As for their print peers, with so much misleading back-and-forth to choose from, the “crack teams” (to use Lisa Meyers’ 2000 term) at the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune all opted — like NBC — to begin their debunking with Cheney’s assertion that he has never tied Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to 9/11. Additionally, all five newspapers weighed in on the candidates’ conflicting Halliburton-related claims, and both the Iraq war’s dollar cost and cost in casualties.

Other areas of contention explored were Cheney’s claim that 900,000 small business would be affected by Kerry’s proposal to roll back tax cuts on those earning over $200,000, the back-and-forth on the number of jobs lost under Bush’s watch, and the drastically different pictures the candidates painted about the state of affairs in Afghanistan.

Unlike most of their friends on TV, several of these newspapers had already hopped on — or at least set a foot or toe on — the fact-checking bandwagon four years ago, although overall their efforts was more tentative in tone and less thorough than yesterday’s. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler provided some quality “truth-squadding” in 2000 — sample headline: “Both Debaters Play Games with Numbers” — although the Post had yet to come up with the nifty “For the Record” slug it uses today. The New York Times’ Richard W. Stevenson took a solid stab the day after the VP debates four years ago, offering “explanations of some of the [candidates’] assertions” — again without the benefit of the “Fact Check” header that hovers over David E. Rosenbaum’s work today.

As Campaign Desk has noted dozens of times, for most of the year the press entirely abdicated its elementary responsibility to ascertain the veracity of campaign charges and counter-charges. We welcome this belated realization on the part of reporters and their editors that it is their job to do a little research and to introduce known facts to the equation. And we welcome all their efforts — via eye-catching banners and special news slugs — to make sure their audience knows, in contrast to 2000, that they’re making an effort.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.