Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich scored big with the conservative audience last week when he attacked debate host John King of CNN for asking about allegations made by Gingrich’s ex-wife that he wanted an open marriage.
“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office,” Gingrich scolded King. “And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”
That was red meat for Gingrich supporters and other Republicans who either distrust the mainstream media or hold it in contempt. For them, King’s question was more evidence of CNN bias against conservatives.
The confrontation, which dominated the news following the debate, may have helped Gingrich score a decisive victory in the South Carolina Primary Saturday.
The interview by ABC’s Brian Ross with Marianne Gingrich hit the news just before the debate. Gingrich knew the question was coming, and he was prepared. In fact, the open-ended way in which King asked the question, (“Would you like to take some time to respond to that?”) played right into Gingrich’s hands.
Gingrich is smart. He knows the media are unpopular. What better way to sidestep thorny allegations than to shoot the messenger.
King was right to ask the question, and even lead off the debate with it. “If we’re going to deal with it, let’s deal with it up front. Let’s not try to sneak it into the middle of the debate somewhere,” King said in a post-debate interview.
The Marianne Gingrich interview was being discussed in media across the political spectrum. If King had not asked the question he would have been accused of ignoring the obvious.
But more importantly, it’s a legitimate line of questioning for several reasons.
First, Gingrich led impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton after Clinton lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Gingrich was having an affair at the same time, and Marianne Gingrich alleges Gingrich wanted her to share him with the other woman.
So Gingrich faces legitimate questions about hypocrisy and character. No, we don’t ask our presidents to be perfect, but we do expect them to at least explain behavior that many find troubling.
Second, Gingrich’s actions, as alleged by his ex, are antithetical to the beliefs of social conservatives, who make up an important pillar of the Republican Party. It’s appropriate that at a Republican debate in a conservative state, Gingrich would be asked to explain himself.
Third, many in the Republican Party accuse the mainstream media of having a double-standard in their coverage of conservatives and liberals, of Democrats and Republicans. Republicans vilified Clinton for his affair with Lewinski. Aren’t Republicans, who blasted Clinton and then cheer Gingrich for scolding the media, engaging in their own double-standard?
As for Gingrich, he’s on a roll. He heads to Florida with considerable momentum following the double-digit win in South Carolina. His confrontation with John King remains an Internet sensation.
The clip is, in fact, is compelling. Paul Farhi wrote in the Washington Post that it “may be one of the most memorable moments of the campaign and a potential boost for his candidacy against front-runner Mitt Romney."
But there was a key element missing in the exchange.