The response to the dressing down Newt Gingrich handed CNN moderator John King for his questions about the onetime House speaker’s serial marrying at a recent presidential debate in South Carolina revealed, if nothing else, the tenuous arrangement between a people and its press.
Gingrich’s answer, which the audience loudly approved of, harkened back to his response when asked in 1995 whether he preferred boxers or briefs and was a good one for the Speaker, who has been pulling his blame-the media schtick forever; the question of his fidelity has sunk like a rock in still water.
But King’s question was a softball; he merely asked Gingrich if he wanted to respond to an allegation from just the day before by his second wife that he sought her sanction for a relationship he was already enjoying with his third wife before she had become his third wife.
Gingrich called the news media “destructive, vicious” and “negative,” as good a deflect by a politician as any I’ve heard at turning one’s own bad behavior into a political asset. You’d have thought he was talking about Checkers.
King’s opening the debate with a question about the day’s elephant in the room, was no example of the media’s blind hatred for Gingrich. It was a fair and obvious question, but not as revealing as Gingrich’s answer in highlighting concerns about his character, evidence of which was on full display following his loss to Mitt Romney in Nevada the other night when he blamed Romney for his loss, for his own decision to go negative, for everything that has failed to break Gingrich’s way.
To see the press at its less than best, however, one should consider its reporting of the recent disclosure that Susan Komen for the Cure foundation would discontinue funding to Planned Parenthood.
As pointed out recently by both New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and also by conservative pundit Kathleen Parker, the media’s coverage of Komen’s decision carried the built-in assumption that readers would agree that Komen erred in cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, when, in fact, that half of all U.S. citizens who oppose abortions might see it as a good decision on Komen’s part to distance itself from such a politically contentious organization.
When it comes to the issue of abortion, writes Douthat, the media’s “prejudices are often absolute, its biases blatant and its blinders impenetrable.” Indeed, he notes, the media turned the topic on its head, effectively accusing Komen of politicizing the issue of women’s health, even as it failed to note the pre-existent political stripes of Planned Parenthood that might have led to the foundation’s conclusion to cut funds in the first place.
For asking the questions, half-formed or otherwise, on the minds of readers and viewers, the media must sometimes take its lumps. It’s all part of the job, even if, in asking, it appears to slant this way or that.
But telling the story betraying no slant at all — that’s part of the job too. The biggest part.
—Robert Snyder is managing editor of the Spirit of Jefferson.