If all that "legitimate" means is that John King was not doing anything that many other reporters would have done in the same circumstances, that is making common practice a substitute for our own judgments about what is and is not relevant in a given context. Neither the audience in that room nor the millions watching on television were there to find out about Newt Gingrich's marital problems. If it is a common practice for the media to focus on such things, so much the worse for the media -- and for the country.
"The politics of personal destruction" -- as Bill Clinton called it, and as he himself practiced it -- is not the way to solve the nation's problems. It has already poisoned the well of political discourse this season and claimed Herman Cain as its first victim, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations by women with checkered pasts of their own.
Whether Herman Cain was good, bad or indifferent as a candidate, and whether his chances of winning the Republican nomination were substantial or non-existent is not the issue. Nor is this the issue as regards Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney or any other candidate.
Poisoning the well of political discourse may be one of the reasons why we see such unsatisfactory sets of candidates for political office in both parties, not only this year but in previous election years as well.
Many able and decent people are understandably reluctant to subject themselves and their families to a mud-slinging contest or to media "gotcha" questions. The creeping acceptance of such practices is hardly a justification, but is itself part of the degeneration of our times.
The time is long overdue to get serious.