And they knew just the right reporter to whisper to, didn’t they? It’s true that Maverick wasn’t in the “cone of silence” when Warren said he was, but then he didn’t need to be — he already knew the hardest questions beforehand. As did Barack Obama, according to Politico:

So it turns out that Pastor Rick Warren, in an effort to increase the candidates’ comfort level with his pioneering format, gave each of them a heads-up on several of the hardest questions he asked Saturday night during his “the Saddleback Civil Forum on the presidency.”

A source close to Warren tells Playbook that the candidates knew in advance they would be asked their own greatest moral failure, America’s greatest moral failure, and the three wisest people in their lives.

The source said Obama also knew he would be asked if he’d be willing to commit to an emergency plan for orphans, like President Bush has for AIDS. GIVE OBAMA CREDIT FOR ANSWERING CANDIDLY: “I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea.”

Question: How surprising is it that the GOP nominee, with a galaxy of institutional memory available to him about how to appeal to this constituency and a personal knack for townhall formats, would be well prepared for this event? Answer: Really surprising if you’re a lefty desperate to explain why Obama’s now “more vulnerable than at any point since the primaries concluded, and he no longer appears to have a built-in strength in the electoral college that we had attributed to him before.” (In fact, the full quote from Andrea Mitchell makes it sound like even she thinks the accusation’s sour grapes.) Same with the nutroots meme that’s circulating about McCain having allegedly stolen his story about a VC prison guard drawing a cross in the dirt from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, despite other anecdotal evidence that his faith was no secret to those around him while in captivity. But even so — it’s exceptionally stupid of him not to have arrived on time and observed the terms about isolation knowing what the left would do with it. Michael Crowley at TNR is right that he’s not the type to cheat, but, er, a good way to prove that you’re not the type to cheat is to actually follow the rules you’ve agreed to. McCain seems to have assumed people would give him the benefit of the doubt simply because he’s McCain, a show of mind-boggling naivete in the middle of an election. Note to Maverick: By late October, they’ll be calling you a Manchurian candidate. In fact, they already are.

So another home run ends up with an asterisk next to it. Exit quotation from Team McCain’s bruising letter to NBC about how deep in the tank they are for Obama: “John McCain actually requested that he and Barack Obama do the forum together on stage at the same time, making these kinds of after-the-fact complaints moot.”