CHARLESTON, S.C. — Newt Gingrich hit back forcefully on Thursday at an allegation that he asked his second wife to tolerate an "open marriage," angrily denying the claim at a presidential debate in South Carolina.
"I think the disruptive, vicious, negative nature of the news media makes it harder to govern this country," Gingrich fumed at the debate moderator, John King of CNN. "I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that."
The Republican crowd roared its approval of Gingrich.
Gingrich's wife said in an interview the Republican presidential candidate asked her to have an "open marriage" while he was having an affair with another woman in the 1990s, a statement that might damage his chances in South Carolina's primary vote.
Gingrich's wife Marianne spoke to ABC News' Nightline in an interview to be aired Thursday night.
Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is rising in the polls ahead of Saturday's primary vote in South Carolina in which he is campaigning as the conservative alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.
Gingrich called the claim that he asked Marianne to allow him to have a mistress "false."
"I'm tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama," Gingrich said.
His Republican opponents were asked whether Gingrich's past infidelity should influence the campaign.
"Let's get on to the real issues," said Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is challenging Gingrich for the votes of social conservatives, talked about faith.
"This country is a very forgiving country," Santorum said, and no one is perfect. He adds that it's up to voters in South Carolina to decide if the matter is relevant.
Ron Paul said the attacks on Gingrich are being generated by the media. But he adds that he's proud his wife of 54 years is with him.
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