CNN’s Media Unit emails out a nightly newsletter titled “Reliable Sources.” It's not always reliable, since they have a slippery grasp on what their own network is actually putting on television and online.
On August 3, Oliver Darcy led this newsletter with what he described as an “imaginary controversy” – the notion that Joe Biden might skip the presidential debates. Darcy was quoting Biden 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." 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 these men seemed supremely oblivious to the fact that CNN.com published an opinion piece by CNN analyst Joe Lockhart arguing Biden should skip the debates....and CNN booked a subsequent Lockhart interview over the weekend on CNN’s Smerconish show. Michael Smerconish didn’t lecture his guest that he was 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 columnists Thomas Friedman and Elizabeth Drew in The New York Times – expressed the firm belief that Trump should be disqualified from debates. His truth-mangling and “extreme narcissism” makes debating unhelpful and unnecessary. His audacity is an unfair advantage.
No one should believe that Biden will actually skip the debates. Liberals are far too arrogant about how Democrats will brilliantly wipe the floor with the 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 instead of letting him speak.
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 August 2, he mildly suggested Biden “owed 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 a terror over Trump winning again. On July 26, MSNBC host Joshua Johnson interviewed DNC boss Tom Perez, and revealed the inner panic of Democrats. “I cannot tell you how many people I know who are Joe Biden supporters who feel they're on the verge of a stroke all the time at the possibility of four more years of Donald Trump,” he said, “particularly with any gaffe Joe Biden makes. 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.