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Journalists and pundits say that Monday’s debate on NBC was tame in part because moderator Brian Williams told the audience to stay quiet. ”The crowd silence altered the chemistry in the room,” wrote Politico’s Maggie Haberman. It struck The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza as “vaguely unnerving.” Time’s James Poniewozik compared the atmosphere to previous debates:
Whether it was booing a gay soldier or cheering the death penalty or going hog-wild over Newt Gingrich’s lambasting of CNN’s John King, the crowd functioned like the live studio audience in an old-fashioned sitcom, not just cuing the home audience with their reactions but providing the candidates with a real-time applause-o-meter and a sense of how their arguments were playing.
So Gingrich, who has had some success attacking the media lately, told Fox News on Tuesday morning that he won’t participate in any debates in which the audience can’t express themselves. “The media doesn’t control free speech,” he said. “People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to.” That apparently won’t be an issue at CNN’s debate on Thursday. A CNN spokesperson tells The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone that people can applaud, but they can’t shout or boo. || Related: Audiences at GOP debates getting nearly as much media attention as politicians (Poynter) | Stories focusing on Gingrich doubled from the week of Jan. 9 to the week of Jan 16 (Project for Excellence in Journalism)