John King, the moderator during Thursday's CNN GOP presidential debate was attacked by Gingrich for commencing the debate with a question about allegations made by his ex-wife earlier in the day that he had requested an "open" marriage. Gingrich, dismissing the question, said it no grounds and reduced it to a media attack on Republican candidates to defend President Obama.
Gingrich has been widely praised for his answer to undoubtedly an awkward question, however, some still feel that moral values surrounding the candidates are important and should be a central issue candidates must be held accountable for during their campaigns.
The debate began Thursday evening when King asked Gingrich about a claim made earlier in the day by his ex-wife: "Your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News, another interview with 'The Washington Post,' and this story has now gone viral on the Internet," King said. "She says you came to her in 1999 at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her [for] an open marriage. Would you like to take some time to respond to that?"
"No, but I will," Gingrich shot back, causing the audience to erupt with applause. "I think the destructive vicious negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. I'm appalled you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that."
King later told Politico that his question was based on years of training as a reporter. "My old AP training is, you deal with the lead of the day upfront first," he said. "I respect anybody who disagrees, but we made our decision."
CNN's David Gergen commented about the debate on air, after it was over. "This is one of the most explosive moments we've seen in debate history," he said. "It was also one of the harshest attacks that we've had on the press that I can remember in a long, long time."
Gingrich continued to rebuke King for drawing the debate to such a personal issue. "Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things," he said. "To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."
Despite the recent attack on Obama's campaign by Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox TV and The Wall Street Journal amongst others, Gingrich finished his response saying, "I'm tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans."
Particularly since the Iowa caucus, social values have become an increasingly important aspect of the debate with some reports suggesting that even Obama has increased his public church attendance. When it comes to winning the Christian evangelical vote, Gingrich might have lost out to Santorum over the very values that King was addressing. In a Bloomberg poll released in November, half of Iowa voters said they would most likely rule out a candidate who had been married three times and had an extramarital affair.
Republican competitor Rick Santorum, has also accused Gingrich for throwing social issues "in the back of the bus." In an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour, Santorum was asked about Gingrich as a conservative candidate. "In terms of social issues [Gingrich] has been married three times, he has two divorces, he's admitted to infidelity. Should voters hold that against him?"
"I think character is definitely an issue," Santorum opined. "I've been married 21 years, I have seven children. That's a factor that people are going to look at and should look at when it comes to the person you are going to have lead the country."
During the Iowa Republican Caucus, Santorum beat Gingrich out 24.6 percent to 13.3 percent suggesting that perhaps many would have validated King's initial question. However the crowd, who stood up to cheer in some parts, appeared supportive of Gingrich's response despite its deflective nature.