The most vibrant episode of tonight's Republican debate happened at the very beginning, as Newt Gingrich dismissed an explosive interview given by his ex-wife and accused the mainstream media of shielding President Obama.
CNN moderator John King opened the forum by asking Gingrich about an interview that his ex-wife Marianne Gingrich gave to ABC News, in which she said the former House speaker wanted an "open marriage" with her in 1999. Gingrich turned the question around on King, blaming the mainstream media for detracting from the issues and earning a standing ovation from the audience.
"I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that," Gingrich said to cheers.
"Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."
As King tried to point out that CNN wasn't responsible for the interview, Gingrich jumped in and said that "it was repeated by your network."
"You chose to start the debate with it," he said. "Don't try to blame it on somebody else."
Gingrich, 68, has won support from Republican audiences by being openly skeptical of the media. In tonight's debate, he triumphed as he said, "I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking the public."
The other candidates -- only three others, now -- were asked if the matter was a valid campaign issue. Mitt Romney, the front-runner in the race, said simply, "let's get on to the real issues."
Rick Santorum, though, said that "these are issues of our lives" and that "those are things for everyone in this audience to look at."
The spotlight quickly turned to Romney, though, as he was pressed on his tenure at Bain Capital, but more aggressively his decision not to release his tax returns just yet.
Romney, 64, was booed as he was asked whether he would release his tax returns for multiple years, as his father did. "Maybe. I don't know how many years I'll release," he said before a few people in the audience began to heckle him and boo.
"And I'll release multiple years. I don't know how many years, but I'll be happy to do that," he said.
Romney also argued that he should release his taxes at once instead of "drip by drip," so that Democrats don't "go out with another array of attacks" each time.
Romney told reporters this week that he pays a 15 percent tax rate, a figure that is lower than what most Americans pay because most of his income comes from investments, not a salary. But at the debate in South Carolina, Romney said, "I pay a lot of taxes."
"I'm honest in my dealings with people," he said. "My taxes are carefully managed."
Gingrich's camp, meanwhile, released his tax returns online during the debate.
In the center of the stage with the front-runner, Gingrich tried to close the gap with Romney by citing his deficiencies. But Romney came to the debate prepared.