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.”
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.
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.