Newt Gingrich is the latest politician to be nailed by his own words stated on camera. Gingrich seems to be stuck in a 1990s political messaging mentality. Back then, unless a dogged interviewer had the smoking gun videotape statement ready to roll, a la Michael Douglas‘ video attack on Demi Moore in the movie “Disclosure”, a politician sometimes could get away with making extreme, stupid, or wrongheaded statements, even on camera, because the footage might not swiftly get replayed.
Those days are gone, thanks to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the proliferation of media. Now, as we saw in 2006 with Senator George Allen‘s “Macaca moment”, an extreme statement by a politician, such as a racial slur, will be uploaded on YouTube within minutes and will “go viral” within hours, as well as being passed around on social networks, sometimes leading to the destruction, or at least the severe derailment, of the politician’s career.
That’s precisely what happened to Newt Gingrich last week. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on May 17 (see video at top of post), Gingrich contravened the message of virtually the entire Republican Party, including all but four Republican members of the House of Representatives, by calling GOP Representative Paul Ryan‘s plan to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher system “right-wing social engineering” and “too big a jump.” Gingrich also implied that the Ryan Medicare plan was “a conservative imposing radical change”, which Gingrich said he “would be against”. Gingrich’s statements are there for all to see and hear, and it’s obvious that the questions were in no way “gotcha” questions or that Gingrich somehow either hadn’t thought about this issue well in advance, or made a “misstatement” in his answers.
Not surprisingly, a firestorm erupted over Gingrich’s attack on Ryan’s Medicare plan, in which Republicans, not Democrats, jumped on Gingrich. Ryan (see video at top of post) asked, “with allies like that, who needs the Left?” Influential conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said bluntly of Gingrich: “he’s done…. it’s over.”
However, Gingrich then compounded his mistake several days later by appearing on Fox “News” and, incredibly (and for many viewers, laughably), telling people that “any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood”.
Ironically, just a few days earlier, Tina Fey reprised her famous impression of Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live”, stating, “I just hope that tonight the lamestream media doesn’t twist my words by repeatin’ them verbatim.” Fey as Palin was likely referring to the now-infamous interview Palin gave to Katie Couric in September 2008, in which Couric asked the very basic question “what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?” and Palin first answered vaguely, “I read most of them”. When Couric followed up by asking Palin for specific publications that she reads, Palin came back with the incredible answer “all of ’em”. That interview, which was viewed possibly millions of times both originally on television and then via repetition on YouTube and elsewhere, gave many Americans a negative view of Palin from which Palin, as a politician, has never recovered.
And yet Gingrich, like Palin and George Allen before him, still has not learned the lesson that many Internet-savvy politicians and other Americans already know: what you say and do on camera isn’t going to go away, and the more outrageous it is or the more you try to deny it with a later statement on camera, the more it isn’t going to go away.