What took so long? Why, many months into the presidential campaign, with Newt Gingrich at or near the top in the preference polls, did the press not raise questions sooner about his character flaws and money-grubbing ways?
Connie Bruck and the New Yorker waved warning flags about Gingrich many years ago, on Oct. 9, 1996, to be exact, in a National Magazine Award-winning profile, “The Politics of Perception” In it, Bruck came to this devastating conclusion about Gingrich:
“It seems unlikely that in reasonably normal times in this country Gingrich could prevail in a national election. But the worse the crisis, the better for Gingrich; the greater the insecurity and despair, the more seductive his veiled scapegoating, his absolutism, his messianism would become. Gingrich plays by his own rules. By being engaged and colorful and dynamic — by staging bravura performances — he usually gets away with it on matters large and small. Gingrich has an enormous advantage in the political arena. He is free to say and do what he pleases, affording himself the kind of freewheeling latitude others can only fantasize about. That license goes unchecked, in large part, because what he does defies our most fundamental assumptions: one simply does not expect to find so consummate a con artist serving as Speaker of the House.”
The best safeguard against charlatans and con artists holding public office is an aggressive press. But instead of following up on Bruck’s insight, the press simply gave Gingrich a pass during much of the early days of the presidential preference campaign. Only when he began moving up in the polls have voters been warned by the press that the smooth-talking historian was capable of putting a For Sale sign on the Oval Office.
The press should be scrutinizing the records and characters of all serious candidates for the White House, and not simply take its coverage cues from the polls.