David Yepsen, the retired dean of the Iowa caucus press corps who I interviewed about the straw poll for a story earlier this week thought nobody lost, and that Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty gave the best performances.

John Hedgecoth, for Cedar Rapids-based SourceMedia’s Iowa Caucus website:

The Minnesota candidates’ sideshow eclipsed a quite solid performance on policy by former Speaker Newt Gingrich and some zippy one-liners from businessman Herman Cain. The biggest distraction in the debate was a “time’s-up” bell that sounded disturbingly like the one you used to drive over at the gas station. I kept expecting some guy in coveralls to try and clean my windshield. Other distractions included weird allusions to dog food, Mickey Mouse, and high fences and open doors. But what can you expect from a debate in which one of the co-sponsors is the D.C. equivalent of the Penny Saver?

The Iowan Republican blog also named Gingrich, Santorum and Pawlenty the winners.

This all goes to show you can bring the media to Iowa, but you cannot necessarily channel Iowa in the media. The press may will be there in body and spirit, wide-eyed and lapping up all the Midwestern hoo-ha the state can throw at them. In the past 24 hours, Slate’s Dave Weigel was marveling at the line for deep-fried butter (Iowa ups the ante again!), while ABC’s Jake Tapper has been tweeting up a storm about butter cows.

But they will report, (at least last night’s debate) like they’ve never left the beltway. Perhaps the beltway has just been transplanted to a spin room in Ames or a Playbook breakfast table in downtown Des Moines.

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While we’re on the subject, there was some post-debate coverage of substance, that did more than just separate the winners from the losers and report the back and forth between the “Minnesota twins.”

The New York Times’s Michael Cooper fact checked the debate and called Bachmann out for her false claims about the nation’s lowered credit rating.

Ezra Klein commented on how they debate was not about policy, but about fealty to policy.

Foreign Policy also got into the fact checking game with Josh Rogin providing insight into the accuracy of debate over foreign policy issues.

Kudos to this kind of reporting. It’d be great if journalists did more of this, and let the voters and donors decide who’s a winner and who’s a loser.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.