Opinion Brief

Should audiences be allowed to cheer at presidential debates?

Newt Gingrich says that asking debate audiences to hold their applause is an assault on free speech — and vows that he'll protest such rules

After an unusually subdued Florida debate, Newt Gingrich said Tuesday that he wouldn't "allow" the moderators of future GOP forums to prevent audiences from cheering. Gingrich's often-fiery performances at the podium, especially his attacks on the media, have energized conservative crowds and fueled his rise in polls, but, at Monday's debate, NBC's Brian Williams told the crowd to hold its applause until the breaks. In hindsight, Gingrich says he wishes he'd protested NBC's rule, arguing that it amounts to stifling free speech. Do audiences really have a right to cheer at presidential debates?

No. Gingrich's complaint is bogus: "Free speech? Meh," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. That's a "false and silly" argument. The First Amendment says the government can't regulate free speech, but news organizations "have every right" to avoid cutting into the candidates' debating time by setting some rules. If Gingrich and his fans in the audience don't like those rules, they can stay home. "Free speech does not mean that NBC has to broadcast cheering sections."
"Gingrich: I'll 'serve notice' that future debates must allow audience cheering"

Spectators should be allowed to cheer: Newt's right — "asking the audience to remain silent is silly," says Jed Lewison at Daily Kos. "If you don't want audience participation... then don't invite an audience." Still, he's "a fool to be complaining about it." He's only reminding people that "without an audience cheering him on, he transforms from the Incredible Hulk into the Pillsbury Doughboy."
"Newt Gingrich says he won't agree to future debates unless audience can applaud his verbal stylings"

Like it or not, the crowds will be quiet in the fall: Get used to the silence, Newt, says Pete Spiliakos at First Things. The fall presidential debates against President Obama won't take place in "some Tea Party Thunderdome." They'll be orderly affairs, no applause allowed. Gingrich might look like a "awesome debater" when he's getting hoots and hollers for attacking "the elitist, weenie, liberal media," but he'll look absurd if he tries his "indignation act" in a silent auditorium.
"Debate thoughts"

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