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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gingrich won't allow moderators to silence crowd at future debates -- by Jonathan Easley, The Hill

Newt Gingrich says he won’t “allow” the moderators of future GOP presidential debates to keep the crowd out of it.

Speaking on Tuesday to Fox News, Gingrich took the opportunity that was denied him at Monday night's debate, and blasted the media.

 “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’s debate performances are widely viewed as having propelled him to an overwhelming victory at Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

His fiery performances often came at the expense of the debate moderators for questions he deemed inappropriate, and the conservative crowds often rewarded the former House Speaker with applause and even a standing ovation for his attacks against the media.

But NBC asked the crowd to hold their applause until the breaks, and moderator Brian Williams didn’t offer any opportunities for Gingrich to go after him.

As a result, some of Gingrich’s attacks that might have energized his supporters at previous debates seemed to fall flat. At one point Gingrich even seemed flustered, and paused in silence to collect his thoughts.

“We’re going to serve notice on future debates that we won’t tolerate — we’re just not going to allow that to happen,” Gingrich continued. “That’s wrong — the media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be able to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly.”

According to a source at NBC, the theater held about 500 people and the audience was primarily selected by local affiliates, the Tampa Bay Times, the University of Southern Florida and a local non-profit organization called the Florida Council of 100.

Even if the crowd had not been instructed to hold their applause, it might not have been as raucus an affair as some of the previous debates.

"It was made up mostly of academics and business leaders, as well as the French and British ambassadors to the U.S.," the NBC source said.

NBC also noted that the eventual GOP nominee will debate President Obama in front of a completely silent audience, per the instructions from the Commission on Presidential Debates.
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