Newt-the-media-critic becomes a TV host

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Two days before he pulled off that surprising win in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, Newt Gingrich rallied Republican voters by ripping into CNN debate moderator John King.

“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,” Gingrich said in January 2012 to roaring applause. “And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

As Gingrich ripped into the cable network’s host, the crowd went wild.

“I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate,” Gingrich said at one point.

King had opened the debate in Charleston with a question to the former House Speaker about one his former wives. Gingrich successfully turned the question around on King and tore into the media as a whole.

“I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans,” Gingrich declared.

Fast-forward more than a year and half later and Gingrich is not president. He’s a colleague of John King at CNN.

Gingrich has been tapped as one of the conservative co-hosts of the newly re-launched “Crossfire,” which airs for the first time Monday afternoon.

On Friday — during a conference call with reporters and the hosts and producers of “Crossfire” — The Daily Caller asked Gingrich about his transformation from CNN critic to CNN employee. “I don’t think you’re going to find I’ve changed very much,” Gingrich assured.

“They didn’t ask me to drop in and become part of the media elite,” he explained.

“They asked me to come in and represent the views and the people that I historically have represented.”

Gingrich will face-off with former Obama campaign aide and designated liberal host Stephanie Cutter on Monday. (The shows hosts will rotate: On Tuesday, liberal activist Van Jones and conservative commentator S.E. Cupp will lead the show.)

One question observers have asked of Gingrich, who will transition from politician to TV host: can the intellectual conservative succeed in not just answering questions, but asking them too?

Asked that question by TheDC, Gingrich pointed to his time as speaker.

“When you spend 20 years in the U.S. House and the other 434 people also won elections, everybody believes they have a right to be heard,” he said. “The essence of leadership is listening and learning in that kind of environment. So I’m very comfortable being in a setting, listening to people and asking them questions.”

As for his role on “Crossfire,” Gingrich said: “I have an interest in asking the right question of the guest on the other side in order to open up whatever weakness there is in their particular position.”

During the conversation with reporters Friday, Gingrich — a former Fox News contributor before his 2012 presidential run — described the difficult process the new anchors have been going through to learn how to host a show.

“It’s a much more challenging job than being a guest,” he said, “because you’re both trying to think through what you’re saying … and you’re trying to build with the guest in a way that really opens up the conversation for people at home to be able to learn something they might not have known otherwise.”

He described one such weakness: “We’ve had such great guests and the conversations have been so interesting that at times I get lost and I get yelled at by my producers because I look like I’m passive because I’m totally into the conversation.”

Gingrich said he was drawn to the show because the format forces people to go beyond talking points.

“We’re going to focus on one subject for an entire program every day,” said Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief. “There’s not another program really on daily television that does that.”

To make a point about how substantive he wants the show to be, Gingrich told a story about going on “Crossfire” in the 1980s and immediately getting a debate coach afterward.

“I can remember when I was a very junior Congressman,” he recalled. “I did ‘Crossfire’ a lot. And on one particular occasion in 1983, Congressman Steve Solarz was one of the smartest Democrats in foreign policy, just handed me my head, and did it with intelligent research, caught me totally off-guard.”

Describing that experience, Gingrich said: “We watched the entire show and said, ‘OK. What do I do the next time I’m in this much trouble?’ And that was the kind of show where everybody watched — felt they were watching a real genuine dialogue between passionate people who cared a lot and who knew a lot.”

“That’s the standard we’re going to try to set and that’s the standard we’re going to ask you to measure us against,” Gingrich said.

For now, Gingrich says he’s still trying to improve his skills on the teleprompter, which the hosts will use to introduce topics and guests.

“Getting the cue to go to the teleprompter is much more disruptive if your normal behavior is to be the guest because as the guest, you don’t care that [producers are] screaming, you know, ‘get out, get out,’ you know?”

Van Jones, Obama’s former special adviser for green jobs who also has never hosted a show before, backed his future sparring partner up.

“The teleprompter is not your friend,” Jones said. “I tell you what, everybody gets mad at the president for using the teleprompter. I can not understand how anybody uses this doggone thing.”

Jones said CNN is showing “a lot of courage to take people who are not a hundred percent professional TV people, people who mainly are known because we have passionate opinions and” and make them TV hosts.

“We’re going to be out there running around with scissors and it’s going to be all live, for the world to see,” he said.

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