CNN's media unit emails out a nightly newsletter titled "Reliable Sources." The newsletter is not always reliable, since it has a slippery grasp on what its own network is putting on television and online.
On Aug. 3, Oliver Darcy led the newsletter discussing what he described as an "imaginary controversy": the notion that Joe Biden might skip the presidential debates. Darcy quoted Biden national press secretary T.J. Ducklo's spin. "Donald Trump and his allies at Fox News have decided an imaginary controversy about debates will be their latest attempt to distract Americans," Ducklo told Darcy. Under the header "Where it originated from," Darcy added, "Yes, there have been some NYT opinion pieces and brief chatter about why Biden should skip the debates. Personally, I've never taken the suggestions too seriously."
On Twitter, Darcy's colleague Brian Stelter agreed: "It is mostly a right-wing media tempest, fueled by hour after hour of Fox commentary (not reporting), far removed from campaign reality."
Both of these men seemed supremely oblivious to the fact that CNN.com published an opinion piece by CNN political analyst Joe Lockhart in which he argued Biden should skip the debates ... and CNN booked a subsequent weekend interview with Lockhart on its "Smerconish" show. Host Michael Smerconish didn't lecture his guest about being in danger of fueling a right-wing media tempest.
So who's "removed from campaign reality"? Omri Ceren retorted on Twitter: "In fairness to Stelter and Darcy, unclear if they're intentionally lying here. Could simply be that like everyone else they never tune into CNN."
Lockhart -- as well as New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Elizabeth Drew -- expressed the firm belief that Trump should be disqualified from debates. His truth mangling and "extreme narcissism" make debate unhelpful and unnecessary. His audacity is an unfair advantage.
No one should believe Biden will actually skip the debates. Liberals are far too arrogant about how Democrats will brilliantly wipe the floor with Republicans every time -- no matter who the Republican is. And for Trump, that goes triple.
All these opinionators are offering is pre-debate spin, suggesting Trump's patter is so abhorrent that he's unworthy of any televised pedestal. This underlines why CNN and MSNBC now ignore or talk over Trump press conferences and speeches. At this point, we might expect they'll talk over the president's big convention speech.
Liberals prefer Biden cocooning in safer venues, like occasional puffball press conferences with his compliant campaign press corps. When Stelter interviewed Ducklo on his "Reliable Sources" program on Aug. 2, he mildly suggested Biden "owes the public" more access to the press but added, "I think what your candidate is doing is he's dodging Trump's punches with silence, which is probably an effective campaign strategy."
All this media acceptance of Biden's basement strategy masks their terror over the possibility of another Trump win. On July 26, MSNBC host Joshua Johnson interviewed Democratic National Committee boss Tom Perez and revealed Democrats' inner panic. "I cannot tell you how many people I know who are Joe Biden supporters who feel like they're on the verge of a stroke all the time at the possibility of four more years of Donald Trump, particularly with any gaffe that Joe Biden makes," Johnson said. "If he says something that comes out sideways, it's like you can feel everybody's heart kind of squeak shut."
This is especially true of the debates, which will have massive national audiences, and where gaffes might be immediately exploited and magnified by the president. Don't believe the media swagger about Biden having this race in the bag. They're terrified that Democrats nominated the Gaffe Machine.
Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.