By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Trying to track down an old Gingrich outburst

Newt Gingrich

I had hoped to stir up a little controversy this week over something Newt Gingrich said a long time ago. But unless someone out there in Media Nation has better documentation than I do, I’m afraid I’m going to fall short.

Here’s what I’m talking about. On Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, 1994, I was among three reporters from the Boston Phoenix who covered the Republican State Convention in Springfield. (Also on hand were Al Giordano and Bob Keough.) On Saturday, Gingrich, then well on his way to becoming speaker, delivered the keynote address.

I recall sitting in slack-jawed amazement as Gingrich offered some hate-filled words about disease-ridden Haitians invading our shores while Bill Clinton did nothing about it. (The AIDS epidemic seemed to be centered in Haiti in its early days.) Unfortunately, no one wrote it up according to the online archives I searched.

As best as I can tell, neither the Boston Globe nor the Boston Herald bothered to cover Gingrich’s speech. Neither did the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, though it did quote then-congressman Peter Blute, who introduced Gingrich, as saying, “He energized the base of the party to get out there and work hard for the candidates.”

The Springfield Sunday Republican offered up a few soundbites from Gingrich — but nothing on Haiti and AIDS, as the story focused mainly on Gingrich’s praise for then-governor Bill Weld. “What makes Gov. Weld so different is he understands the obligation not to repair it, not to raise taxes to pay for it, not to prop it up, but to replace the welfare state,” the Republican quoted Gingrich as saying.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton got a little more incendiary, with this:

Gingrich also attacked congressional Democrats for what he called, “a provision in the crime bill that establishes a racial quota for murderers,” referring to a section seeking to determine if members of one racial group are being convicted for murder more than others.

But alas, still nothing on Haitians.

I thought I must have written something. So last week I visited the Boston Public Library, where I looked up the issue of the Phoenix that was published the Thursday after the convention. And there was not a word about it. Apparently we had made the decision to cover the event for background purposes on the grounds that no one wanted to read what we had to say five days after the fact. Of course, this being 1994, we weren’t blogging the convention. So if it didn’t appear in the paper, well, it didn’t appear.

In an ironic twist — as Gingrich and Mitt Romney battle it out for the Republican presidential nomination — is that one of the stars of the convention was Romney, who was just beginning his campaign against Sen. Ted Kennedy.

It’s possible that I’ve got a notebook in the attic. But finding it would be a huge challenge, and then I’d have to decipher my handwriting from more than 17 years ago. It’s also possible that I did something with it later in the campaign. But I doubt it, and eliminating that possibility would require several hours with microfilm.

So there you have it — a tantalizing tidbit about Gingrich, just out of reach, less than a week before the Iowa caucuses. If anyone remembers this or has a newspaper clipping, I would love to hear from you.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Larz Neilson

    A good teaching point for you, Professor. If you don’t write it down in a format that can be retrieved, it WILL pop up much later. All you have to figure out is exactly what will become important. Its having has stuck with you all these years means it probably made something click.

  2. I gave it a go, for about a half-hour, but could find nothing on-line. Sorry!

  3. Brad Deltan

    Call the Romney campaign, see if you can find out who Romney’s media/communications director was during his Senate run back then. If Romney was important enough, he may have a tape of Gingrich’s speech from back then…a tape I’m sure he’d be GLAD to share today!

  4. Andy Koppel

    And therein lies the problem. Gingrich is offensive because he can’t control his outbursts. Romney is offensive because he can — and yet indulges his worst instincts and somehow gets away with it because he seems measured when contrasted with Gingrich. Distill the content of both and see if there are any important differences.

    In 1974, it was next to impossible to find anyone who would admit to having voted for Nixon. In the Internet age, the people who think Romney is somehow superior to Gingrich will not be able to escape the consequences of their words should he somehow get elected.

  5. L.K. Collins

    What’s the matter, Dan, don’t like to be called out for your bad journalistic technique?

  6. Peter Sullivan

    “I had hoped to stir up a little controversy this week over something Newt Gingrich said a long time ago.”

    I think this pretty much sums up the Blogger Vs. Journalist debate!!!!

  7. Bill Duncliffe

    While blog commentary may be held to different standards than journalism, given this post comes from a professor of journalism I find this particular post troublesome.

    A couple of caveats – 1) While I am a conservative I bear no particular affection for or allegiance to either Romney or Gingrich; 2) My comments are, of course, moot if proof turns up that the remarks alleged were indeed made, although it should be noted that the observation that the remarks were “hate filled” is an interpretation which would be better assessed were we presented with the full text of the speech in question.

    Therein lies the problem, which I think is one that happens all too frequently in modern journalism. Because, essentially, this post boils down to the following – There is no provision of the actual speech, there is no confirming the nature of the remarks, either in other media or (presumably) in the recollection of other colleagues, there is, in fact (to date), no record that these remarks were ever made at all. Other than a hazy 17 year old “recollection.”

    And yet the allegation of “hate filled” commentary is put out there. This strikes me as the particulary odious kind of allegation that shows up downstream in other media as “It is rumored that…” when the sources cited – when they are cited, which often they are not – are making unsubstantiated allegations.

    The fact that these allegations are made just short of the caucuses so that the allegation will carry more weight than any potential clarification is all the more troubling.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Bill: What evidence do you have that my memory is “hazy”? Why are you throwing “It is rumored that” in there? My memory is not hazy. I express my opinion in this blog, and my opinion, based on my clear recollection of what Gingrich said (if not the exact words), is that his words were hateful. Moreover, you seem to have no regard for the role of blogs and social media in tapping the collective memory of the audience in order to get at the truth. I am quite sure my item will have no resonance unless I am able to track down exactly what Gingrich said. What you are saying is that I’m not allowed to ask.

  8. Bill Duncliffe

    “I recall…some hate-filled words”
    “I thought I must have written something”
    “It’s possible…it’s also possible”
    “Tantalizing tidbit…just out of reach”

    I think “hazy” is a reasonable conclusion. Especially when you acknowledge that the “hate-filled” nature of the commentary is only your opinion. You can disagree with that and I can see where you might but I think my conclusion is reasonable.

    The use of “It is rumored that” addresses the incestuous (circular?) nature of blogging commentary – which all too often seeps into mainstream broadcast/cable commentary – these days to repeat that which was offered on other commentary sites as more substantial allegations than they actually are once the layers of the onion get peeled back. In fact I am quite sure that your commentary potentially “will have…resonance (even if you are unable) to track down exactly what Gingrich said” given the (shall we say) passionate nature of blogging commentary.

    Feels like you have already tapped a bunch of collective memory and have come up empty. But are throwing it out there anyway under the guise of “help me out here” while ignoring important impacts.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Bill: You’re citing matters I’m uncertain about to make it seem I’m also uncertain about what I saw and heard, in person, on May 14, 1994.

  9. L.K. Collins

    It think we all believe, Dan, that you are entitled to your opinion.

    But if “your opinion” relies upon such flimsy evidence as your post here does, it is disingenuous and offensive to complain vociferously when others rely upon the same technique.

    You complain frequently, and rightly so, about others plopping unsubstantiated charges on the table. Does your post here find itself unworthy of a similar charge?

    I also think that a professor of journalism would voluntarily adhere to a higher standard. It is a shame you haven’t.

  10. Nancy Mades

    Having worked with you and knowing you since 1987, I can only say this: If you say you heard Newt say mean things about AIDS/Haitians back in ’94, you heard it. Every reporter has a mental file of things that they’ve heard people say over the years that they just never forget. Mine are an odd mix of Dith Pran describing his escape from the Killing Fields of Cambodia and a Tourettes Syndrome sufferer who involuntarily called me names I didn’t even know existed throughout the entire two-hour interview.

  11. L.K. Collins

    One may have a mental file, but to take that “mental file” and produce it as an inflammatory piece without being able to say much more than “trust me…I heard it” is pretty poor journalism and equally bad blogging.

    From a professor of journalism? Well, you answer the question.

  12. Glen Bergendahl

    May I quote Dan Rather and “New York Times”?

    Rather: “The story is true.”

    Times: “Fake but True”

    • Dan Kennedy

      That’s quite a leap, Glen. I don’t lack verification of the story — I was there. I lack only direct quotes.

  13. Glen Bergendahl

    You’re right, Dan. I erred.

    The “Times” headline read: “Fake but accurate.”

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