A few days before the Republican primary began, Newt Gingrich waged proverbial war on the media.
It all started when CNN’s staff allowed moderator John King to start the last Republican debate with a question about Gingrich’s ex-wife. He had previously admitted to having an affair, but she claimed that he also asked her to commit to an “open” marriage.
His response roused the crowd:
“To take an ex-wife and make it a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”
More despicable than cheating on your wife? I think not.
I agree with Gingrich that the media is perhaps too obsessed with the personal lives of politicians. With the American propensity for scandal partnered with 24-hour news coverage, it seems like the real issues have been totally clouded by these jaw-dropping personal stories.
But rather than attacking the media for asking about his past, I think Gingrich needs to realize that he cannot change what people want to hear about. The more he dips and dodges questions about his ex-wife, the more I think he’s hiding something.
It’s called an ad hominem argument; when someone makes a claim, you attack that person’s character or lack of credibility instead of addressing the claim itself. It would be like someone saying, “Jared, this column sucks because you are a biased Democrat,” and me responding, “What do you know? You don’t write for a newspaper.”
This kind of argument should have little to no place in politics. A politician should certainly be eloquent enough to answer dumb questions from dumber people and swift enough to justify his or her past without flinching.
Take Bill Clinton, perhaps one of the best ever at addressing his past personal shames. From the Monica Lewinsky scandal, to the several women who claimed to have had relationships with him while he was campaigning, he never questioned why people were so concerned about his personal life. Instead, he calmly answered the question — for better or worse.
You see: American democracy will reach its highest potential only if all citizens stay informed and participate. But just a little more than half of the American electorate actually votes … and not all of them are well informed in the first place.
So, people often vote on character, which is why so many latch onto scandalous stories that are easy to understand. This is why the media focuses on these things, and it is the reason a political candidate’s moral reputation is so important.
The media caters to what the people want, and they clearly want to know why perhaps the most conservative Republican candidate was a cheating husband.
David Porter, political science professor, said concern for personal lives of politicians is “unavoidable” when the information is so easy to access.
“With the advent of the Internet, anyone in any type of public role has this information readily available,” he said. “If it’s readily available, it’s going to be used by their opponents and by the media.”
We simply need to view this obsession with the personal lives of political candidates as an inevitable outcome of evolving technology. People will always sink their teeth into these scandals, so we shouldn’t blame the media for glorifying it.
I believe if you are truly interested in the issues — the important policy changes that will affect us forever — you will go beyond the shallow television scandal coverage to find it anyway.
So when Gingrich speaks of the “destructive, viscous, negative nature” of the media, he should realize it wouldn’t be so destructive if it weren’t for the blemishes left in the wake of his personal life.