Wednesday afternoon marked a depressing time for anyone in Washington’s politico-media orbit. Newt Gingrich announced that he’s suspending his presidential campaign. Campaign-trail politics just got about 80 percent duller — 95 percent so for media critics.
That’s because Gingrich loved to tweak the media. The “elite media,” that is — the ones who were coddling President Obama and otherwise tilting the rink against Republican candidates. The elite media that he accused of trying to turn Republicans against one another in debates and otherwise came at the candidate with biased questions.
R.C. Hammond, the Gingrich campaign’s press secretary since early June, provides a little advice for the layman in identifying “elite media” outlets in their neighborhood: “The further detached you are from the regular kitchen-table conversation, the more elite you are,” he says.
Hammond looks back philosophically at the months of sparring with the elites. “You’re sitting in a foxhole and you think the entire world is shooting at you,” he says. But then you realize, he continues, that the other campaign — it’s getting incoming fire as well. And so is the “third campaign across the way. “You realize that everyone’s getting shot at,” says Hammond.
Just recently, a study emerged that appears to have punctured one of Gingrich’s central media-centric talking points. The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that President Obama had received more negative coverage than other candidates. What does the Gingrich campaign have to say about that?
“I wouldn’t buy that,” says Hammond. “If you look at the times, especially during the debates, where Newt Gingrich would engage the moderators, such a dramatic response was because Newt carried with him the outrage that Americans have regarding a broken Washington.” And that includes the media.
Gingrich couldn’t get his ideas platform through the media, says Hammond, because of their obsession with horse-race coverage. That approach to campaign news, argues Hammond, has three prongs. They are:
Horse Race Obsession No. 1: Money, as in Hey, candidate, how are you doing on fundraising. Got enough cash coming in? Can you afford television spots in New Hampshire?
Horse Race Obsession No. 2: Attacks, as in Hey, candidate, what do you have to say about the remarks of John Doe attack specialist, who said you don’t have the goods to serve in office?
Horse Race Obsession No. 3: Who’s up, as in Hey, candidate, the latest tracking polls don't appear to jibe with your sunny assessment of prospects in the southern states. Any comment on that?
Of those three focuses, Hammond says, “It’s a fact that that’s what the press is looking to cover. They don’t show up because they’re here to talk about how wonderful the world could be. If they’re not covering politics, the next story on the news is likely to be a car chase,” riffs Hammond. As he hears me chuckling, he remarks, “You’re laughing because it’s true.” No argument there.
Other look-back points from Newt’s press guy:
* As to where Gingrich stands now on the whole Fox vs. CNN kerfuffle: ”I wasn’t there the day he made that remark,” says Hammond, declining to get into it.
* Why was Gingrich so eloquent and forceful in berating debate moderators? Hammond has an explanation: He doesn’t need talking points and thus is able to respond to the situation. “In an era where a candidate steps on a debate stage in prepared soundbites, he steps up with independent thoughts,” says Hammond.
* The three pivotal media moments of the Gingrich campaign, in Hammond’s view:
1) When Gingrich scolded Chris Wallace in an Aug. 11 debate for asking a “gotcha”question. “The beginning of the comeback,” says Hammond.
2) When Gingrich told ABC, “I’m going to be the nominee.” That, said Hammond, was not a pivotal good moment, but a pivotal bad moment.
3) Getting the endorsement of the Union Leader.