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Van Susteren Talks To Gingrich About His “Lousy Way To Run A Campaign”

Reported by Ellen - June 16, 2011 -

I’ve written before about Fox News not being terribly excited about Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. Maybe that’s what gave Greta Van Susteren the temerity to give Newt Gingrich a talking to about his poor handling of the media. But you could almost hear the “it’s for your own good” in her voice as she did so. Also, she all but bent over backwards to give Gingrich opportunities to acquit himself of charges about the disruptive role of his wife in the campaign and reports that his charitable organization came “dangerously close” to being used as a vehicle to promote his politics. Instead, Gingrich repeatedly obfuscated, bobbed and weaved. It’s no wonder Van Susteren lost patience near the end of the nearly 17-minute interview.

Gingrich visited On The Record Wednesday night (6/15/11) for what could easily have been a dose of Republican rehab in the wake of a mass exodus of his campaign staff, an ABC News report questioning the role of Gingrich’s charitable organization and an NBC News report that Gingrich’s campaign was “crippled by behind-the-scenes blow-ups over the role of his wife, Callista, including her insistence that the campaign arrange for screenings of the couple’s movies made by their for-profit production company, according to current and former campaign staffers and advisers.”

The interview was framed by Fox as an attack by Gingrich on President Obama’s “shovel-ready joke” which, as Media Matters reported, was part of a right-wing effort to attack an “unremarkable observation that eliminating unnecessary regulations might speed up business activity and help create jobs.” In fact, the FoxNews.com video of the interview is called Newt’s Not Laughing at Obama’s ‘Shovel-Ready’ Joke and subtitled, “Gingrich blasts president for making light of slow economic recovery.” But I seriously doubt anyone who watched the interview will remember it for any of Gingrich’s comments about the president.

To her credit, Van Susteren did repeatedly try to get Gingrich to address the allegations from both NBC and ABC. Her first question was whether Gingrich had “any response” to the NBC report that his wife, Callista “blew up” the campaign and caused the exodus of aides.

Gingrich’s answer was bizarre. He claimed he was “really glad” Van Susteren asked because “you know Callista.” Then, instead of directly refuting any report or even defending his wife’s role, he went off on an irrelevant tangent that only seemed designed to cloud the matter:

Like you, she’s a cheesehead from Wisconsin, like you, she bowls, I just want the American people to know that Callista graduated as a piano major. She’s played in the City of Fairfax band on the French horn since 1989. She sings in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception choir. She’s the head of Gingrich productions and has helped make seven different documentaries, one of which – about Pope John Paul II – was picked as one of the top three films by the Vatican this year about the Pope. She chairs a foundation which has given away $800,000 to charities and she’s currently writing a children’s book in which Ellis the Elephant introduces 5-8 year olds to a sweet land of liberty, the history of America.

All of which is lovely but has absolutely no bearing on the damning details about Callista Gingrich’s role in the campaign.

However, Gingrich continued, saying that he brought that up as background because NBC quoted anonymous sources who “frankly, lied about my wife and I believe NBC owes Callista an apology.” It’s worth pointing out that despite the outrage, Gingrich did not deny such reports as Callista having “repeatedly insisted that the campaign carve out time for public screenings of their movies, where the couple answered questions from the audience, and then sold DVD copies, eating up hours of time on the candidate’s schedule” or “her refusal to allow early-morning departures for campaign events because she insisted she needed time to have her hair done.”

Instead, Gingrich continued by comparing his marriage to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, accusing some of the consultants of resenting having to deal with Callista as his full-fledged partner and saying, “The fact is, my campaign is my campaign. Yes, we make decisions as a couple but in the end I take full responsibility and I think the program this morning was totally irresponsible and personally reprehensible and the kind of thing that makes it hard to get decent people to run for public office.”

After a segue to attacking Obama for the joke and asking what Gingrich would do for the economy if he were president, Van Susteren brought up the ABC News report at about the 11 minute mark. Rather than dig into the article, Van Susteren laughably asked, “Do you want to respond to it? Are you doing anything wrong with your charities and your campaign?”

If ever there was an opportunity to acquit himself, this was it. But instead Gingrich called the report “so inaccurate” and made the dubious claim that the ABC reporter told the head of Gingrich’s charity that ABC “didn’t care what the facts were, they were going to do a hit piece and they actually literally didn’t care what the facts were.”

“I’m trying to talk about how you create jobs, I’m trying to talk about how you balance the budget, I’m trying to talk about what we can do to get homeownership back in good health, I’m trying to talk about how to have an American energy policy," Gingrich continued, "…and I think it’s very sad, and it’s part of the American problem, that these kind of networks don’t want to deal in substance.”

Van Susteren suggested she also thought NBC did a hit piece because it never said Gingrich violated the law, but violated the “spirit” of separation. In fact, NBC raised the possibility that Gingrich was up to old political tricks of mixing political and charitable activities.

The blending of charitable and political activity has been a touchy area for Gingrich. In the late 1990s Gingrich became the first sitting House Speaker to be censured and fined by the House Ethics Committee after being accused of drawing money from a tax-exempt organization to help finance his political activities. The IRS later cleared him on the charges, but not before the House ordered him to pay a $300,000 fine.

…Ellen Miller, co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, told ABC News she was surprised to discover that, in addition to all his other for-profit and political ventures, Gingrich was back in the charity business, given the ethics issues he had encountered with charity work more than a decade earlier.

"The fact that Newt Gingrich was censured for mixing political and public education type activities is what makes the founding of this organization particularly odd," Miller said. "You'd think he would learn from previous experience, which didn't turn out very well for him."

Nevertheless, Van Susteren noted that Gingrich had refused to answer questions other than to get in a car and slam a door in a reporter’s face. She said, “You may not want to talk about this but the media’s going to be asking you questions and you know you’d better be ready to answer them and probably the better way to answer them would be to say, ‘I’ll line up my lawyers and my accountants and you can ask them the questions.’”

Once again, Gingrich complained about ABC, this time for not covering the substance of the speech he had just given. “I’m not going to dignify baloney. I think they ought to learn how to cover the speeches and actually report on what candidates are running on.”

Here’s where Van Susteren let loose, though she obviously meant it for his own good.

"Mr. Speaker, you act like you’ve just landed here, like you’ve suddenly discovered that the media does these things and you may want to take the high road on it but the problem is that the article that gets out… you’re getting hit with this stuff and it’s a lousy way to run a campaign.”

Gingrich responded by saying, essentially, that since he could not be assured of an unedited interview, he didn’t want to respond. And yet, he was not really responding now, either.

Not to be deterred, Van Susteren told him he should call in the reporter and make his own film as backup, in case anything was unfairly edited on the network.

Gingrich said he liked that idea and would take it up.

He also insisted he was not going to be dissuaded from running by any “distorted and dishonest and negative reporting” and then went on to promote his website where “we have a whole range of opportunities for people to help,” along with his latest book.

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