10 reasons Newt Gingrich is right about John King’s first question

Let me begin by expressing my biases: Newt Gingrich would make a bad president. And I don’t want him anywhere near my three daughters, especially if his current wife takes ill.

That said, I am on his side in his attack on the moderator of Thursday night’s Republican debate in South Carolina. In case you missed the first question from CNN’s John King, it concerned accusations from Newt’s second wife that the former Speaker of the House is morally unfit to be president.

Her evidence, released in an interview with Brian Ross of ABC News, is that her ex cheated on her, while she was ill, with his current wife Callista, and sought what she described as an “open marriage.”

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich responded to the debate’s first question by focusing on the “destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media.” (David Goldman/AP)

The Gingrich response, which brought the partisan crowd to its feet, was that it was despicable to begin a Presidential debate with a personal question about the sexual and marital sins of the past.

Here are my 10 reasons for standing with Newt. King’s was a bad opening question because it lacked relevance to larger issues of governing, and reinforced for the audience the bias and sensationalism of the press.

1.  Political power is a seductive business. There is plenty of evidence — from all political parties — that hotshot politicians routinely cheat on their spouses. It’s not important news.

2. The fact that men (or women) cheat on their wives does not mean they can’t lead us to peace and prosperity.

3. We all know that cheaters are likely to be hypocrites, preaching the sanctity of marriage, while playing the beast with two backs on the side. Still not important news.

4. Political leaders not known for cheating on their wives (take Nixon or Carter) do not necessarily become great presidents.

5.  King’s question could easily have been raised by him, or other candidates, later in the debate, where it would have seemed more proportional as an issue or concern. King says he was just trying to put the news in his lead, which only proves that he doesn’t know the difference between a report and a debate.

6.  The primary critiques against “the press” in America: a) they lean to the left; and b) they’ll do most anything sensational for eyeballs and profits. King’s question could serve as exhibit A.

7.  King played from the poorer angels of his character by pre-empting questions from competitors and candidates on why he was “soft on Gingrich.” Reporters of any gender must be macho and ask the “tough” questions.

8. King’s performance raises the question as to whether journalists are the most suitable interrogators for presidential debates. Sure, networks want to give visibility to their high-priced talent, but I see no evidence that news anchors do a better job than, say, practical scholars or certain civic leaders. How about an occasional shrink or FBI agent?

9.  The “open marriage” question turns the debate, from the opening bell, into what amounts to reality television, where the emphasis is not on public enlightenment, but on conflict, passion, raised voices, accusations. Where is The Situation when we need him?

10.  The cringe factor. When I heard the opening question, I just cringe, not for the candidates or any of the other players in these endless debates. But I do care about the influence and credibility of responsible journalists, and I care that the public is well informed on issues that matter.

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  • http://twitter.com/compternerd kevin w

    Regardless of whether we agree or disagree, I don’t think I’m stupider for having read this. As a writer, I was surprised and puzzled when John King asked the first question. In retrospect, King may be a fan 
    of Gingrich as Poynter mentions in his comment, setting Newt up to look like the humble hero. The 
    only other (wimpy) explanation is that King was trying to catch Newt off guard. Newt is too much of a chameleon and has research staff to be caught off guard by a question he had to expect. 

  • Anonymous

    Terry, all due respect, but calling Clinton out on perjury is like calling Barry Bonds out on perjury.  That’s just the vehicle to reprimand them for their bad behavior.  Newt essentially lied to the public by putting himself out there in that position.  And now that HE wants to be the president, it’s a worthwhile subject to discuss.  That’s all I’m saying.

  • Roy Peter Clark

    Thank you for these arguments, folks.  Since I wrote this essay — in the heat of my frustration, I may add — there is growing evidence that Gingrich’s “fire in the belly” response to King’s question is lifting him up in the South Carolina polls.  I don’t think the reporter should have such an effect in mind, except that Gingrich has been the attack dog against the messenger during the debates, and, rather than ask a “hard ball question,” King grooved one for Newt, giving Newt an opportunity to play the victim and accuse the press of being the “despicable” force. 

  • Anonymous

    Roy, you actually take seriously what it is to be a reporter. I wish CNN and MSNBC and the drive-by media had more real reporters instead of well-groomed suits with little between their ears.

    mark1178 wrote “This guy, as the third-most powerful person in the country, was calling for the impeachment of the president for doing the exact same thing as he was doing at that very time.”

    As I recall, Bill Clinton perjured himself before a grand jury in a civil suit brought by Paula Jones for sexual harassment. Perjury happens to be a felony. Whether Clinton should have been impeached was a political question, but the legal basis was perjury, not adultery.
    What is interesting is how the news media need the cooperation of the person they are trying to destroy. King asked Gingrich if he would like to respond to the open marriage charge by his ex-wife. I thought the best answer would have been “no” and then Gingrich should have remained silent.  John King would have never asked the question to Bill Clinton, who obviously has an “open marriage” with Hilary.

  • Anonymous

    This guy, as the third-most powerful person in the country, was calling for the impeachment of the president for doing the exact same thing as he was doing at that very time.  It’s worth discussing, and if personal “attacks” aren’t fair game, then why was he so adamant about it in 1998 when he was attacking Clinton for his behavior? 

    That said, if what ex #2 said it true, how Callista, his former mistress, can be the first lady (traditionally a title full of grace and respect, and an honorable example for young people and women in America) is a valid issue as well. 

    It shouldn’t be THE reason why people do or don’t vote for him, but for him to attack the media or King for asking a question about what was the biggest news story in the country that day shows he is a politician, and not a leader.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Clark, your article does not substantiate your first paragraph: “Let me begin by expressing my biases: Newt Gingrich would make a bad president. And I don’t want him anywhere near my three daughters, especially if his current wife takes ill.” You made a point that philandering presidents did not make bad presidents, and faithful presidents did not make better presidents. Second you don’t say why you would not let Newt near your “three daughters” why is that? You don’t show reasons for your introductory premise or did I miss something?

  • Anonymous

    I think that King’s problem wasn’t the question but the framing. Gingrich has a longer history than most political candidates of what Romney’s people call erratic behavior. If the latest story were placed in that context — the context of trust — King could have asked his question. Here’s my take, posted yesterday on my blog: http://jerrylanson.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/john-kings-mistake-know-why-youre-asking-the-question/

  • Anonymous

    He was impeached for perjury.

  • http://twitter.com/ByzantineRoads Lou Yuhasz

    Just recently we had a sitting president impeached because he was having an affair in the Oval Office. The Speaker of the House at the time made the observation that poor personal judgement and poor moral judgment cast doubts on all decisions made by this president.  However, the Speaker at the time also was having affairs at the time.

    Now Newt wants it both ways- He wants to say that this is neither a public matter, nor does it speak to his decision making process. 

  • Anonymous

    Agree with everything except your biases.

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  • Travis Bassett

    This shouldn’t have been King’s lead question, because of all the consciousness raising reasons you outline.

    I do think it needed to be addressed, since so much of the Republican base identifies itself as the family values faction.  For those folks the swinger question is deeply relevant, along with the cheating allegations, even though in a sublime world they wouldn’t matter.

  • Anonymous

    How cynical. Bad behavior isn’t bad because everyone does it? 

    In an ideal world, Gingrich’s personal life, or any other politician’s, shouldn’t be an issue when running for office however running as a candidate for the party that purports to be the “Family Values party” makes it a de facto issue for every Republican candidate for office. King’s question was completely appropriate even though I probably wouldn’t have led with it. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/stuart.investigates stuart watson

    So if public officials give preferential treatment to their bedmates, it’s not “important news” to report the relationship?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6QROYGLG7MON4PSXLZWYO7OR3A Bruce Jenkins

    Add President Zero to #4.

  • http://twitter.com/NYCHillbilly Manhattan Hillbilly

    Couldn’t disagree with you more. Why would a political reporter not a) open with discussing the biggest story of the previous new cycle, b) hold a candidate accountable for statements that demonstrate his hypocrisy (family values), c) a question that explores a candidate’s willingness to deceive those closest to him, when he’s potentially deceiving those whose votes he seeks. Put simply, it’s a newsworthy question to ask: “You lied to God and two of your wives, so why should WE trust you?” 

    Your arguments that the question shouldn’t have been asked or opened with because great presidents have committed adultery and some bad presidents haven’t is the most inane argument I’ve ever seen on the Poynter site. Your argument that it shouldn’t have been asked because the partisan audience at the event would perceive it as “liberal bias” shows why journalists are currently held in such disrepute.

    In short Roy, your argument is stupid, and we’re all stupider for having read it.