By George E. Curry
Whether it was John King of CNN or Fox News’ Juan Williams, moderators of recent Republican presidential debates have allowed Newt Gingrich to bully them and avoid answering their questions. I don’t necessarily blame Gingrich, I blame the journalists who fail to hold him accountable.
King timidly asked Gingrich in the last South Carolina debate if he wanted to comment on an interview with one of his ex-wives in which she charged that Gingrich had proposed having an open marriage that would have allowed him to simultaneously continue his marriage and his relationship with his then-mistress, who is now his third wife.
In a carefully orchestrated attack on what he calls the “elite media,” Gingrich lectured King: “…To make 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.”
In an effort to not appear confrontational, King took the tongue lashing, with only a feeble attempt to point out that the interview was conducted by another network. That, in turn, was met by Gingrich saying, “You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame it on somebody else.”
Blaming the media for his infidelity is exactly what Gingrich did. What’s despicable is Gingrich’s behavior, not the questions he was asked.
Let’s review Gingrich’s record by starting with his birth.
According to a story by Stephen Talbot published in the Aug. 28, 1998 issue of Salon: “Newt himself is the product of a weekend marriage. His 16-year-old mother, Kit, married hard-drinking, brawling Big Newt McPherson, whom she met at a roller rink. But she quit the marriage after just three days when he hit her.”
Gingrich was adopted by his mother’s second husband, Bob Gingrich.
“As a high school student – precocious, lonely, overweight – Newt secretly romanced his geometry teacher, a buxom, matronly woman named Jackie Battley,” the Salon article stated. “The furtive romance with his 24- year-old teacher included nighttime sessions in the back of a car in remote areas of Fort Benning, Ga.”
Referring to that first marriage, an article by Ariel Levy in the New Yorker magazine (January 23, 2012) observed: “As a student at Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia, Gingrich fell in love with his geometry teacher, Jacqueline Battley. She taught him to drive. ‘He was her little boy,’ Gingrich’s mother has said. They were married in 1962, after his freshman year at Emory, when Gingrich was nineteen and Battley was twenty-six.”
The New Yorker article recounted, “He [Gingrich] ran for Congress twice and lost before his successful 1978 campaign, which he organized around the slogan ‘Let Our Family Represent Your Family.’ After he was elected, he moved the family to Fairfax, Virginia. One year later, he met Marianne Ginther at a political fund-raiser in Ohio, and within weeks, she told the journalist John Richardson, he asked her to marry him. It was ‘way too early, and he wasn’t divorced yet,’ she said. ‘I should have known there was a problem.’”
The story continued, “Before the campaign, Jacqueline had been treated for uterine cancer. ‘He walked out in the spring of 1980,’ she told the Washington Post. “That September, she was taken to the hospital to have a tumor removed. ‘I went into the hospital for my third surgery,’ she said. ‘The two girls came to see me, and said, Daddy is downstairs and could he come up? When he got there, he wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was recovering from the surgery.’”
According to the Salon article, “Six months after divorcing Jackie, Gingrich married a younger woman, Marianne, with whom he had been having an affair.”
It was ABC News’ interview with Marianne Gingrich that created a controversy shortly before the South Carolina primary.
In the interview, she said Gingrich had admitted to a 6-year affair with Callista Bisek, who is now his third wife. She said Gingrich proposed an open marriage whereby he could remain married to her while continuing his relationship with Callista. Marianne said she was shocked that her then- husband’s affair was conducted “in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington.”
The New Yorker article stated, “after she took a job as a clerk with the House Agriculture Committee, they began their affair… At that time, Gingrich was leading the charge against Bill Clinton for his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, an intern more than twenty years his junior. As it happened, Callista was a congressional staffer twenty-three years Gingrich’s junior, the same age as his daughter, Jackie.”
Like the first Mrs. Gingrich, the second wife, Marianne, was abandoned while she was facing a serious medical challenge.
In her interview on ABC News “Nightline,” the second wife said Gingrich left her to marry his mistress six months after she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
“He also was advised by the doctor when I was sitting there that I was not to be under stress,” Marianne said in the interview. “He knew.”
And we know why Gingrich likes to attack reporters. That’s much easier than answering questions about his serial hypocrisy.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.