Of all of the candidates in the Republican presidential primary, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the only one I have met. I interviewed him a number of times when I was working as a broadcast journalist. The fact that, even though I was rarely on the same page politically with him, I was fair when interviewing him was evidenced the last time I interviewed him. When he was still Speaker of the U.S. House, before he got caught in his marital hypocrisy which revealed he was conducting an adultrous affair at the same time he was working to impeach President Clinton for doing the same thing, and before he had to pay a $300,000 fine for alleged House ethics violations, and eventually was forced to resign from Congress, he came to Columbus for some event.
When WTVM News requested a live 6 p.m. news interview with him, I was told that he would do it if I conducted the interview. Seems my good Republican friend – I even voted for him – Mac Collins, who was Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District representative at the time, had suggested that to Newt. Anyway, I did interview him live that evening. I was on the news set at the studio and he was at the Trade Center. It was one of those split-screen set ups.
I don’t recall any of the content of the interview so he must have basically behaved himself and wasn’t in his nasty mode. He can turn that on and off. I do remember a little of what he said when I went up to Washington to interview him not long after he had become Speaker of the House. I threw some soft-ball questions to him about what it was like to be Speaker of the House, but eventually got around to the meaty stuff, things like, Why were the Republicans trying to cut school lunch money for the needy? He said that charge by Democrats was misleading, that they were not trying to cut the school lunch budget, just an increase in it.
The reason I decided to ask WTVM to pony up the money for a flight to Washington for me and my photographer was that when a Georgian reaches a position of that national importance, we needed to interview him in that environment. Not only did WTVM do that, it made a deal with CNN for me to use their facilities to feed back a live report from D.C. to Columbus on the 6 p.m. news. I also taped interviews with Rep. Mack Collins and my Democratic Party friend Rep. Sanford Bishop of the 2nd Congressional District, which includes South Columbus. (Mack liked Sanford, and said his only problem was he was a Democrat and he should switch parties, and later, according to Sanford, even asked him to do it, but Sanford said he couldn’t do that.) After the taped interviews, both of them had said they would try to show up for the live shot that night, but neither did. Seems they had to stick around the House for a vote. That meant that, at the last minute, I realized I had to, as we said in the business, tap dance by myself. I was glad I managed to get through the ad-libbing without hyperventilating. We ran the taped interviews with all three of them over the next few days when I got back to Columbus.
I also remember the time I interviewed Newt at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988. That was the one when President George H. W. Bush made the ‘No new taxes!” pledge. The fact that turned out to be an empty promise helped Bill Clinton beat him in Bush’s reelection bid. My crew and I stayed at the same hotel as the Georgia delegation, which included Newt. I remember that he spotted me in the lobby the first night we were there and yelled hello. The next day as we were walking to the Superdome where the convention was being held, I spotted him walking very fast behind us. As he caught up with us, I told him I wanted an interview, and he said, as best as I can recall, “All right, but it’ll have to be later. I’m in a hurry right now because ABC wants to interview me.” That was understandable. The WTVM audience was certainly no match in size for ABC’s. He did, as he said he would, give me an interview later.
Now, he’s back in the national spotlight big time. Can he possibly get the nomination and be elected with all of the political and personal baggage he is carrying? At first blush, my answer is certainly not. But, in politics you just never really know. As one famous movie producer, whose name I can’t remember, said, You should never overestimate the American public. That is so true. Just think of some of the people who have been elected President. Which reminds me, I just saw a really entertaining movie called Elvis Meets Nixon. It was so funny, and, as Dick Cavvitt said, “for the most part, true,” that I watched it twice. By all means, rent it the first chance you get.