Media, take heed. Following last night’s NBC presidential debate in Tampa, Florida, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has announced that he won’t allow debate moderators to prevent the audience from applauding.
But could it be a moot point?
As the New York Times reports, the catalyst for these comments originated on Monday evening when debate moderator Brian Williams told the 500-member audience to withhold their applause until the commercial break. On Tuesday, Gingrich responded to this action in an interview with FOX News’ “Fox & Friends,” during which he said that the audience members’ free speech was impeded by NBC’s policy on debate silence.
Additionally, he seemed to indicate that the ban on audience noise was somehow tied to the medias’ own self-preservation. The action, Gingrich said, was likely employed out of a fear that the audience would turn against Williams.
“I wish in retrospect I’d protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it’s wrong,” Gingrich said. “And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate.”
Watch Gingrich’s FOX interview, below:
The Times blog piece was entitled, “Gingrich Threatens to Skip Debates if Audiences Can’t Participate.” The article read, “Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, on Tuesday morning threatened not participate in any future debates with audiences that have been instructed to be silent.”
While the candidate did, indeed, share his displeasure with the process at last night’s debate, nowhere in the FOX interview did Gingrich make this proclamation. Instead he said that he wouldn’t allow any crackdowns on audience expression.
“We’re just not going to allow that to happen. That’s wrong,” he said during the interview. “The media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to.”
On the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin weighed in, writing:
This is one more indication that Gingrich is not a general-election candidate. In the presidential debates they don’t allow audience reaction either. At the start of the Sept. 26, 2008, debate Jim Lehrer explained: “The audience here in the hall has promised to remain silent, no cheers, no applause, no noise of any kind, except right now, as we welcome Senators Obama and McCain.”
Considering that the Presidential Debates Coalition, which oversees general election debates, often forbids applause as well, it will be interesting to see how Gingrich reacts should be secure the GOP nomination.