Pete Yost of the Associated Press, reporting on President Bush’s speech today in Colorado Springs, Colo., treats the president’s criticism of John Kerry’s health care plan as a matter of he-said she-said:

[Bush] said Kerry’s proposed changes would put millions of people looking for health care into “a government program.”

The Kerry campaign says Bush’s criticism of the Democrat’s domestic programs is based on studies that are misleading and have been shown to be factually dubious in estimating the costs.

From Yost’s treatment, there’s no way to tell who has the better of the argument. In an article titled “Bush Mischaracterizes Kerry Health Plan,” the non-partisan FactCheck.org — recommended by Vice President Cheney himself during his debate with John Edwards last week — calls Bush’s accusation “grossly misleading.” According to projections by the Lewin Group, a politically neutral health care research firm, 97 percent of Americans who now have health insurance will simply keep the plan they have now.

FactCheck’s debunking of the attack on Kerry’s health care plan was cited by CNN’s Bill Schneider during his fact-check segment after Friday night’s debate.

Commendable as they are for helping readers and viewers get to the bottom of things, fact checks have never, of course, slowed down candidates on the trail. The Bush campaign just released an ad that makes the same misleading charge dismantled by FactCheck.org, and the topic is sure to come up in tomorrow night’s debate on domestic issues. That’s why it’s especially important for reporters like Yost to move beyond he-said/she-said reporting and take the next step — assessing the veracity of campaign claims and counterclaims.

Zachary Roth

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.