Fiscal policy and the budget sequester were also the focus in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, along with a recounting of the “47 percent” exchange that included Kaine’s “minimum tax” line and his subsequent backtrack. The Roanoke Times took a similar approach, while also delving into the candidates’ discussions of foreign policy and bipartisanship. (Unfortunately, the Times’s subhed showed how policy-oriented debate coverage can turn into a laundy list: “George Allen and Tim Kaine outlined their stances on several national issues,” it read.) So did The Associated Press, in a story that was carried by the state’s smaller papers.
All these accounts appropriately featured Kaine’s “minimum tax” line. The difference is in the prominence it was given—and whether the article included any other information a voter might want to know.
Going forward, meanwhile, reporters might consider this advice from blogger (and Washington Post contributor) Jon Bernstein: if Kaine mangled his talking points because he’s ill-informed on tax policy or generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about, “there’s a larger story than flubbing an answer in a debate, and that story really deserves to be covered.” But if he just happened to make an ill-opportune mistake, there’s not much here. That’s something for journalists to figure out—and report accordingly.
Of course, reporting what the candidates are saying on various issues isn’t as good as checking the accuracy of their claims, and there was little pushback offered in any of the initial debate coverage beyond the point-counterpoint provided by the candidates themselves. Fortunately, the staff at PolitiFact Virginia ably checked in Friday with a quick look at some of Kaine and Allen’s claims, drawing from some of their previous work, and they promise more to come.
In addition to the debate fact-check, on Thursday PolitiFact Virginia took a close look at Allen’s charge that Kaine supports “devastating defense cuts.”
That’s great news. As I noted in a post on Thursday, the Senate race pace is accelerating precipitously. There are two more debates between Allen and Kaine, and it seems as if a new ad is airing from one or the other camps daily. Hopefully newsrooms around the station are gearing up to offer similar substantive, thoughtful coverage, and to help voters sort through the message war.