Gingrich, Generation X meet on MTV

July 14, 1995|By Marc Gunther | Marc Gunther,Knight-Ridder News Service

Boxers or briefs? Newt Gingrich won't tell.

And, no, he has nothing to say about Hugh Grant.

The 52-year-old speaker of the House went on MTV, home to Madonna videos and "Beavis and Butt-head," yesterday to talk to the twenty-something generation.

But the questions about underwear and Hollywood came not from the MTV crowd. They came from Washington reporters who mobbed Mr. Gingrich after the taping of an MTV special, "Newt: Raw," which dealt soberly with such topics as education and welfare reform.

The kids talked issues; the reporters wanted gossip.

If nothing else, the juxtaposition illustrates how MTV-style new values influence the culture even on a day when MTV tried to get serious. For the session with Mr. Gingrich, MTV put together a panel of six thoughtful young voters, ages 21 to 25, in contrast to the crowd of high school students who questioned President Clinton at a forum last year. That was when the now famous boxers-or-briefs question was asked, and answered, by the president.

This time, panelists Katie Ross, 22, a law student at the University of Michigan, and Rob Levine, 24, a writer for Wired magazine, posed questions about Republican proposals to cut subsidies for student loans, ease environmental rules and limit welfare payments.

Mr. Gingrich deftly handled most questions. Sounding like the professor he once was, the Georgia Republican lectured the group about economics, explaining, for example, how government spending means more government borrowing, which means higher interest rates for everyone.

When students complained of having to pay more interest on college loans, Mr. Gingrich told them: "The question is, do you pay for it directly or do you pay for it in your taxes? . . . The government has no money right now."

If the Republicans succeed in balancing the budget, Mr. Gingrich said the result would be "lower interest rates for everything you buy." Several students were skeptical, and the back-and-forth exchanges were generally informative.

But, as the morning taping proceeded, a crowd of close to 75 reporters and photographers watching on TV monitors in another room grew fidgety. They yearned for a catchy tidbit or sound bite.

After the taping, they surrounded Mr. Gingrich and the students.

"Mr. Speaker, boxers or briefs?" asked a reporter for "Extra," a TV show that covers entertainment, after Mr. Gingrich ducked a similar inquiry from the Washington Post.

"I think that's a very stupid question," Mr. Gingrich replied, tartly. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

He was similarly irritated by a question about Hugh Grant.

By contrast, Mr. Gingrich and the panelists praised the "Newt: Raw" show as useful. MTV broadcast the program Thursday night, and will play it again Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

"He was very interested in what we had to say," said Ms. Ross, the Michigan law student. "I was, all in all, pleased."

Ariel Gore, 25, a Berkeley, Calif., student and former welfare mother, wasn't as upbeat, saying Mr. Gingrich hadn't been forthright about Republican plans to curb benefits for the poor. There's "no way" she'd ever vote for him, she said.

As the media pack continued to press around Mr. Gingrich, asking him about TV violence and "Beavis and Butt-head," Jim Brennan, 21, a Dartmouth University senior, had another question

"Mr. Speaker, is this a reason not to go into politics?" he asked.

Mr. Gingrich grinned. "It's one of the minor hazards of a free society," he said.

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