Gingrich 'mystified' by media interest in his $500K jewelry budget (VIDEO)

When asked about coverage of candidates' personal lives, Newt Gingrich first referred to society’s preoccupation with gossip and then said he was 'mystified' by interest in his jewelry credit account.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
Former House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in Washington, on May 23.

Which matters from a candidate’s personal life can the press report on without engaging in “gotcha” behavior?, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was asked Monday.

For Gingrich, the topic is a sensitive one. He is hoping to appeal to conservative voters but has been married three times.

He brands himself as a fiscal conservative, but last week Politico reported that Gingrich and his wife, Callista, had a credit account at the luxury jewelry firm Tiffany & Co. with a balance of between $250,000 and $500,000 during calendar years 2005 and 2006.

Speaking at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in Washington, Gingrich first referred to society’s preoccupation with gossip and then said he was “mystified” by interest in the jewelry account.

“If you looked at the front page of The New York Times (Sunday) which devoted, I believe, one quarter of the front page to Lindsay Lohan above the fold, it should tell you all you need to know about the current state of where we are. We are in a society in which gossip replaces serious policy and then everybody wrings their hand about how hard it is to have a serious conversation,” Gingrich said.

The former House Speaker admitted that, “by definition, if you run for president, anything is on the table. Ask Grover Cleveland, ask Andrew Jackson. Anything is on the table, I accept that, but I don’t have to participate in the conversation. I can focus on what I think the American people need to worry about."

He then launched into a defense of his financial behavior.

“On the Tiffany’s thing, I am totally mystified. I owe no personal debts, none. Callista and I have paid off our house, we have paid off our cars, we run four small businesses, we happen to be successful. We reported accurately what we are doing," said Gingrich.

The information about the credit account came from a financial disclosure form Mrs. Gingrich was required to complete, because she worked for the House Agriculture Committee during the period in question.

"It is all after tax income. None of it is public money," Gingrich continued, before flipping the conversation back to politics. "You know, if Obama followed our pattern of fiscal responsibility, the United States would currently be running a surplus and buying back debt from the Chinese.”

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