanne Murdock, the student director of the ADP, said she thinks it’s important for students to challenge what they’re hearing in an era of “fake news.”

The event, she said, will be an excellent way to show students how to verify the veracity of each candidate’s claims and will inspire students to vote.

“College students vote at such an alarmingly low rate. If every college student were to vote … how things would change, how elections would be different,” Murdock said. “Even more so on a local level, if every Weber State student voted, and if they voted being educated on who the candidates are and what their beliefs are.”

Students and community members are encouraged to post comments or questions of their own during the event using the hashtags, “WeberFactCheck” and “JustTheFacts.”

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