If you ask megachurch pastor Rick Warren, the reason he's canceling his "civil forum" it's because of all of this nasty political rancor, which is a nice way of glossing over the fact that it's really hard to have a presidential forum when neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney were going to show up.  The Associated Press and Fox News both confirmed that both Romney and Obama would not show up to Warren's forum at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, a repeat of his event in 2008 attended by John McCain and Obama. "Romney campaign officials say the campaign had not accepted the invitation nor put it on any schedule. At the time the proposed Warren forum was first publicized, the Romney camp said it was not planning to attend," reported Fox News's Wes Barrett on August 22. And because saying that both presidential candidates thought his forum wasn't worth their time, Warren is saying to The Orange County Register: "It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day."

CNN's Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi contacted strategists from both sides to get some inside scoop: "As I understand it, Pastor Warren received tepid responses from both camps well before the supposed 'cancellation.'" a senior Democratic strategist told them, while someone in the Romney campaign told them, "We were never going, ever. We offered to do a video." Ouch. So it sounds like that "civility" excuse isn't really working out. And that dodgy alibi might actually be doing more harm to Rick Warren's reputation. As The New Republic's Amy Sullivan writes:

With this latest episode, the California pastor has also proven that he is not a leader. A real leader doesn't respond to incivility in politics (the horror!) by throwing up his hands and cancelling a forum that he himself described as “a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling.” And if that wasn’t the real reason he was cancelling the event, a real leader would swallow his pride and tell the truth