Santorum: No regrets about "taking on" reporter

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, speaks in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, March 26, 2012, as the court began three days of arguments on the health care law signed by President Barack Obama in Washington. Standing with him are his children, from left: John, Elizabeth, and Daniel. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Rick Santorum
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, speaks in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, March 26, 2012, as the court began three days of arguments on the health care law signed by President Barack Obama in Washington.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Updated: 6:08 p.m. ET

Rick Santorum says he has no regrets about a heated exchange with a New York Times reporterwho questioned him about statements he made during a speech on Sunday.

Santorum, speaking on the steps of the Supreme Court on Monday, argued that you're not a conservative "worth your salt" until you've taken on the New York Times.

"I don't regret taking on a New York Times reporter who was out of line," Santorum said. "You know, if you're a conservative and you haven't taken on a New York Times reporter, you're not worth your salt as far as I'm concerned. So we're going to stand up and fight."

Santorum grew frustrated with New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny on Sunday evening after Zeleny pressed the candidate about earlier comments that Mitt Romney is "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."

The former Pennsylvania senator told reporters afterwards that his remarks were meant within the context of health care, and that it was unreasonable to suggest otherwise.

When Zeleny followed up, Santorum said: "What speech did you listen to? Stop lying."

(Watch the full exchange at left)

Questioned further, Santorum said he meant Romney was the worst candidate "to run against Barack Obama on the issue of health care, because he fashioned the blueprint. I've been saying it in every speech. Quit distorting our words. If I see it [in print], it's bull(expletive). C'mon man, what are you doing?"

Santorum defended his comments in an interview with CNN Monday night, expressing frustration at having been asked for clarification multiple times in a row and arguing that Zeleny took the comments out of context. He also  suggested that the Romney camp was feeding lies to reporters. 

"I said, what speech did you listen to? I was talking about Obamacare and Romneycare and that Governor Romney is uniquely disqualified to make the case because he wrote the blueprint for Obamacare," Santorum said. "This is the kind of stuff that we have been seeing from the Romney spin machine, their press secretary was out at the back of the room, feeding lies to the national press."

In a fundraising email released to donors following the exchange, the Santorum campaign asked supporters for contributions to help him "fight back" against the paper.

"Earlier today, while campaigning in Wisconsin, I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous healthcare legislation," Santorum wrote in the email, according to the Huffington Post. "Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words. Let me assure you, I didn't back down, and I didn't let him bully me. I think it is high time that conservatives find the courage to expose the liberal press for what they are, a defender and enabler of Romney's and Obama's liberal agendas."

Santorum asked donors to give to him rather than to the Times.

"A subscription to the New York Times cost approximately $30," the e-mail says, according to the Huffington Post. "That's how much I am hoping you will be willing to contribute to join me in my fight to become the next President of the United States."

A yearly home delivery subscription to the New York Times' print edition costs between about $150 and $300 +, depending on where you live and how many issues you order per week, according to the Times website. A digital subscription costs a minimum of $3.75/week - or $195 for a year - according to the website.

Zeleny is not the first New York Times reporter to take heat from a presidential candidate. George W. Bush got caught on a live mic calling the paper's Adam Clymer as a "major league (expletive)hole" in 2000; in 2008, John McCain got in a heated exchange with the Times' Elisabeth Bumiller.

In a Monday interview with"CBS This Morning," Zeleny argued that Santorum was playing to the cameras.

"It is a very common tactic for Republican presidential candidates. Or even Democratic presidential candidates to try and use the media a foil here. We've seen Newt Gingrich do it throughout the campaign season. So he clearly knew the cameras were rolling here," Zeleny said.

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