Well Newt Gingrich definitely had the last laugh! And I love this picture at his victory rally last night. He looks like he was just caught by his mom with his hand in the cookie jar! Naughty Newt. What are you hiding in your pocket?
The best headline I read came from Slate: “Romney Newtered”. Bam! The punsters must love a name like Newt with its endless possibilities.
The other day I blogged about how Newt spanked John King at the Thursday debate. The retaliation came when King led the debate by asking about the allegation that Newt had asked his second wife (the one he was cheating on and which he later divorced after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis) for an open marriage. MattK replied by expressing a certain degree of sympathy for Newt:
The media deserves the criticism. It’s their fault, and the fault of a public so hungry for, and influenced by, such details, that they put themselves in a position where a person like Gingrich can scold them so effectively.
Is Matt right? It seems to me the answer is yes and no.
Remember back to earlier scandals like the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinski scandal or the Clarence Thomas / Anita Hill scandal (the first a scandal for the “Left” and the second a scandal for the “Right”). In both of these cases there were important issues to consider. Did Clinton and Thomas use their office in an inappropriate way and did they lie about it? Those are serious issues that go to personal character and the public trust. And the public deserved to know about it. I don’t think that many of us would want to go back to the days of John F. Kennedy when the ruling powers had a so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” with the media that the latter would have reasonable access to the administration and in turn they would not report on Kennedy’s endless philandering. You might think that the public didn’t need to know if Kennedy was having an affair with Marilyn Monroe. But the public surely should have been informed of his affair with Judith Exner, a woman who was also having affairs with Mafia bosses. Kennedy was a completely amoral individual who, due to the accidents of history, now has countless public schools in his name.
However, MattK is certainly correct to decry the public’s tendency to fixate on the most salacious details of a scandal. Remember the obsession with Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress and Clarence Thomas’s alleged reference to pubic hair on his Coke? The fact is that the general public almost inevitably is drawn in by the salacious details in these kinds of scandals. And the perennial question for the media is the extent to which it should cater to those lowbrow fixations, particularly when that media is market-driven. If an extended discussion on the stained dress, or the defiled Coke or the indecent proposal will fixate viewers and readers it is almost inevitable that disproportionate attention will be given to these details.
In other words the downside to access to information is access to too much marginally important information. But if the only alternative is the benighted days when the Secret Service was shuttling the President off to his latest liaison then it may be a price worth paying.