CNN's Hanging Curve
Newton Leroy Gingrich gets caught with his pants down, a story which "has now gone viral on the Internet," as CNN's John King put during Thursday's GOP presidential debate (transcript, here).
Working on his second wife, Gingrich was on the sixth or seventh year of his affair with Callista Bisek, conducted in part at his marital home. After he called Marianne Gingrich and asked for a divorce, they went into counseling, and soon afterward Newt asked for an open marriage. His wife was not pleased. He left Marianne and later married Callista.
That didn't come from the recent interview, practically on the eve of the critical South Carolina primary, Marianne gave to ABC News, but from her interview over 17 months earlier with Charles Pierce. Still, there was Newt Gingrich defiantly telling John King last night "My--my two daughters, my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it." (There was no word from Gingrich on whether famed right-wing Republican blogger Matt Drudge should be flogged for obsessing over the matter during the day.)
Not surprising really. After an interview with the second Mrs. Gingrich, The Washington Post's James V. Grimaldi revealed that Newt's two daughters- Kathy Lubbers, as president and chief executive of Gingrich Communications (disbanded when Gingrich decided to run for president last year); and Jackie Gingrich Cushman, who has earned over $56,000 working for her father's campaign committees- were/are on Gingrich's payroll. No one ever accused the former House Speaker of being stupid.
So it is a fantasy of the right that the interviews with Marianne Gingrich recently held with ABC and The Washington Post were a part of a liberal media conspiracy to destroy any chance that Newt or any of the other GOP candidates has to defeat President Obama. (Other than Romney, each has taken care of that himself or herself.) Grimaldi writes Marianne "said she was speaking out because she wanted her story told from her point of view rather than to be depicted as a victim or suffer a whisper campaign by supporters of her former husband's presidential bid. She said she had received so many requests for interviews that 'it was unavoidable' and 'I knew I wouldn't get through this year without' doing an interview."
But of course the real issue isn't the candidate's infidelity or his impulse to have his daughters do his dirty work. Nor was it likely he was lying when he termed the story "false," though given that he didn't say what part of the story was "false," Newt may have avoided actually lying. Republicans, after all, do nuance, even less than they do accuracy.
The disconnect between Newt Gingrich's private behavior and his public advocacy makes clear how so little Gingrich may say as a candidate can be believed. Grimaldi describes the scene two days after Newt asked Wife #2 for a divorce:
Newt Gingrich gave a speech at a conference titled "The Demise of American Culture" sponsored by the Republican Women Leaders Forum in Erie, Pa. Gingrich extolled the virtues of the Founding Fathers and criticized liberal politicians for supporting tax increases, which he said hurt families and children. In the speech, which was televised on C-SPAN, he spoke often of God, families and values.
"When a liberal talks about values, will he or she actually like us to teach American history?" Gingrich told the women's group. "Will they actually like young people to learn that George Washington was an ethical man? A man of standards, a man who earned the right to be father of this country?"
Marianne Gingrich said she was surprised at the timing. "How could he ask me for a divorce on Monday and within 48 hours give a speech on family values and talk about how people treat people?" she said.
But the hypocrisy isn't news to anyone over, say, the age of 40, or anyone who can remember this is the way Republicans used to do business. They would talk about family values publicly and then behave privately as they wish- precisely because their rhetoric gave them license with their base. In a May, 1988 piece Gingrich wrote for the hard-right Human Events, he
attacked Clinton and the Democrats for both the outrageous demonization of Independent Counsel Ken Starr and the House Democrats for refusing to vote for immunity for four potential witnesses in the campaign finance investigation.
The administration's legal fight to shield the testimony of Secret Service agents in the Lewinsky case was the last straw, Gingrich said.
The speaker once again pledged to say during every public appearance that Americans have the right to know the truth about the Lewinsky matter and that the president is not above the law.
But Republicans will be largely excused by their base for their ethical failings because they really didn't want to do it. Their words, it is believed, prove as much.
The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman, though, gets to the heart of the distortion of the democratic process the debates inadvertently have created. Before the debate began, he presciently noted "The audience of 1,500 will comprise members of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference and Tea Party Patriots, as well as state and local officials from South Carolina. Expect them to boo lustily- and to amplify an already loud theme in conservative and Republican circles; that the "mainstream" media is against them." Fineman wrote
The changing role of the "mainstream" media is one explanation for the vox populi tone. Facing conservative suspicion, some networks decided to partner with Tea Party, state party or other grassroots organizations to stage the debates, and part of the co-sponsors' price was to bring along a partisan audience. (Thursday night's CNN debate is co-sponsored by the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.)
In an era of reality TV shows and other in-front-of-a-live-audience programming, a debate with an absent or silent crowd is also a tough sell, too sedate and silent for today's tastes.And even by the standards of the recent past, this season's debate formats and candidate strategies seem to lead more inexorably to snappy sound bites designed to play to the crowd.
Digby responds "well, yeah. CNN has been especially whorish in this regard, not only sponsoring debates with the Tea Party but hiring their spokespeople as "analysts" and catering to them as Real Americans in contrast to everyone else." The pairing of the mainstream media with the GOP will be far more potent than any arrangement they could make with the Democratic Party. Fineman quotes Democratic consultant Mandy Grunwald observing "First, there weren't always audiences. And if there were, they would tend to cheer for their guy or gal, and that was about it. Nothing like this."
And there will be "nothing like this" at Democratic debates. Most of the hootin' and hollerin' by the GOP faithful has been linked to criticism of the media by a (Republican) candidate. Democrats don't do media bashing. (Think, for example, of Congressman- uh, er, ex-Congressman Weiner. And ex-Governor Spitzer. And John Edwards.) And if the media continue its collaboration in debates with the Republican Party (or even both parties), the Democratic Party will be fighting with one arm figuratively tied behind its back.