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Santorum Accuses MSNBC Hosts of 'Gotcha' Journalism for Hammering Contraception Issue

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"Lets just deal with reality instead of what the media tries to do..."

The panel on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" has been hostile towards Rick Santorum during several recent segments. Despite this, the Republican presidential candidate appeared on the show Monday, 24 hours before the Illinois GOP primary to discuss the race and issues that have dominated the media coverage of his campaign.

Santorum earned an early chuckle from Scarbourough when he called rival candidate Mitt Romney a "big government heavyweight" in response to the former Massachusetts governor's claim that his primary opponent is an "economic lightweight."

After that, the interview became slightly less jovial.

When asked whether his campaign directed their candidate to back off positions on contraception, Santorum retorted that the issue was never about accessibility to contraception, but rather government mandates and the infringement of the state on the church.

"Well as you know Mika, the issue was not contraception, the issue was government mandated health insurance, and that to me is completely on message" said Santorum. "The federal government should not be mandating--first shouldn't be mandating any health insurance, and specifically going after churches and saying that they have to do things that are against the tenets and teachings of their faith.

"You know the left is very, very keen on talking about separation of church and state, when they mean that the churches and people of faith can't participate in the public square," said Santorum. "Where is the separation of church and state when the government wants to force churches and people of faith to do things that are against their faith."

Co-Host Joe Scarborough said that he and Santorum were probably on the same side during the Catholic Church controversy, but then brought up an interview the former Pennsylvania Senator had conducted back in the fall where he had emphasized his commitment to discussing contraception. As Scarborough began to ask if the candidate regrets saying that, Santorum began to chuckle.

"You laugh about it, but I can give you chapter and verse" Scarborough said before Santorum accused the former congressman, now MSNBC personality, of participating in typical “gotcha” journalism. Santorum clarified that he wasn't talking about access to contraception but the destruction of the American family, and its statistical connection to economic concerns.

As Santorum continued to answer the question, co-hosts Brzezinski and Scarborough appeared to engage in an an odd on-camera huddle, raising the question of how much attention they were really paying to the Republican presidential candidate's answer to their question.

Scarborough admitted that he has been critical of the focus on the issue of contraception, saying that since Santorum was on they wanted to address it, but appeared ready to move the interview on to other issues.

Santorum interjected.

"Lets just deal with reality instead of what the media tries to do which is to pigeon hole you and tell a narrative," Santorum said in an answer denying that he goes out of his way to discuss the contraception issue, but rather that the principle focus on his campaign has been Americans losing their freedom.

Scarborough appeared offended by the answer, and asked Santorum directly if he felt that he was trying to pigeon hole or stereotype the candidate. Santorum responded somewhat light-heartedly, “well, yeah, sure.”

After circling the wagons once again on the issue, tensions appeared to ease, and the interview moved on.

Santorum discussed his campaign's ability to win 10 states despite a campaign spending disadvantage, and pointed out his distinctions from opponents on climate change and big government spending.

"Rick Santorum just said he won ten states, and I just sort of--it's jolting," Scarborough presented to panelist Andrea Mitchell. "Here's a guy who was sitting at two percent in Iowa a couple of weeks before the election, he's (now) won ten states."

"And done it with a fraction of the money and organization," said Mitchell over Scarborough.

"With very little money, very little organization, and against the Death Star of American politics," Scarborough said of Santorum's success against the well endowed Romney campaign.

Santorum went on to discuss with the panel his stance on Afghanistan, his campaign organization, and whether anything has surprised him as a Presidential candidate.

Santorum's full interview on "Morning Joe" via MSNBC media player:

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