Having seen the candidate the press corps so obviously favors perform poorly while his opponent shined, Ron Fournier at National Journal, an Associated Press alum, dove so deeply into excuse-making that I half expected him to claim that the dog ate President Obama's debate prep.
The primary culprit, according to the forlorn Fournier, is something over which Obama has no control, as seen in the following excerpt from the 11:30 p.m. version of his dispatch. The report has an accurate headline admitting to something Fournier wouldn't directly acknowledge, namely that Romney won the night (bolds and numbered tags are mine):
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Incumbent Debate Curse: Barack Obama Falls to Mitt Romney
Call it the curse of incumbency. Like many of his predecessors, President Obama fell victim Wednesday night to high expectations , a short fuse, and a hungry challenger.
If Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t win the first of three presidential debates outright, he more than covered the spread. He was personable, funny, and relentlessly on the attack against a heavily favored Obama.
The president looked peeved and flat as he carried a conversation, for the first time in four years, with somebody telling him he’s wrong. 
... Privately, some Democratic strategists said the challenger got the best of the president. “We got our clock cleaned,” said a Democratic strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution. The Democrat had reviewed results of polls and focus groups of the debate.
To be fair, the deck was stacked against Obama, who came into the debate with a lead over Romney plus the baggage of incumbency. 
First, voters expect sitting presidents to win debates and, indeed, polls showed that Obama was favored Wednesday. That benefits a challenger like Romney who grows in stature simply by standing next to the president.
Second, challengers have more time to prepare than do busy presidents.  Romney was ready. Finally, incumbents aren’t used to being challenged. Obama’s thin skin showed more than his Hollywood smile.
 -- The press and Democratic operatives (but I repeat myself) have spent the past several days trying to tamp down expectations for Dear Leader, thereby trying to create a scenario where a slight Romney outperformance would have meant nothing. Epic fail.
 -- Y'know Ron, a big reason, arguably the big reason, why Obama hasn't had somebody telling him he’s wrong for four years is that the press hasn't been doing its job covering him since he declared his candidacy in early 2007.
 -- Well, if Obama had the perceived lead, it's because the press's cooked polls have artificially created that situation. As to the baggage of incumbency, it's real name is "awful four-year performance."
 -- Awww, Mr. 100 Rounds of Golf and Endless Campaign and Fundraising Stops didn't have enough time. Boo freaking hoo, Ron.
As to "the curse," Fournier cited Bush v. Kerry in 2004 (at best, a Kerry squeaker), Bush 41 vs. Bill Clinton in 1992 (yes, Clinton took that one), and Carter v. Reagan in 1976 (Reagan had a win going in because the press had decided that Reagan wouldn't be able to put three coherent words together). He could have added Reagan v. Mondale in 1984 (Reagan had a bad night, but he cleaned Mondale's clock in subsequent debates). But he conveniently forgot that Clinton easily fended off Bob Dole in their first 1996 debate.
Curse, schmurse, Ron. Your guy proved, as million-dollar Obama SuperPAC contributor Bill Maher tweeted Monday evening, "that Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter." I would have omitted "looks like he" from that sentence.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.