After being bruised by tough questions in the primary debates, Newt Gingrich pouted yesterday that if nominated, he would not participate in any reporter-moderated presidential debates with Barack Obama.
“We should be able to talk to the American people without reporters playing gotcha, being clever or having 60-second rules like, ‘What would you do about Nigeria in 60 seconds?,’” the Georgia doughboy said, complaining that reporters serve as a “second Obama person” in debates.
Gingrich went on to propose a fall schedule of seven three-hour, Lincoln-Douglas style debates with Obama, ignoring the fact that three presidential campaign debates and one “town hall” meeting have already been set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. At the rate Gingrich is going, he will soon demand the right to choose the color of the debate set’s curtains, limit the number of close-up shots used on TV and stipulate that the bowls of candy in the debate green rooms contain no brown M&Ms.
Perhaps Gingrich really regards presidential campaign debates as execution by journalists. If so, he’s well within his rights to petition for something different in the fall. After all, nobody ever elected the press to police presidential campaign debates in perpetuity. Perhaps a historian, a retired judge or even John Edwards could perform better interrogations of the candidates than did Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw and Bob Schieffer in 2008.
But I doubt that Gingrich really blames journalists for the shortcomings of the debates, which anthropologist James R. McLeod calls elements of the lengthy “ritual sociodrama” that is a presidential campaign. More than any politician since Richard Nixon, Gingrich needs the press to demonize so he can change the subject whenever asked a tough question, as Juan Williams of Fox News and John King of CNN recently dared. If historians or retired judges were asking the questions, no matter how benign, I’m sure they’d earn a powerful Gingriching, too.