It's come to this: Newly media-shy president turned down an interview with ... Chris Matthews

I don’t blame him. What if Tingles surprised him with a tough question about how difficult it is to deal with Republicans?

“I just think it comes down to their overall strategy, which is to be low risk, to play it safe. They feel like they’re ahead and there’s no need to put the president in a position where he makes a mistake,” said former George W. Bush spokesman Trent Duffy, a founding partner of public affairs group HDMK. “They feel like they’ve got it won, and Romney’s got to do something dramatic.”…

“I hate the fact that they have made me worry more about access than reporting. Why build a press briefing room if the president isn’t going to brief the press?” NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd told POLITICO, who said the White House’s disregard for the press has “reached a new low.” “Both campaigns say the press doesn’t cover them seriously. But the more they cordon us off, the harder it is for us to report on the issues.”…

Obama has even declined an interview with the friendliest liberal outlet on television. Earlier this month, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd sat down with Mitt Romney for a one-on-one interview that will be featured in an hourlong MSNBC documentary that will air prior to the Republican convention. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who has been very public about his support for Obama, was not granted an interview with the president for the network’s Obama documentary, which will run prior to the Democratic convention. The White House offered Biden instead.

The fact that they offered Obama an interview with a guy who’s face-first in the tank for him instead of asking him to sit with Todd, like Romney did, tells you everything you need to know about partisanship on cable news. Just to play devil’s advocate, though: What does O have to gain by chatting with major media figures right now, even one as friendly as Matthews? He’s trying to use these summer months to define Romney and Ryan; the more time he spends answering questions, the more the spotlight’s on him instead of them and the more opportunities Mitt has to take something he’s said and use it to go on offense. “You didn’t build that” is the perfect example, especially since O claims he was taken out of context on that. If you’re worried about inadvertently handing your opponent a hugely damaging soundbite, then yeah, you’re going to clam up. And as sycophantic as Matthews is, there’s no guarantee that he can prevent that. Imagine if he asked him a question as simple as “What are your plans for your second term?” No one knows the answer to that, Obama included, so the risk of a bad soundbite is high. Why chance it?

Here’s what Obama knows right now. One: There are very few truly undecided voters out there, possibly as little as three to five percent of the electorate. Two: There are a lot of unlikely voters out there who are well disposed to him but who need some strong motivation to turn out. Three: If he does an interview or press conference with professional political reporters, he’s inevitably going to be asked about, oh, say, this. All that being so, if you were him, wouldn’t you rather concentrate right now on dopey morning-zoo segments where you can keep it light and try to remind those unlikely voters and undecideds why they came to like you in the first place? His campaign’s busy telling America that Romney’s a monster who gave steelworkers’ wives cancer and who now wants to destroy Medicare. The best contrast O can draw with that is to focus on his alleged likability advantage. There’ll be plenty of time for policy arguments in the fall.