King would have been on safer ground if one of the other candidates had brought up the issue, which was the talk of the campaign all day Thursday, said Terence Smith, a veteran journalist who was the longtime media correspondent for PBS’s “NewsHour.”
“That would have made it far easier for him to bring it up,” Smith said. “There’s no guarantee that anyone would have mentioned it, but it was likely,” given how prominent the story had been all day.
As it was, King’s handling of the issue seemed “maladroit,” said Richard Wald, a former president of NBC who is now a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. “It was not the most sensible way to go about it.”
Wald contrasted King’s handling of the infidelity issue with the way he approached former governor Mitt Romney’s reluctance to release his tax records. King set up his question by noting that Romney’s father, George, had established the precedent of disclosing his taxes by releasing 12 years of records when he was a candidate in the 1960s. The mention of Romney’s father’s behavior may have closed off the possibility of an attack on the media for bringing up the issue, he said.
By the same token, King could have framed the infidelity question better, perhaps by noting that Gingrich’s own attacks on President Bill Clinton’s claim to moral authority and fitness for office in the 1990s amid revelations of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Wald said. “The issue certainly is relevant” to socially conservative voters in South Carolina, Wald said, “but this wasn’t set up right. It was like a kid blurting something out.”
King may have missed another chance to follow up on Gingrich’s opening comments during the debate, Campbell said.
Gingrich “was way over the top in claiming that negative media reporting ‘makes it harder to govern this country,’ ” he said. “The American political scene has long been a rough-and-tumble place. . . . You deal with it. It’s not as if negative press is anything new.”
During the opening minutes of his program Friday, King made note of the day’s big development, which may have been a result of the night before: “Polls show Newt Gingrich surging in South Carolina.”