Gingrich on Debate’s No-Clapping Rule: ‘Media Doesn’t Control Free Speech’

Susan Jones | January 24, 2012 | 8:42am EST
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Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gestures during a Republican presidential debate Monday Jan. 23, 2012, at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

( - Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says it was "wrong" for debate moderator Brian Williams to silence the "free speech" of the debate audience in Tampa.

At the start of Monday night's debate, Williams said, "We've asked our invited guests here this evening to withhold their applause, any verbal reactions to what they hear on stage, so as to ensure this is about the four candidates here tonight and what they have to say."

Never again, Gingrich told Fox & Friends the morning after:

"I wish in retrospect I'd protested when Brian Williams took them (the live audience) out of it, because I think it's wrong. 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.

"And we're going to serve notice on future debates, we won't (mumble), we're just not going to allow that to happen. That's wrong. The media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly."

Gingrich is the only candidate who has prompted standing ovations from two recent debate audiences. All of the candidates have drawn applause -- and occasional boos -- at various times, however. And the debate moderators themselves have been booed on numerous occasions.

As for the heated exchanges on stage Tuesday night, Gingrich told Fox & Friends he "didn't want to get into some kind of brawl" with Mitt Romney. Gingrich said he'll correct the record -- which he claims Romney is trying to distort -- on his campaign Web site.

Gingrich is particularly annoyed at Romney's repeated accusation that Gingrich was a de facto lobbyist for Freddie Mac. Gingrich says he "did no lobbying of any kind," acting instead as a consultant.

On Tuesday morning, Gingrich called it a "great irony" that Mitt Romney owns Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae stock: "We didn't learn (that) until after the debate," Gingrich said. "I mean, here's this guy making this big deal. I don't own any Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae stock. He (Romney) does -- so presumably he was getting richer."

Gingrich said he had a "very specific understanding" with Freddie Mac that "I would not lobby. My advice to them was they needed better regulations, and  my advice to the Congress as a citizen was, 'Don't give them any more money, do not bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.'"

Gingrich said he will continue to focus on Obama, jobs, and the housing situation -- which is particularly difficult in Florida, he noted.


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Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who appeared on Fox & Friends after Gingrich, said Mitt Romney was "over the top" in his insistence that Gingrich was a lobbyist. Technically, he was not, Santorum said.

But Santorum also said that Romney missed a good opportunity Monday night to discuss the conservative coup attempt on Gingrich when he served as speaker of the house.

Santorum said at the time, there was a strong feeling that Gingrich was trying to undermine the conservative cause.

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