In November, I advanced one of CNN's debates with a piece hoping aloud that Wolf Blitzer would not let Newt Gingrich bully him as the the former Speaker of the House had been doing to other debate moderators.
Here's a bit of what I wrote:
And so it is that I will come to TV tonight hoping to see one of the few anchors who has the stature and the credibility to call out Gingrich take the candidate of bluster on for his phony game of pounding the press by telling moderators how "stupid" (one of his favorite words) or "wrong" (another favorite word) their questions are.
Blitzer is a journalist who prizes civility and even-handedness in his handling of interviews, which is another reason he might be one of the few who can challenge Gingrich to answer the questions asked of him instead of trying to use the stage to direct a dishonest attack on the press.
Gingrich played nice that night, but he was only saving his mock-outrage game for a bigger stage like the one he had Thursday in South Carolina, which he used to go after ABC News, CNN and moderator John King hammer and tongs.
I walked away from the TV last night outraged, so outraged I knew I shouldn't write until I was able to think more disppasionately about what I saw.
After a night of reflection, I say this with absolute clarity and conviction: John King and CNN did absolutely nothing Thursday night that they have to apologize for. In my opinion, King did do one thing wrong. I'll get to that in a minute.
And for that matter, neither did Brian Ross and ABC do anything that they have to apologize for in interviewing Gingrich's second wife -- who says her then-husband asked her for an "open marriage" so that he could continue his adulterous affair with the woman who is now his third wife. I don't care if it is two days before the vote in South Caroloina. ABC News gave Gingrich plenty of time to respond -- and he chose to do it in the manner of an onstage attack on the press Thursday night.
Not only didn't CNN, King, ABC and Ross do anything that warrants an apology, they were absolutely doing the job of journalism in vetting a presidential candidate and giving her/him a chance to respond to their findings.
Those like Rush Limbaugh who say Gingrich's ex-wife (the second ex-wife) and her allegations "were out there" and should not have been re-visited now with a primary vote looming are dead wrong. It is an excellent time to re-visit them exactly because there is a vote looming.
The job of the press is to make sure voters know as much as possible about a candidate when they go to the polls, and no one should assume anything as to what voters know or don't know. And, by the way, the news organization that gets the interview gets to air it when it wants as long as there is time to for all parties to respond -- who cares if it is a Tuesday or a Thursday night?
Personally, I did not know half the details Gingrich's ex-wife (his second ex-wife) alleged about how horribly he treated her after her diagnosis of MS. And I thought I knew pretty much about this poster boy for self-absorption, over-indulgence and grandious delusions.
CNN and ABC News didn't invent the enmity Gingrich's ex-wife (his second ex-wife) has for him, the former Speaker of the House who spent months attacking President Bill Clinton at the expense of the work of Congress while he himself carried on an adulterous affair, did that all by himself.
And now, Gingrich wants to be the one to lecture the press and the nation on what's "despicable" and what's not -- as he did at the very start of last night's debate. He wants to say how "troubled" he is that "CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate."
The "trash" he refers to is the allegation made by his ex-wife (the second ex-wife) that he wanted an "open marriage" so that he could continue his adultery with the staffer who is his current wife. Her words speak directly to issues of Gingrich hypocrisy and character.
And all King did was give Gingrich a chance to respond to what was all over the media Thursday as portions of the ABC News interview scheduled to air at 11:30 Thursday night on "Nightline" were gobbled up by news organizations all day. (There's a piece for another day here as to the role Matt Drudge played in making an interview that proved to be so underwhelming such an eagerly-anticipated and much-discussed media event.)
I could go on for week about the craziness of Gingrich setting himself up as an arbiter of media morality, but news cycles being what they are, here's the part I need to hit: The Bizarro Planet reaction in some places to what took place last night, particularly some analysts acting like Gingrich did something good and King did something bad.
I get the conservatives' attacks on King, CNN, ABC News and Ross. Those attacks are laced with ideological madness that goes back to Joe McCarthy and runs straight through the Dan Rather-Richard Nixon confrontation up to the present and Fox News. (Which by the way, is another institution that owned a piece of Gingrich until its chairman had to literally kick Gingrich off the payroll last year.)
But the New Republic, for example, has an online piece today questioning King for opening the debate in the manner that the CNN newsman did. (After some of its problems, you might think TNR would be one of the last publications on earth to enter a discussion of media behavior.)
King's argument that he trained as an Associated Press reporter and was socialized to the belief that the "lede [of a story] is the lede," is a good one. And it goes hand in glove with "the elephant in the room" argument -- that Gingrich's ex-wife was the topic on everyone's mind Thursday, so let's deal with it right off the bat, get it out of the way and move into the full debate and the big issues that affect everyone like THE ECONOMY.
I don't think there is an honest newswoman or newsman in America who can argue with either of those defenses.