Conservative Media Turns its Guns on Newt Gingrich

Newt GingrichForget the so-called liberal media. Right
now Newt Gingrich’s most ardent critics are conservative pundits and
columnists, many of whom have launched aggressive campaigns to discredit
him and trip up his run for the Republican nomination.

Pictured: Republican
presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accompanied
by his wife Callista disembarks from a airplane Friday, Jan. 27, 2012,
in Miami, Fla. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)


This crew has largely
been lukewarm about Gingrich’s chief rival, Mitt Romney, considering him
too moderate. But their open criticism of Gingrich is evidence that for
all their misgivings about the former Massachusetts governor, they see
him as a much stronger contender against President Barack Obama.

To
hear columnists Ann Coulter and Charles Krauthammer and the
conservative media aggregator Matt Drudge tell it, Gingrich is an
inconsistent conservative who didn’t fully support President Ronald
Reagan and whose undisciplined nature mirrored that of President Bill
Clinton, who was Gingrich’s Democratic adversary in the 1990s.

The
conservative media hits against Gingrich have come with force just as
the GOP establishment seems to be rallying around Romney in earnest,
perhaps out of fear that Gingrich may end up winning the nomination.

On
Thursday, Romney’s campaign released a scathing open letter from the
1996 Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole, who served as Senate
Republican leader when Gingrich presided over the House. In the letter,
Dole glowingly endorses Romney and repudiates Gingrich.

“If
Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican
candidates running for county, state, and federal offices,” Dole wrote.
“Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and
that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took
advice. It was his way or the highway.”

Jacob
Heilbrunn, in the conservative-leaning magazine The National Interest,
mused that Gingrich “is essentially bragging that his prime credential
to become president is that he’s willing to debate for hours and bring a
knuckle-duster. This is evidence of his sober judgment? This is
supposed to induce swing voters to back him?”

Conservative
radio titan Rush Limbaugh also weighed in, seemingly to defend Gingrich
from some of the attacks. But, in doing so, he also vividly outlined
many of the critiques against Gingrich from other conservatives.

Conservatives
“are raising questions here about Newt and his mendacity, his
forthrightness – it’s incredible,” Limbaugh marveled on his show
Thursday.

Gingrich stormed to a decisive win
over Romney in the South Carolina primary last week fueled in part by
two well-timed attacks on the news media. Both came during nationally
televised debates, guaranteeing maximum exposure.

In
a CNN debate, Gingrich pushed back at anchor John King when King
questioned him about an interview Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, had
given ABC News. In the interview, Marianne Gingrich suggested her
husband had asked her for an open marriage so he could carry on with a
mistress, Callista Bisek, now his third wife.

“I
think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news
media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent
people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a
presidential debate on a topic like that,” Gingrich said. “I am tired
of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.”

The audience rose in a standing ovation.

Gingrich
also told King that his campaign had given ABC News the names of
friends who would vouch for him but that the network had rejected the
offer. On Wednesday, a Gingrich spokesman acknowledged that the claim
was a mistake and that the campaign had offered only Gingrich’s two
adult daughters to defend him.

Gingrich drew
raves at another Fox News debate before the South Carolina primary when
asked about his oft-stated assertion that Obama is a “food stamp
president.” He angrily denied the statement had anything to do with
race.

Mark Jurkowitz of the Pew Center for
Excellence in Journalism said Gingrich had tapped into longstanding
resentment of many conservatives against mainstream news outlets.

“Running
against the elite media – we’ve seen now for a good 30 years –
certainly has resonance among Republican base voters. In conservative
circles, there’s been the perception that the media are tilted against
them,” Jurkowitz said.

Brent Bozell, founder
of the conservative Media Research Center, announced Thursday that his
group was set to spend $5 million on an advertising campaign to expose
media bias in the 2012 election.

“You have a
left-leaning media that’s out of control. You’ve got to corral them,”
Bozell said in a news briefing, promising radio ads, billboards and an
“unprecedented” effort in social media outlets like Twitter and
Facebook.

Gingrich, for his part, promised in
his South Carolina victory speech to keep up his attacks on the media.
But the hits he took this week while campaigning in Florida came from
other conservatives.

By Thursday, Gingrich was
disparaging the Commission on Presidential Debates, suggesting he might
not participate in debates the commission organizes if he becomes the
Republican nominee.

“We’ve had enough of
newsmen deciding what the topics would be,” Gingrich told supporters in
Jacksonville, many of whom waved “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media”
signs.

Later, Gingrich was asked about the
attacks from conservative pundits, particularly from the American
Spectator’s Emmett Tyrell, who wrote that Gingrich has had “private
encounters with the fair sex that doubtless will come out.”

Gingrich tried to turn such criticisms to his advantage, suggesting they represent “establishment” thinking.

“Tyrrell
has to write whatever Tyrrell wants to write,” Gingrich said. “There’s
the Washington establishment sitting around in a frenzy, having coffee,
lunch and cocktail hour talking about, `How do we stop Gingrich?'”

While
Gingrich relishes bashing the media “elite” in public, he is friendly
with the reporters who cover his campaign and makes himself available
for media questions daily on the campaign trail. He seems to relish the
back-and-forth with journalists, sometimes labeling questions he
dislikes “bizarre.”

At a campaign stop in
South Carolina, he wished a reporter covering his campaign a happy
birthday, and he typically stops by to chat with reporters at dinner
after a day of campaigning.

Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in Jacksonville, Fla., and Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Follow Beth Fouhy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bfouhy

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