Newt Beats CNN: WashPost Lines Up Journalists to Slam John King's Opening Gotcha Question

It's not often that Newt Gingrich looks like a winner in The Washington Post. But on Saturday, Post media reporter Paul Farhi lined up a set of liberal media veterans and journalism professors to attack CNN reporter John King for walking into a Gingrich buzzsaw by opening the debate with his second wife's "open marriage" assertion at Thursday night's CNN debate.

“Gingrich was clearly waiting for the question, clearly was prepared to pounce,” said W. Joseph Campbell, a communications professor and media historian at American University. “King seemed taken off guard. He looked a little sickened. And he did himself no favors by lamely pointing out that it wasn’t CNN but another network that dug out the Gingrich-infidelity story. That allowed Gingrich to pounce again.”

Next, Farhi turned to old CBS News hand Terence Smith, the Carter-loving, Reagan-hating reporter:

King would have been on safer ground if one of the other candidates had brought up the issue, which was the talk of the campaign all day Thursday, said Terence Smith, a  veteran journalist who was the longtime media correspondent for PBS’s “NewsHour.”

“That would have made it far easier for him to bring it up,” Smith said. “There’s no guarantee that anyone would have mentioned it, but it was likely,” given how prominent the story had been all day.

As it was, King’s handling of the issue seemed “maladroit,” said Richard Wald, a former president of NBC who is now a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. “It was not the most sensible way to go about it.”

Dick Wald liked King's question to Mitt Romney on releasing his tax returns, and how bringing up his father's decision to release 12 years of his tax returns made it less likely Romney would pounce at the media in his response. King seems to get a low grade in part because he made it easy for  the Republican to punch back:

By the same token, King could have framed the infidelity question better, perhaps by noting that Gingrich’s own attacks on President Bill Clinton’s claim to moral authority and fitness for office in the 1990s amid revelations of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Wald said. “The issue certainly is relevant” to socially conservative voters in South Carolina, Wald said, “but this wasn’t set up right. It was like a kid blurting something out.

King may have missed another chance to follow up on Gingrich’s opening comments during the debate, Campbell said. Gingrich “was way over the top in claiming that negative media reporting ‘makes it harder to govern this country,’ ” he said. “The American political scene has long been a rough-and-tumble place. . . . You deal with it. It’s not as if negative press is anything new.”

This last quote is hilarious. Earth to W. J. Campbell: You know wno deserves a negative press? The negative press. Gingrich is saying something here that most elected Republicans never have the audacity to say. Does Campbell think it's easy to cut spending when you have the constant threat of journalists lurching to put a spending cut victim on the air?  Does he believe the media don't discourage candidates from running because of the vicious personal vetting they can administer, something they don't face?  Does he believe the press should never look in the mirror and wonder if they've made it harder to govern?

The old hands like the late David Broder certainly knew that one big reason that trust in government has withered away is a preening press that always looks down their snobby nose at how grubby the business of governing is -- while they're slamming people with anonymous sources and making slimy backroom deals to gain scoops.

Republican voters gave Newt's media-insulting responses "thunderous applause" in part because they resent the overweening power the media has in the political process. They are not moderators. They aspire to be more powerful than the voters. They want their "conventional wisdom" to harden and their "scoops" to move the polls. They want to intimidate candidates to quit the race before most voters get a chance to have a say. They're like a roving smoke-filled room the more they pressure
candidates to quit.

Republican voters resent the obnoxious and morally preening tone of many questions, like the ones from Juan Williams on Monday. No one asks them to release their tax returns. No one asks them about their marital behavior. No one asks them why they flip-flop for situational reasons,
like their position on adultery now vs. the Clinton years.

Most importantly, Republican voters resent that reporters are overwhelmingly Democrats, and go much softer in their questioning of Democrats in primary debates. Then there's the ideological tilt of questions. Republicans are questioned overwhelmingly from the left. Democrats are ALSO questioned primarily from the left. Republican voters want Republican candidates to be asked questions that a Republican wants answered, not partisan cheap shots like we've seen this week.

[Image from dailyworldwidenews.com]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis