One of the most striking things about this campaign has been the quality of news coverage of the presidential and vice presidential debates. In particular, the AP and Washington Post have published long and thorough fact-checking articles within hours of the end of each debate that effectively help voters to sort through the spin. The Post online team has even created a "debate referee," which is a real innovation in online political coverage (for instance, check out their annotated transcript of the third presidential debate).
So we know that they can do good fact-checking when they make it a priority. Here's my question – why don't we have political coverage like that every day, especially now? Four times every four years surely isn't good enough. It's clear that reporters are outgunned on a day-to-day basis, but they have shown that the tables can be turned.
Let me add a note of caution. The danger is that this sort of fact-checking can become perverse, as it did in 2000, when relatively trivial inaccuracies from Al Gore set off wild feeding frenzies that obscured much more serious policy deception. We've seen the same thing this year after the vice presidential debate, when Dick Cheney's false claim to have not previously met John Edwards received vastly more attention than other, more serious falsehoods. (Josh Marshall even endorsed a reader suggestion to re-run the anti-Gore campaign in reverse, calling Cheney a compulsive liar, mentally ill, etc. with a focus on that silly mistake.)
Another risk is false equivalence, which ABC's Mark Halperin warned of in a memo leaked to Drudge. As he put it, "We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides 'equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that." In short, all deceptions are not equal, and reporters do not have to treat them as such, as they often do in debate stories.
All that said, however, the post-debate coverage we've seen in the last month has been the closest I've seen to the ideal the press should aspire to. Maybe we can build on that in the future.