Attacking the media: Gingrich not the first

The Washington Post

Newt Gingrich has always had an instinct for the jugular. One reason his once-comatose campaign is enjoying something of a resurgence of late is the fact that he has gone on the attack — against the media.

Gingrich told me in an interview Friday that he felt everything started to go his way again after the GOP’s August debate in Ames, Iowa, where he accused FOX News’s Chris Wallace of asking “gotcha questions” and playing “Mickey Mouse games.”

In the September debate at the Reagan Library in California, Gingrich did it again, chastising moderator John Harris of Politico: “I’m frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other.”

Now Gingrich says: “Those two things galvanized people across the country, and we began to move back into being seen as people paying attention.”

Gingrich was not the first to learn the effectiveness of that strategy. The most well-known is probably Ronald Reagan’s famous “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green” moment in Nashua.

And after reading my story this weekend, the venerable Jack Germond recalled of another one. I got this e-mail from Jack :

Karen - Your excellent piece on Newt reminds me of a similar story in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary in 1984. Gary Hart was back in the pack, but made a strong showing in debates, particularly the one at Dartmouth. He outclassed the others on substance and, more to the point perhaps, chastised the moderator (a daytime TV personality -- Phil Donahue, I think) who was acting like it was some kind of game show. After the debate [our late Washington Post colleague David] Broder and I were flown back to Boston to do a Today show the next morning, and [Democratic pollster] Pat Caddell hitched a ride on the NBC plane. All the way to Boston, he raved about how Hart had touched every button. Hart’s NH managers -- [former Gov. and now Senator] Jeannie Shaheen and Sue Casey -- were also buoyed. They had been building an organization for months and now they had an attractive product to sell. In any case, with the help of a 16 percent second place in Iowa and a bulllseye hatchet throw that dominated TV coverage for three days beore the primary, Hart came roaring from behind to win New Hampshire. There are differences in the two situations but the paralells are striking

When I mentioned that recollection to Gingrich, he had another memory from that race. While debates may have helped make Hart a contender, one in particular was his undoing.

Gingrich recalls the moment vividly. Then a back-bench congressman from Georgia, he was acting as a media commentator for a local Atlanta station at a later debate at that city’s Fox Theater.

As Hart was expounding on his plans for the economy, former Vice President Walter Mondale suddenly interrupted him: “You know, when I hear your ideas, I’m reminded of that ad: “Where’s the beef?” (For those of you too young to remember, it was a famous line from a popular hamburger-chain commercial at the time.)

“It was the Pawlenty moment,” Gingrich said, referring to the early debate where former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty whiffed an opportunity to criticize the Massachusetts health care law.

“If Hart had had an answer,” Gingrich added, “he would have been the nominee.”

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