The controversy over Reid’s claim is likely to be a minor blip in the 2012 campaign, but it perfectly illustrates why the media is still losing the spin arms race. In a world where establishment figures in both parties are increasingly willing to smear their opponents publicly, journalists need to be more cautious about amplifying partisan attacks and more careful about how they evaluate the accuracy of those claims. Without smarter coverage, reporters and factcheckers will continue to get exploited.

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at and tweets @BrendanNyhan.