Actually, Mr. Breen Paid for This Microphone

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 27 2012 9:40 AM

Actually, Mr. Breen Paid for This Microphone

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Newt Gingrich drew much of his totemic power from putting moderators in their places. Drew. Past tense. Revisit the moment when Gingrich tried to dismiss Wolf Blitzer for asking a "nonsense question."

BLITZER: Earlier this week, you said Governor Romney, after he released his taxes, you said that you were satisfied with the level of transparency of his personal finances when it comes to this. And I just want to reiterate and ask you, are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances? 

GINGRICH: Wolf, you and I have a great relationship, it goes back a long way. I'm with him. [Referring to Rick Santorum, who had been asking for more substantial Qs.] This is a nonsense question. Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America? 

BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, "He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts." I didn't say that. You did. 

GINGRICH: I did. And I'm perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues. 

BLITZER: But if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that. 

GINGRICH: I simply suggested -- You want to try again? I mean -- 

ROMNEY: Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here?

GINGRICH: OK. All right. Given that standard, Mitt, I did say I thought it was unusual. And I don't know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account. I'd be glad for you to explain that sort of thing.
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Whimper, whimper. The difference between this moment and the eviscerations of John King and Juan Williams: The question was completely fair. In what mirror universe is it unbecoming to ask a candidate about an attack he'd just made against another candidate?

Does the media obsess over this stuff more than voters do? Not this year. I've been collecting the various verbs voters use to describe how smart Gingrich is and how badly he'll beat Barack Obama in a debate -- "eviscerate," "dismantle," "take apart," "humiliate," "destroy," and on like that. Here he was shown up by Blitzer, then gave Romney an opening for one of his best lines.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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