Nightline's Pointless Interview With Marianne Gingrich

Did Newt ask his ex-wife for an open marriage? Who cares? Would that be worse than cheating on her for years and then divorcing her for his mistress?

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There are times when holding a story until after an election is the right decision for a news organization. Imagine a municipal contest in which a serious allegation of wrongdoing is levied a day in advance, there's no time for the newspaper to independently research the matter, and there's the prospect of the front page on Election Day featuring a possibly false charge that the accused has no time to contest.

But I have no idea why ABC News reportedly thought about holding its interview with Marianne Gingrich, Newt's second wife, until after the South Carolina primary. Having watched the broadcast late Thursday, it's apparent that the candidate had plenty of time to respond -- in fact, he did so before the report aired, when asked about the matter at the Republican candidate's debate. And frankly, I don't see why the allegation that Gingrich asked his then-wife for an open marriage would affect the way that Americans judge his character or fitness for office.

So airing the story before the primary was the right call... if, that is, you think the story was worth airing.

We've long known, after all, that Gingrich cheated on Marianne with his third wife, Callista, and did it for a long time. Put another way, the marriage was open: he just hadn't told his spouse. What Marianne says -- and Gingrich denies -- is that he later confessed the affair and asked if they could proceed in an open marriage. Is there a moral code by which asking your wife's permission to sleep with someone else is more loathsome than just doing it for years on end, confessing after she's diagnosed with MS, and divorcing her to marry the mistress?

It doesn't speak very well for Nightline that they had the aggrieved ex-wife of a presidential candidate eager to speak with them on record... and the most relevant bit of information they managed to get was... that he maybe asked for an open marriage after carrying on an affair for years.

John H. Richardson of Esquire did a lot better two years ago with the same source. Nightline presumably got a ratings boost out of this little episode. It ought to suffer a hit to its reputation too -- not for going after Newt Gingrich, about which I couldn't care less, but because it focused our attention on something irrelevant and squandered an opportunity to get something better.

Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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