Newt Gingrich insists his fans will not be silenced.
Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, on Tuesday morning threatened not participate in any future debates with audiences that have been instructed to be silent. That was the case on Monday, when Brian Williams of NBC News asked the audience of about 500 people who assembled for a debate in Tampa to hold their applause until the commercial breaks.
In an interview with the morning show "Fox and Friends," Mr. Gingrich said NBC's rules amounted to stifling free speech. In what has become a standard line of attack for his anti-establishment campaign, Mr. Gingrich blamed the media for trying to silence a dissenting point of view.
"I wish in retrospect I'd protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it's wrong," Mr. Gingrich said. "And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they've done in every debate."
Mr. Gingrich soared to victory in the South Carolina last week after back-to-back debates in which he took on the moderators with as much zeal as he took on his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. The audiences, which were far larger and encouraged to participate, cheered him on as he pushed back. First he lashed out at Juan Williams of Fox News for suggesting that Mr. Gingrich's comments about blacks and welfare were offensive. Then he snapped at John King of CNN for opening the debate with a question about accusations that he had asked an ex-wife for an "open marriage."
Mr. Gingrich's performance in the debate in Tampa on Monday night was far more muted. Critics noted that he seemed to be off his game. The National Journal, which co-hosted the NBC debate, compared Gingrich to "a stand-up comedian whose routine suffers without echoes of laughter egging him on."
Mr. Gingrich clearly noticed something was off, too. "We're going to serve notice on future debates," he told Fox. "We're just not going to allow that to happen. That's wrong. The media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to."
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated whom Newt Gingrich is said to have asked for an "open marriage." It was an ex-wife, not his current wife. :shock: :wink: