COLUMBIA, S.C. — All campaign long, Newt Gingrich has been known to knock the media, but at his victory party Saturday night in Columbia, having won the South Carolina primary by twelve points, Gingrich laid on especially thick his now-familiar criticisms of the press. During his twenty-four-minute speech, Gingrich returned frequently to his excoriations of the “elites in New York and Washington”—which he singled out as President Obama and the news media—who “have no understanding” of, and “do not represent,” the public.
Early in his speech, Gingrich noted the way voters had embraced his media-bashing debate performances in the days before the South Carolina primary (see Williams, Juan and King, John) and had reacted “so strongly to the news media” this past week. (Exit polls show that 88 percent of voters said that recent debates were “a factor” in deciding whom to support in the South Carolina primary).
At another moment in his victory speech, Gingrich hinted the press corps suffers from a cowardly political correctness—“this makes some of the elite media nervous”—when he repeated his riff on President Obama as “the most effective food stamp president in American history.” (A riff that last spring prompted NBC News’s David Gregory to ask Gingrich about insinuations of racism.)
Each time Gingrich went after the press, his crowd of supporters went wild—throwing up their arms, and hooting and hollering affirmative “yeahs!” At one point, the man in front of me, wearing suspenders and lots of pro-Newt campaign buttons, spun around, pointed his finger at the rows of cameras in the back half of the room, and yelled, “Remember that!”
The media kept their cameras trained, conveying Gingrich’s words while often being the target of them.
Indeed, much of the story this past week has been that Gingrich’s feisty exchanges with the media have pleased South Carolina Republicans and galvanized support for the candidate.
Here is what one Gingrich-voting South Carolinian on Saturday told The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper:
One of the worst things in this country is the media. They have an agenda. And (Gingrich) is the only one, probably since Reagan, who stands up to them.
Or as Roy Linsey, the Orangeburg County Republican Party chair, told McClatchy of Gingrich’s pushback against Fox News’s Juan Williams, a moderator at Monday night’s debate:
I love it when Newt takes the media to task, and other people like it, too. Juan was worth 2-3 points, I guarantee you that.
Yet, as Politico reported on Friday, there is a performance element to Gingrich’s media-bashing: while Gingrich assails the press during debates and on the stump, he’s actually quite friendly and generous with the reporters following him on the campaign trail—apparently far more so than Mitt Romney.
Likewise, while supporters in attendance at Gingrich’s victory party Saturday night cheered the candidate’s swipes at the media, they were very willing to talk—at least with this particular member of the news media, even after being informed of my New York connections.
When I ran into Roy Lindsey, the 64-year-old farmer and Orangeburg County Republican Party chair quoted by McClatchy (above), it was 7:30 p.m. and he had already been interviewed three times at the victory party (he had also been twice interviewed in Orangeburg earlier in the week).
He called his interview experiences “fine,” and noted that reporters asked him the same general questions—“Why do you support Newt? What’s your opinion of Newt?”—which he was happy to answer. He thought the media had done a “good job” covering the primary in South Carolina, though when asked particularly about the fairness and appropriateness of reporting on the “open marriage” allegations made against Gingrich, he quickly said, “Well, that has been proven false.”
Lindsey gets his news from Fox, CSPAN, and occasionally MSNBC—which, he says, along with CNN and NBC, can be “automatically” counted on to have a liberal slant. He likes Fox because he says it “reports both sides of everything.”