Why is the Gingrich Campaign Antagonizing Reporters?

Hostility toward reporters seems like it would hurt a struggling campaign, but for Newt Gingrich, it may help.


As Newt Gingrich campaigned in advance of the Louisiana primary Friday, Gingrich press secretary R.C. Hammond tweeted a photo of reporters on the Gulf shore, accompanied with a hefty dose of snark: "Our traveling press corp. so close to the ocean, yet I can't push them in."

Our traveling press corp. so close to the ocean, yet I can't push them in.instagr.am/p/Iha6S-xZl-/

— R.C. Hammond (@rchammond) March 23, 2012

For those watching the Gingrich campaign closely, digs like this at the national press are no surprise. In speeches and debates, Gingrich has seemingly taken every opportunity to take a swing at the media. Buzzfeed reported Thursday that Hammond blocked national press from entering one appearance by standing in front of the room in which it was held, calling reporters "complainers" and telling them that they "ask the same questions every day." Politico has also relayed a series of tense interactions between Hammond and reporters.

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Reporting on the trail is tough, but a candidate doesn't often try to make it harder, says Chris Arterton, professor of political management at George Washington University's School of Political Management.

"I think that this is an unusual strategy for a politician," he says. "That is to say that when I teach a class on dealing with the news media to students, much of the discussion is about how to get on the good side of reporters," like helping them with travel logistics, he says.

But there may be a method to Gingrich's madness. For instance, he is ultimately courting voters, not reporters...and some GOP voters share his distaste for the mainstream media. "I think in this case, Gingrich has discovered that within a narrow band of the conservative end of the Republican Party, there's no love lost for the media," says Arterton. At the South Carolina debate in January, Gingrich drew loud applause for chastising moderator John King for asking him personal questions about his second marriage.

In addition, with only four candidates left, Gingrich—already a political heavyweight—doesn't have to fight for press attention. Even though he's far behind, he's still guaranteed to make news when he does hold an event. Having more open press availability, says Arterton, means that "he'd be repeatedly asked 'How soon are you going to drop out?' and other such things that he doesn't want to address."

[See photos of the 2012 GOP candidates.]

There is also the possibility that Gingrich is just doing the campaign his way, enjoying the excitement while he can, with the knowledge that he is far behind his opponents, in which case, wooing the press is unnecessary.

"He could just be hanging on because he enjoys the fray, or he enjoys the attention. Or he's trying to pad his speaking fees even more for the future. All of these are potential personal motives that have nothing directly to do with success," says David Rohde, professor of political science at Duke University.

The Gingrich campaign does not appear concerned that the dust-ups could hurt the candidate's chances. When asked about the relationship between reporters and the Gingrich campaign, Hammond responded via E-mail, "We are a happy little family."

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