On Friday, Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik defended CNN's John King for raising the issue of Newt Gingrich's marital history at the start of the Republican presidential debate the night before. King's question had prompted a stern lecture from Gingrich on media propriety, which was earnestly appreciated by the debate audience and replayed extensively by the press as election day in South Carolina loomed. Zurawik, having seen this same routine played out several times in the past, all but pleaded with the media stop letting Gingrich "bully" them:
Does the ability of someone as corrupted as Gingrich to bully the press and find support within the media ultimately reveal how confused and insecure the press has become about its standards? How is it that so few in the press seem to understand our higher purpose in a democracy -- the one intended by the founders to warrant those First Amendment guarantees?
Zurawik's message was simple: You know it's coming, be prepared, don't be cowed. It doesn't appear to have sunk in.
Gingrich took a post-South Carolina victory lap this morning and appeared with NBC's David Gregory on Meet the Press. Gregory asked Gingrich about his time as a "consultant, or, depending on your point of view, a lobbyist" for Freddie Mac. Newt responded by lecturing Gregory, at the end of which Gregory let the issue go:
The transcript, for those who can't see the video:
GREGORY: You are running against the establishment, you're trying to run as an outsider. You talk about housing in Florida. You were a consultant, or, depending on your point of view, a lobbyist for one of the mortgage giants. I'm wondering how you think you win that inside-outside game, given your history.
GINGRICH: David, wait a second, David. David, you know better than that. I was not a lobbyist, I was never a lobbyist, I never did any lobbying. Don't try to mix these things up. The fact is I was an adviser strategically and if you look at the only thing ever published by Freddie Mac, I said you need more regulations. If you look at the only article ever written about my talking to the Congress, it was in the New York Times in July of 2008, and I said do not give them any money.
Now I opposed giving money to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I think they should both be broken up into four or five much smaller companies and I've long felt that. And so I think that to jump from one to the other is simply wrong. In Florida, my case is going to be very simple. You have a clear establishment candidate in Mitt Romney. Look where his money comes from, look at his background, look what he did in Massachusetts. And you have somebody whose entire career has been a Reagan populist conservative going all the way back to the 1970s.
I think that's a pretty clear contrast, and I think Floridians would like somebody who speaks for them to Washington, not somebody who speaks to the establishment to them.
The holes in Gingrich's "I was not a lobbyist" argument have been demonstrated several times over. Politifact gave the claim a "Half-True" rating, noting that it's depressingly easy and common for "consultants" who provide "strategic advice" (which is how Gingrich's campaign explained his relationship with Freddie Mac) to essentially function as lobbyists without having to register as such. The Washington Post called Gingrich's denials of being a lobbyist "clearly misleading," laying out all the known details of Gingrich's dealings with the mortgage giant.
There was plenty of easily obtained information Gregory could have used to push back on Gingrich's argument. But instead he moved on after Gingrich scolded him to not "mix these things up." And that's part of the reason why Gingrich keeps on scolding the press. It works.