Newt Gingrich triumphed in the South Carolina primary last week by diverting attention to an offense worse than serial adultery: being a member of the elite liberal media.
Mr. Gingrich’s sharp response to a question about his second wife drew vigorous applause and appeared to push him to a win over Mitt Romney in the primary. Earlier, he had fired off similar bursts at news analyst Juan Williams, assorted other debate moderators and even Fox News.
The latest target, CNN’s John King, asked about Marianne Gingrich, who had just alleged in an interview with ABC that Mr. Gingrich has asked for an open marriage so he could continue a long-running affair with his current wife, Callista.
There wasn’t much news in the allegation. Esquire magazine had written about it in a profile of the ex-Mrs. Gingrich a couple of years ago. But more people watch TV than read, and Gingrich’s sudden burst toward the front of the presidential pack had made old scandals new again. Just about any reporter in the country would have asked the question Mr. King did, in one way or another, at one time or another.
Mr. Gingrich said his ex-wife’s allegation was false – not the claim that he had cheated on her, which he has long acknowledged, but the claim that he had asked her blessing on the arrangement. He may be the first serious presidential candidate in history to publicly accuse a spouse, ex or otherwise, of lying. And he hopes to make Callista the first first lady to have acknowledged carrying on a long-term affair with a man married to someone else.
Conservative commentator Sean Hannity was outraged at all the idle curiosity about Mr. Gingrich’s sordid past. He called it a double standard, a remarkable claim from a commentator who has doubled down on double standards for years.
Where was he when the media were exposing the sexual indiscretions of such liberal icons as Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards and Anthony Weiner? Cheering the attack dogs on, that’s where.
Now, I don’t care a lick about Newt Gingrich’s marital history. So long as he doesn’t move next door, that’s between him, his assorted wives and God. Mr. Gingrich said he has asked God for forgiveness, and that’s fine with me, too. I do hope that if God grants the former House speaker eternal salvation, He will provide some advance notice. Some of us might want to seek alternative long-term accommodations.
Mr. Gingrich also points out by way of reassurance that he is 68 years old, a fact that in itself makes it easier for many men to keep their zippers up, unless they have prostate trouble.
I don’t even want to think about that. But I do care about the way Mr. Gingrich’s assorted infidelities reinforce what critics say are his most salient character traits: that he is impulsive, undisciplined, erratic and ego-driven. Not exactly the qualities you look for in someone who will have the power to launch nuclear weapons.
Mr. Gingrich, though, has hit on a formula that works: attack a corrupt, elite media, and maybe people won’t notice the corrupt, elite politician making the allegation. The approach certainly seems to work with Republicans.
A recent survey by Public Policy Polling asked how much Americans trusted various TV news outlets. The pollsters then subtracted the number of those surveyed who didn’t trust each outlet from the number who did, so if 51 percent of readers trusted the Outpost and 49 percent did not, we would rate a score of 2.
Among Republicans only one outlet had a positive score: Fox News, at a remarkable 56 points (73 percent trust, 17 percent don’t). Among Democrats and independents, every TV news source, from PBS to the networks to Comedy Central, had a positive score - except for Fox News.
It’s pretty clear that Republicans don’t trust much of anything that doesn’t come from an unabashedly conservative news source. As the Montana Cowgirl blog noted, Montana Shrugged, Billings’ version of the Tea Party, recently put out an email alleging that “news agencies” in Billings and across the state are “complicit in the destruction of America.”
“We should cancel our subscriptions,” wrote Tea Party leader Eric Olsen. “We should not purchase from their advertisers. We should do a mass email campaign against all of them.” In his restricted world, unwelcome questions deserve derision; unwelcome facts are safely ignored.
Some 160 years ago, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “If I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I should by no means give her up; but if I had a son who became a journalist, I should regard him as lost.”
In the undiluted hatred for journalists embodied by Newt Gingrich and his supporters, Kierkegaard’s musing has borne full fruit. In 21st century America, illicit sex is no sin; journalism is the greater crime.