Gingrich decries decision to hold debate applause

Newt Gingrich, who surged ahead in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary after raucous response from the crowds attending two debates there, on Tuesday threatened to quit participating in any future debate if the audience is silenced.

The threat came after Gingrich ripped the format of a Florida debate Monday night in which the moderator insisted the audience withhold applause or outburst.

"We're going to serve notice on future debates ... we're just not going to allow that to happen. The media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to. It's almost silly," Gingrich told Fox News.

Gingrich, who received two standing ovations during the debates in South Carolina -- which are credited in part with propelling him to the top of the GOP pack -- said the warning to the audience by NBC News host Brian Williams at the start of the debate was a bad one, but he's not surprised by it.

"I wish, in retrospect, that I protested" the call to keep quiet, Gingrich said. "I think it's wrong. And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they've done in every debate."

The lack of applause and noise during the debate was striking, prompting many viewers to comment Monday night on the silence.

NBC political reporter Chuck Todd responded to some disparaging comments on Twitter, saying that viewers are "fickle"

"Last few weeks, nothing but complaints about applause; now, complaints about too little applause. #fickle," he wrote. Tuesday morning, Todd wrote that Williams' request for the audience to pipe down was debate boilerplate.

"The same 'ask' of the audience was made at all NBC debates: simply reminding them their clapping could eat in to debate time. Nothing new," he tweeted.