Last night ABC News aired the much ballyhooed interview with Marianne Gingrich, Newt’s ex-wife.

The ballyhoo was not warranted.  The “interview” was not so much an interview as an 8-minute ABC News attempt to portray Newt in an unfavorable light interspersed with very short clips of Marianne.

A prime example was Brian Ross asserting that Newt divorced his first wife while she was “being treated for cancer.”  That account has been disputed, but no note of the dispute was made by Ross.

There were only two sensational aspects of Marianne’s statement, neither of which ABC News tried to put in context or challenge.

First, Marianne stated that Newt wanted an “open marriage.”  Ross never attempted to clarify whether Newt used that term or whether that was Marianne’s interpretation.   While Ross noted Newt’s denial at the debate, he made no mention of the context which would have raised questions as to Marianne’s story.

Robert Costa of National Review reported yesterday a news story from 1999 that Marianne was the one who broke the relationship years before the divorce by cleaning out the house of all furniture while Newt was away, and that they were separated for six years before briefly reconciling:

Documents related to the divorce filed Friday in Cobb County Superior Court include a separation agreement signed by the couple and notarized in December 1987. There is no indication it was ever filed.

Gingrich’s divorce attorney, Thomas Browning, said Marianne Gingrich called her husband on his birthday in June 1987 to tell him she was leaving him. Gingrich, he said, came back to Georgia to find his home emptied out.

Browning said the pair maintained separate residences for six years before reconciling in late 1993 or early 1994.

Instead, ABC News presented Marianne as a victim without even challenging her on the history of the relationship which may have given viewers reason to doubt her version of the “open marriage” allegation.

Second, Marianne stated that Newt asked for a divorce after she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  Again, Ross did nothing to challenge the statement even though James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the day that Marianne’s account was not consistent with an account she gave to the Associated Press in July 2000:

We would like to raise a note of caution about Marianne Gingrich’s credibility. According to both Esquire in 2010 and ABC in 2012, she, like Mrs. Romney, was diagnosed with MS in 1998. But according to a July 2000 Associated Press dispatch, she had not yet received the diagnosis even then.

On the two key inflammatory statements made against Newt, ABC News presented the statements without challenging his accuser based on readily available public information casting doubt on her version of events.

We can debate the propriety of running an interview with a bitter ex-spouse at a critical juncture in a campaign.

What is not open to debate is that ABC News used Marianne Gingrich for its own purpose of trying to damage one of the top contenders for the Republican nomination.

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Update:  Some other reactions which make a similar point:

Toby Harnden:

Much of the six-minute segment had the air of an attack ad against Gingrich with Brian Ross’s portentous voice intoning that Gingrich “regularly expounds on family values the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman” and how Callista Gingrich (his third wife) is “probably best known in this campaign for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewellery Gingrich bought for her at Tiffany’s”.

The “family values” thing is a standard justification for going after conservatives over their private lives while giving liberals a pass. And Ross’s phrasing disingenuously conflated personal morality and Gingrich’s views on gay marriage.