At Thursday's Republican presidential debate in Florida, the audience and some of the contestants grew visibly weary with moderator Wolf Blitzer's continued efforts to get the candidates to address each other's dirty laundry.
After the CNNer attempted this with Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House responded, "This is a nonsense question" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was the first to request Blitzer to stick with the issues:
RICK SANTORUM: The bigger issue here is, these two gentlemen, who are out distracting from the most important issues we have been playing petty personal politics, can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies -- and that's not the worst thing in the world -- and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard and he's going out and working hard? And you guys should let that alone and focus on the issues.
It was obvious to all in attendance and watching on television that "you guys" meant the media. Blitzer clearly didn't get the message, and after a commercial break continued digging for dirt:
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: We're continuing the debate here in Jacksonville, Florida.
Let's get to the issue of transparency, because voters out there, they want to know as much about you four gentlemen as possible before they vote.
Tax returns -- let me bring this to Speaker Gingrich.
Earlier this week, you said Governor Romney, after he released his taxes, you said that you were satisfied with the level of transparency of his personal finances when it comes to this. And I just want to reiterate and ask you, are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances?
NEWT GINGRICH: Wolf, you and I have a great relationship, it goes back a long way. I'm with him. This is a nonsense question.
GINGRICH: Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?
BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, "He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts." I didn't say that. You did.
GINGRICH: I did. And I'm perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.
BLITZER: But if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.
GINGRICH: I simply suggested --
GINGRICH: [Turning to Santorum] You want to try again?
Unfortunately, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney didn't go along with Gingrich and Santorum leading to more mudslinging, but the point was made.
In every election cycle, Americans tell pollsters how much they hate negative campaigning. When this happens, the media typically agree as they bemoan all the ugly advertisements and incivility.
Yet at virtually all of these debates, the goal by the moderator(s) has been to stir up arguments between the candidates by bringing up the mud they're slinging at each other.
If the press really want to do the bidding of the people so desperately interested in serious discussions about the pressing issues facing the nation, they should stick to what's concerning the electorate rather than the salacious.
This mightn't be good for ratings, but it would be far better for the future of the country.
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