As a reporter, I’m rarely at a loss for words when it comes to interviewing almost anyone. By now, I’ve heard and seen a lot.
But there I was Saturday, standing alone with my recorder in a quiet stupor, as my subject, Newt Gingrich, rushed away.
At a Tea Party rally in Greensboro Saturday, I had scheduled a private interview with the presidential candidate through his staff.
His aide gave no preconditions; no topics were off limits.
That’s why I was so surprised when, before I had finished asking my first question, that same aide cut the interview short and prompted Secret Service to grab and briefly detain me as the former speaker was led away.
The unexpected reaction came in response to a question about Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Last week, in a speech he gave at the University, Ailes had some harsh words for Gingrich, claiming the candidate was “trying to get a job at CNN, because he knows he isn’t going to get to come back to Fox.”
Gingrich was a former paid Fox News contributor. At a campaign stop in Delaware last week, he told supporters that Ailes’ network was biased against his campaign.
“We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of Fox, and we’re more likely to get distortion out of Fox,” he told supporters.
But before I even had a chance on Saturday to relay Ailes’ comments, his aide pressed his hands against me, and several Secret Service agents stopped me in my tracks.
“You’re not asking that. You’re done,” his aide said.
Not “Next question.” Just, “You’re done.”
I was surprised that they weren’t ready for the question. I was surprised that they were so surprised I might ask it.
To be honest, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the speaker in a tough back-and-forth. After all, in the struggle between politicians and members of the media, he’s a pro; I’m an amateur.
At my other job at a grocery store, my hardest-hitting question is usually, “Paper or plastic?”
I was ready for him to knock anything I could come up with completely out of the park – not just walk away when his people held me back for trying to ask an obvious question.
Earlier that day, Gingrich was his usual, defiant, telegenic self. In fact, he told a crowd of about 1,000 he still has no plans to abandon his vow to stay in the race until the convention.
“All the way to Tampa,” he said. “You got it.”
He was in a good mood. Gingrich said that since Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum dropped out, his website has had 6,000 new donors.
He barely even mentioned his Republican opponent and bitter rival, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Talking with his supporters, most told me that they knew Gingrich wouldn’t be the nominee, they just wished that he would be.
Linda Drawdy, a Kernersville resident and stay-at-home mother, told me she just doesn’t have the same amount of enthusiasm for Romney that she does for Gingrich.
“He just does the regular politician-speak,” she said. “He doesn’t have the passion.”
I’m not sure where the passion was when I interviewed him.
Next time, I’ll just follow my instincts and ask about the moon colony.
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