Chris Matthews of MSNBC is harshing on Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for what he said last night in a tussle with debate panelist Juan Williams of Fox News. Amplify that — he’s slamming Gingrich both for what he said and, more importantly, how he said it. The Matthews allegation is that Gingrich paused upon saying the word “Juan” so as to goad the crowd into a derisive frenzy.
This’ll require a few moments in the replay booth: Williams asked Gingrich about his remarks that poor kids lack a work ethic and should work as janitors in their schools. Doesn’t that insult Americans and particularly African Americans, Williams asked.
“No, I don’t see that,” answered Gingrich, who then went on to feast on the inquiry and all of its socioeconomic stress points. The audience was ready to elect him president by acclaim.
Once Gingrich had finished lecturing and the audience calmed down again, Williams came at him with a question about Gingrich’s “food stamp president” remark about President Obama.
“Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is. . .”
It’s that fourth word — ”Juan” — that troubles Matthews. Here’s what he said in a chat with Andrea Mitchell this afternoon, according to Mediaite:
“That use of the name ‘Juan,’ the way he did it. You can’t argue these things. You either see them or you don’t. It’s just the way he did that. I sensed a little applause when he said ‘Let me help you’ when he answered the Juan question. It’s in the eye of the beholder.”
The eye of this beholder finds no grounds to conclude that Gingrich was trying to convey a “coded message” — to borrow Mediaite’s phrasing of Matthews’ theory — by saying “Juan” the way he did. He said it the same way he would have said “Bret” or “John” or “Megyn” or any other of the hundreds of moderators he’s faced in the past many months. If he paused a bit, it was because he appeared to be gathering his thoughts, not trying to get the audience to mock the moderator for his first name.
In fact, when some audience members did start laughing at the moment of Gingrich’s “Juan” pause, the candidate cut them off, proceeding with his answer. Verdict: Not guilty.