The CNN-sponsored Republican presidential debate in South Carolina started off with some fireworks when moderator John King asked Newt Gingrich about the charges his ex-wife made in an interview with ABC that he wanted an “open marriage.”
That sparked an angry rebuke from Gingrich who probably knew that this would come up at some point in the debate, just maybe not at the beginning.
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. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that
The audience erupted in applause and gave Gingrich a standing ovation while King stood silently, realizing that he may have stepped into a trap of his own making.
Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.
My two daughters wrote to the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am, frankly, astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.
King tried to defend himself by pointing out that it wasn’t reported by CNN originally and was part of the conversation on the campaign.
Gingrich then issued his final salvo at the media .
John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame it on somebody else. You and your staff chose to start the debate with it. Now, let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren’t interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They’re attacking the governor, they’re attacking me and I’m sure they’ll getting around to attacking Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul. I’m tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.
King defended his actions during CNN’s post-debate analysis and told Anderson Cooper that it was one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations since the issue was being discussed on the campaign trail and was on voters’ minds.
But unlike during the debate, when he tried to avoid taking responsibility for the question, he reversed course afterwards:
It was my judgment, my decision, and mine alone. 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. And people at home either agree with that or disagree with that. You make the decision, you ask the question, and this is politics.
King said that he knew Gingrich would be ready with a response and would try to turn the question around, but based on the response Gingrich received, King greatly underestimated Gingrich’s ability to turn the question from a potential disaster to one which gave him momentum right from the start.
This was the second time in a week that Gingrich has sparred with the media during a debate. On Monday he refused to go along with Fox News’ Juan Williams’ provocative questions and turned that situation to his advantage as well.
CNN is scheduled to host three more debates between now and March. They would be wise to not use King again if Gingrich is still in the race if they want to avoid any further embarrassment.