NEWT GINGRICH kicked off his maiden day as the first Republican House Speaker in 40 years embroiled in controversy over his mother's tell-tale remark that he thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton is 'a bitch'. The 51-year-old Georgia lawmaker refused to say in media interviews how he felt about Mrs Clinton or whether he referred to her in that derogatory way. He also declined to contradict his mother. But he slammed CBS television reporter Connie Chung, accusing her of unprofessional conduct in her handling of an interview with his mother, Kathleen Gingrich. The uproar over the remark recalled an incident during the 1984 presidential campaign when Barbara Bush, wife of then Republican vice-presidential candidate George Bush, was asked her views on Democratic candidate Geraldine Ferraro and said it was a word that rhymed with 'rich'. In interviews just hours before he was to be sworn in as House speaker, Mr Gingrich was repeatedly asked about his mother's comments, to be shown in full on Eye-to-Eye with Connie Chung. Visibly angry, Mr Gingrich said Chung exploited his mother by asking her to 'whisper' what her son's views of Mrs Clinton were, suggesting the answer would be held in confidence. The comment was made with three television cameras whirling away and after whispering the phrase 'She's a bitch,' Mrs Gingrich resumed full voice. In Arkansas, President Bill Clinton ignored reporters' questions about the incident. But Louise Slaughter, a Democratic member of the House, said Mr Gingrich should apologise. 'Bitch is a disgusting and degrading characterisation and certainly not one worthy of the first lady,' she said. 'Connie Chung went and spent eight hours with my mom and dad,' Mr Gingrich said. ' 'My dad baked her a cake. In eight hours' time they talked about a lot of things. My mother refused to talk about one topic, and Connie Chung said 'oh, whisper it to me'.' Mr Gingrich said: 'I think it is unprofessional and frankly pretty despicable to go to a mother, who is not a politician, not in public life, and say 'whisper to me' and then share it with the country. I'm not going to comment on what my mother said. I'm not about to have a fight with my mother on a day that is happy for both of us. I just think it's unfair for a professional reporter of national fame to try to exploit somebody's mother . . .' This was the latest controversy involving Mr Gingrich. Last week, he refused a US$4.5 million (HK$34.78 million) book advance from a publisher after a furore in which Democrats and fellow Republicans and criticised the largesse of the book deal. Other controversies included his suggestion that poor children could be put into 'orphanages' if their welfare support payments are cut off under Republican reforms and his accusation that White House staff members had used drugs.