And the crowd goes – silent.
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich this morning complained that NBC took the audience out of Monday night’s debate in Tampa, by requesting those in the hall to hold their applause.
“I wish in retrospect I had protested when Brian Williams took [the crowd] out of it because I think it’s wrong,” he said. “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.”
Gingrich was in fact off his game last night. He eventually returned this volley from Mitt Romney, but it took a while:
Last week in South Carolina, Fox News and CNN encouraged audience reaction. Presumably, Thursday’s debate hosted by CNN will follow the same pattern. An inquiry to CNN prompted this statement:
“As we have done in the past, CNN will ask the audience to be respectful of the candidates. We have always said that if audience reaction such as shouting or booing interferes with the debate or with the candidates’ answers, we will ask the audience to refrain.”
On background, one of the organizers of the NBC debate said the network decision – specifically, the audience was asked to cut loose just before commercial breaks — wasn’t a matter for negotiation with the campaigns. NBC has made the same request in other debates – one at the Ronald Reagan library and the other in New Hampshire.
But this audience of 500 may have been more inclined to observe the request. The small theater held about 500 people, we’re told. Many were academics — the confrontation was held on the University of South Florida. Then there were business leaders – and the French and British ambassadors to the United States. It was not a crowd particularly juiced by the campaigns or the state party — as was the case in South Carolina.
Another point: Gingrich likes to say that he intends to challenge President Barack Obama to seven three-hour debates along the lines of the Lincoln-Douglas confrontations of 1858. Those, in fact, occurred before large, raucous crowds.
But the former U.S. House speaker might want to get used to a silent audience. The Republican nominee will be participating in three meetings with President Barack Obama this fall – the dates have already been set by the Committee on Presidential Debates. Absolute silence is required from the audience.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider