Monumental Flub by CNN’s King
John King foolishly lobbed a grenade at Newt Gingrich Thursday night. Gingrich nimbly tossed it back, where it blew up in King’s face.
We’re not sure whether it was CNN anchor King himself or some network producer who came up with the dumb idea of kicking off the key South Carolina GOP presidential debate by asking former House Speaker Gingrich about his former (second) wife’s accusation that he once asked her if they could have an “open marriage” while in the middle of an affair with another woman (now wife No. 3, Callista).
Granted, there was a certain timeliness about the matter, since Marianne Gingrich had raised the issue only hours earlier in an interview with ABC-TV. And it is a pretty juicy topic of conversation, if it’s true that Gingrich was engaging in his affair with a congressional staffer at the same time he was publicly and hypocritically excoriating President Bill Clinton for doing the same thing.
But if King had just kept his mouth shut about all that and started off with some kind of softball question about economic policy or the war in Afghanistan, chances are another candidate would have zapped Newt with a zinger about the open-marriage thing before the evening was over. Then CNN could have been reporting on the news instead of making it.
Bad Choice of Words
King could hardly have chosen a more explosive atmosphere in which to fire his shot. There he was, standing up in front of a loaded-for-bear Republican audience, apparently heavy on tea party types, in what is often called the most conservative state in the Union.
Gingrich is lightning-quick on his feet, as he entertainingly demonstrated in a Ruth Pauley lecture a few years ago at Sandhills Community College. At Thursday’s Charleston event, the moderator had hardly gotten his immoderate question out before Gingrich jumped on it like the proverbial rooster on a June bug, managing to turn an embarrassing minus into a huge plus.
“To take an ex-wife and make it — two days before the primary — a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine,” Gingrich lectured King, shaking an outraged finger at him.
Members of the crowd, tossed this hefty piece of red meat, went wild — leaping to their feet to cheer the answer and boo the question. They especially relished the way Newt pressed his attack on King as a representative of “the elite liberal media” out to discredit conservatives.
Newt on a Roll
King admirably kept his composure, but it was clear to all that (to mix metaphors) he had thrown a curve to Gingrich, only to watch helplessly as he knocked it all the way over the grandstands and halfway across the parking lot.
It was the dramatic climax of an exceptionally good and perhaps pivotal day for Gingrich — who, in marked contrast with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s cagey stalling, had just released his personal tax returns.
It was quite a bad day for Romney, who appeared rattled and uninspiring during the debate — just after learning that he hadn’t won the Iowa GOP caucuses after all; Rick Santorum had.
But perhaps the Biggest Loser in this particular political reality program was John King in particular — and the ideal of media professionalism and objectivity in general.
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