Newt Gingrich, who has made deriding moderators for “gotcha” questions a staple of his debate performances, erupted on Thursday night in a raging indictment of the news media.
In response to a question from the CNN debate moderator, John King, about whether Mr. Gingrich had asked his former wife Marianne for an open marriage, an allegation she made in a recent ABC News interview, Mr. Gingrich said: “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.”
When Mr. King tried to explain the question, arguing that it was a major news subject of the moment, Mr. Gingrich had none of it.
“John, John,” he interjected. “It was repeated by your network, you chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else.”
Mr. Gingrich added, his voice pitched in anger, “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.” He received a standing ovation from the audience.
The moment was so unusual and emotional that Mr. King addressed it on the air after the debate, saying it was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. It was a newsworthy event, he maintained. “It was my judgment, my decision. Mine alone.”
Others were not so sure it was the right move. Jim Lehrer, who has moderated 11 presidential and vice presidential debates in his career, said in a phone interview on Thursday night that he was surprised that CNN opened the debate with such a question. “This is a two-hour debate,” he said. “CNN would have been much better off if they’d waited.”
Mr. Lehrer added that Mr. King should have anticipated that Mr. Gingrich would use the question to turn him and the news media into a punching bag. “He walked almost blindly into a buzz saw,” Mr. Lehrer said. “You could hear it coming.”