Bill Clinton has done hundreds of TV interviews since leaving office in 2001, and journalists have very rarely found it appropriate to revisit his sex scandals. But for CNN, Republicans merit an entirely different standard of coverage.
On Monday's Early Start, co-host Ashleigh Banfield insisted to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that "I got to" bring up his 2007 prostitution scandal, so she could ask how Newt Gingrich could "manage the baggage" of his personal sex life. Vitter fired back that "the good news is, in America, it's not up to CNN" how the GOP presidential nominee is chosen. [Video below the break. Click here for audio.]
Vitter's response started a testy exchange between him and Banfield. She defended her question and tried again to elicit an answer, but he tersely refused.
He told her that she was "outdoing" CNN's John King, who led off CNN's South Carolina GOP Debate with a question to Gingrich about salacious accusations from his ex-wife.
"You're personally, in my opinion, outdoing out King, but go for it – John King – but go for it," the senator rebuked Banfield. At the end of the interview, she icily thanked him for the comparison "because I think he [King] is pretty great."
"Great. Go for it," Vitter shot back.
To read more, and for a full transcript, click here.
A brief transcript of the segment, which aired on January 30 at 6:35 a.m. EST, is as follows:
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD: So, and it's awkward for me to even ask it but I got to, and I think you know where I'm going with this. Newt Gingrich --
Sen. DAVID VITTER (R-La.): I don't, but go ahead.
BANFIELD: Okay. So, here I go. Newt Gingrich has been suffering some heat over his cheating on his first wife, cheating on his second wife with his third wife. And you have also suffered heat in your political career as well, back in 2007 admitting to having made some calls to an alleged prostitution operation.
You did very well when you ran for re-election in 2010. In fact, if I look at the numbers, I think you trounced your opponent by, what, 19 points or something like that? You seemed to manage that baggage very well. I want you to weigh in on Newt Gingrich's baggage and handling that baggage, and what it is like for a politician who has some serious baggage trying to be elected.
VITTER: Ashleigh, the good news is, in America, it's not up to CNN. It's up to the American people and it's up to voters.
BANFIELD: Well, I appreciate that you say it's not up to CNN. But I like to say we're the messenger here and one of the messages that you gave was this quotation about your incident and you said, "This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible."
And that's why I bring it to you, not so that CNN can dictate how voters will vote, but so that we can take your message, including that one, which was kind of a embarrassing thing to admit to as Newt Gingrich has had to admit to some very embarrassing things and allow the voters to take those messages.
VITTER: Right, Ashleigh. Sure. Okay. You're personally, in my opinion, outdoing out King, but go for it – John King – but go for it.
BANFIELD: I'm not trying to outdo anyone, sir. I am trying to hold you accountable for the things you did. And I also said that you beat your opponent by 19 points, which is a pretty nice thing to say. What I'm asking you is -- can you compare the difficulties that you struggled with to what Newt Gingrich is struggling with?
VITTER: No, I can't.
BANFIELD: And that's that?