Of course, the Post doesn’t have to simply embrace what these analysts, factcheckers, and other journalists have said—ideally, the paper would do its own digging, which might yield different conclusions. Detailed factchecking of the Coffman-Miklosi exchange, meanwhile, would depend on just which arguments the candidates relied on, which isn’t quite clear in the Post story. As Lieberman notes, Republicans like Mitt Romney are increasingly making a slightly different claim—that the reduced reimbursement rates will cause providers to turn away Medicare patients, and so seniors will have reduced access to care. That’s a more sophisticated, and potentially more credible, argument that merits evaluation of its own.

But the point is that the discussion over Obamacare and Medicare is far too advanced, and has gone on far too long, to report, “This side said this, and the other side said that,” and leave it at that. With talking points this familiar, newsrooms should be prepared with a couple of explanatory paragraphs, ready to cut and paste, even in a deadline story.

Journalists have a responsibility to give readers context, background, and, within reason, the most current intelligence on a given topic. On the $716 billion question, the Post didn’t do that in its account of the Miklosi-Coffman debate—and a search through its archives suggests it hasn’t really done so in the rest of its coverage, either. With Election Day less than four weeks away, time is running out.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Mary Winter has worked for seven newspapers, most recently the Denver Post, and was assistant managing editor at PoliticsDaily.com. She spent the bulk of her career at the Rocky Mountain News, first in features and later managing the legislative and state government teams. In 2008, she oversaw delegate coverage at the Democratic National Convention for the paper. She wrote a weekly column for the News for 10 years.