TAMPA, Fla. – Newt Gingrich’s rally at the Tampa Jet Center (I remember the name because the company put signs above the stage right before it started) opened an exciting new stage in the struggle between the campaign and the press. Chris Moody reported deeply on the first round, and how the campaign responded to penny-pinching reporters bailing on their press plane by canceling the damn plane.
Round two: Well, this seemed like the media’s fault. Maybe. The event was held in a sizable hangar, with the left and right thirds of the room cut off by easily-evaded curtains. When the Gingrich team began to arrive – Herman Cain, Michael Reagan, the candidate – reporters swarmed them, tossing questions. Cain’s beleagured body man repeatedly tried to cut off Q&As, but the candidate wouldn’t have it.
“I’m gonna break my rule!” he said after the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner stopped him, scrum in tow, to explain how Newt was losing if conservatives were coalescing behind him. The scrum kept on moving, until Nightline pulled Cain aside for a solo interview… which other camera-wielders tried to get it on, anyway.
Then came Newt. His spokesman R.C. Hammond spotted CNN, ABC and Fox reporters, and counted “one, two, three.” Three interviews before the rally. The other two dozen or so reporters didn’t obey, so CNN’s exclusive was conducted in a crush of reporters. Hammond pleaded for sanity. “If you’re not ABC or Fox, or local media, please go to the other room,” he sighed. No one moved. Hammond asked again, for them to remember kindergarten, and how they once followed rules.
It was a beautiful mess that slowed down the rally considerably – doors opened at 1, Gingrich took the podium at 2:40. Surrogates explained that he was doing interviews with “very important radio shows.” An availability for reporters was canceled – the accidental one had broken out already.
There was much murmuring about how sloppy this was. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney was criss-crossing Florida, on time, taking no impromptu questions.