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Gingrich: I won't debate Obama if media moderates

Gingrich: On big issues, Romney is a liberal
Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaks to media during a news conference outside the Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012, in Lutz, Fla. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

PENSACOLA, Fla. - With his poll numbers lagging in Florida, Newt Gingrich returned Monday to his tried-and-true offensive against the media, declaring that if he's the Republican nominee, he will not debate President Obama if a reporter serves as moderator.

"The reporters who run the debates have no interest in asking any question which will affect Obama," Gingrich told a crowd gathered to see him at the Pensacola airport. "That's why, as your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators because you don't need to have a second Obama person on the debate."

It is not the first time Gingrich has threatened such action during his week in Florida. At a tea party event in Coral Springs last Wednesday, he told the crowd that he would "tolerate" the media-hosted primary debates, but in the general election he would want to set the terms of the debate with the president himself.

"We should be able to talk to the American people without reporters playing gotcha, being clever or having 60-second rules like 'What would you do about Nigeria in 60 seconds?' or 'What's your answer to Social Security in 30 seconds?'" Gingrich told the enthusiastic crowd.

The former House speaker has said that as nominee he would challenge the president to seven, three-hour Lincoln-Douglas style debates, despite the fact that the debate schedule has already been set by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

For all his bashing of the "elite media," Gingrich also tends to embrace the media's work when it suits his purposes.

On the stump, Gingrich frequently reinforces his positions by pointing to reporting done in mainstream outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and even the chief nemesis of the right - the New York Times.

He has repeatedly used the fact-checking work done by news outlets to combat attacks against him by other candidates and their super PACs. In Iowa, Gingrich often railed against an ad run by a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC attacking him on a variety of topics, including the $1.6 million he received from Freddie Mac; the $300,000 penalty he paid for ethics violations, and charges that he supported amnesty for illegal immigrants and worked with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ex-Vice President Al Gore on global warming.

"I'd just suggest you look at the Washington Post which says that the latest Romney ads got 4 `Pinocchios' [for untruthfulness] and I'll rely on their judgment." Gingrich told reporters at a press gaggle in Des Moines back in December.

CBS News/National Journal off-air reporter Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.

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