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updated: 1/26/2012 1:46 PM

Talk with the Editor: Was the Gingrich open-marriage question fair?

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  • Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reacts to a question at the start of the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. Gingrich is denying that he ever asked his ex-wife for an open marriage and angrily denounced CNN's John King, moderator of Thursday night's Republican debate for raising the issue. Gingrich blasted what he called the "destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media."

    Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reacts to a question at the start of the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. Gingrich is denying that he ever asked his ex-wife for an open marriage and angrily denounced CNN's John King, moderator of Thursday night's Republican debate for raising the issue. Gingrich blasted what he called the "destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media."
    Associated Press

 
 

Here's what I think:

1. I would not have aired the ABC News interview with Newt Gingrich's second wife on the eve of the South Carolina primary. Not that it was an easy call. It is an inflammatory report to be sure. By the same token, if ABC wasn't going to air it then, when would have been a good time? We're in a political season when the primaries roll one after another after another so there was no "good time" to air it. The decision was a sticky wicket. I've been there. We've had to make similar decisions with projects on the eve of elections. Either way, the news organization loses the perception battle. Either you're withholding information that's valuable for the electorate to consider or you're influencing the election with an inflammatory 11th-hour report. A very tough call, and one that news organizations agonize over. I'm sure ABC News did. In this case, I would have delayed broadcast, probably until the beginning of a primary week rather than the end of one, simply because the news wasn't really new. Everyone knows Gingrich cheated on his wives. This interview didn't add such new information that it had to be rushed onto the air.

2. John King, who is a solid and fair reporter, showed poor judgment in opening last week's CNN presidential debate with the "open marriage" question. I think the question is legitimate. The character of our candidates is an important and valid issue, and particularly in Gingrich's case, it's one of the questions people have about his candidacy. But in opening with it, King in essence gave the impression that he was more interested in getting into sordid laundry than, say, the economy, energy independence or Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.

3. Once he was challenged, King should have stood his ground. Not confrontationally (he's not a confrontational reporter). But he should have made the case for why it was a legitimate question. In failing to do so, he came across as the misbehaving child who deserved the whipping Gingrich gave him.

4. It's difficult to say whether Gingrich believes what he said or whether he was a shrewd politican manipulating the situation to his own benefit, but either way, his assault on "much of the news media" does not hold up to even simple scrutiny. First, Republicans are not the only ones whose marital infidelities are exposed; consider, for examples, John Edwards, Gary Hart, Eliot Spitzer, among others. Second, the supposed acrimony of the press pales -- deeply pales -- in comparison to the ugly obsessions and mischaracterization of superpac and direct mail advertising, all produced by political agents, to say nothing of what gets said and frequently misrepresented on the campaign trails by the candidates themselves.

5. The news media is far from perfect. But I maintain, those of us who strive to be objective, are not the conspirators that some would believe and that some vested-interest critics would like people to believe.

There. That's what I think.

How about you?

(We encourage you to talk with the editor by clicking on the Comments widget and providing your response to today's column. We want a provocative discussion but one that also abides by general rules of civility ... Please also consider friending John on Facebook by searching John Lampinen Daily Herald and following him on Twitter @DHJohnLampinen)

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