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ABC News’ textbook lesson in media hackery

ABC News’ textbook lesson in media hackery

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.


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No surprise here, either in Marianne Gingrich’s “interview” or in ABC’s treatment of same. It’s just more of the MSMs and the Democrats myth of Romney being the Republican choice. I didn’t like the man in ’08 and I still don’t like hi. He reminds me too much of a snake oil salesman in the Old West.
Newt has already made his answer, quite forcefully, in last night’s debate. I can hope, probably unrealistically, that this ends the subject.

Does anyone know why, 20 years after their divorce, she still goes by Gingrich? They don’t have any children so there are no family ties. It seems a bit creepy. Hopefully, people see this interview and realize there’s nothing there anymore and leave Newt alone.

Remind me, did ABC News double-check all its reporting on the John Edwards scandal in 2008 before broadcasting? I know it was a rush for them to get their work on the air before NBC and CBS did, and they certainly wanted to get ahead of the New York Times which had that whole series of investigative reporting on how Edwards cheated on his cancer-stricken wife…

…oh wait.

That didn’t happen. Right.

Rush Limbaugh postulates that ABC wanted this story to run just after the SC primary. The media was concentrating this week on damaging Romney (the Cayman story, the ‘did his grandfather have multiple wives’ story, etc). If Newt won the SC primary, or alternately finished a very close #2, then the ABC hit piece would take him down, leave the Pub field in disarray and clearing the path for Obama.

I don’t know if that’s right, but it certainly seems plausible, doesn’t it. Asa Times reporter would say, “I’m just asking questions”…

After what happened at the debate, it’s all egg on face on ABC. People understand this is just run of the mill Obama gaurd media trash. No one cares.

DINORightMarie | January 20, 2012 at 9:17 am

I feel dirty after watching that hit-job, mud slinging piece.

No follow-up questions. No facts to support the accusations. Throwing everything at the two – even the “expensive jewelry” Callista wears. Unsubstantiated gossip and innuendo at best. Lower than low.

They even made Callista’s “devout Catholic” beliefs seem sordid. Oh, yeah, I forgot – they hate Catholics in the MSM, don’t they? (Over 9 million hits searching “catholic church scandal” on google….feel the hate.)

    katiejane in reply to DINORightMarie. | January 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

    You’ve probably hit on the reason the ex-wife is spewing – the “expensive jewelry” Callista wears. Maybe she’s upset that she didn’t get a bunch of bling from Tiffany’s?

    If she was such a devout Catholic, why did she (apparently) screw him when he was married to his second wife?

      tsrblke in reply to jimbo3. | January 20, 2012 at 10:55 am

      Don’t quote me on this, because I honestly don’t remember where I read it, bt the implication I remember seeing was that the “devoutness” was more after the affair than anything. (re-conversion, reconciliation, whatever you’d like to name it as.)
      But then I could be wrong or misremembering what I read.

      punfundit in reply to jimbo3. | January 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Why did the second wife screw him when he was married to his first wife?

      What, someone who professes to believe in Jesus Christ is somehow flawless and without sin? Quite the contrary. Our sinfulness is the reason for Christ. Does an alcoholic become cured overnight? Can a man who grew up with “free love” turn it off overnight?

      Remove thy plank.

StrangernFiction | January 20, 2012 at 9:34 am

The Left is the enemy, and the only way to defeat them is to confront them head on. This may not work, it may be that America cannot be saved as currently constituted. But it surely will not be saved if we don’t take the fight to the Left.

The notion that you will win over the mushy middle by groveling to the Left is lunacy. You will win them over by speaking truth to power, as uncomfortable as this may be for some, or you won’t win. Play to win and you may lose. Play to lose and you will lose.

    StrangernFiction in reply to StrangernFiction. | January 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    *Play to not lose

    The left loves to paint us into our own self-constructed corners, as if their $#!+ don’t stink. They want to accuse us of being hypocrites when their very act of accusation is hypocrisy.

    The left claims to embrace “free love,” and “non-traditional” relationships or mores, yet they have no problem claiming our high ground when it suits them politically. Reject the very premise that they hold the high ground, turn the hypocrisy charge back on them.

    We can clean up our own messes. We don’t need bottom-feeders to point them out to us.

Marianne is the 2012 version of Bill Burkett. When confronted with the facts, Brian Ross will respond very Ratheresque; The accusations were fake but accurate.

Bill O’Reilly had Brian Ross on last night and basically let him completely re-present this bullsh*t, essentially unchallenged except for token complaints. In fact, Ross kept interrupting O’Reilly to add in salacious details, again, unchallenged. O’Reilly would interrupt and correct God, so that spoke volumes to me.

Glenn Beck actually defended the ABC interview, but he’d defend Charles Manson if it hurt Newt Gingrich. Beck is on the slow slide to irrelevancy. He’s earned it.

    Hope Change in reply to Henry Hawkins. | January 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Henry Hawkins – totally agree.

    Tragic, too, because I learned a lot from Glenn Beck. I learned about the American preachers who were part of the beginning of the principle that the individual is sovereign, with rights endowed by our Creator. Also marvelous shows on American History.

    All tainted now and suspect, because he seems to have lost his mind about Newt.

    I shake my head in wonder.

    Also Charles Krauthammer.

    To name just two. Just gone, off the deep end. I’m left with: ?????

    Hope Change in reply to Henry Hawkins. | January 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Oh, and Henry Hawkins, hahahaha, “OReilly would interrupt God,” so true, so true.

    O’Reilly consistently has Bernie Goldberg on to debunk liberal bias in the media, and yet O’Reilly can’t ask a single question about the problems with Marianne’s claims that Ross left out? Appalling.

The malice, contempt and ideological intent of the media has been laid bare now by the rise of the Left and by Obama. The long enterprise of covert bias is over. The Left’s triumphalism and Obama’s audacity has liberated them from the shadows. They feel as if they own this culture now. They understand both the intoxicating possibilities of another Obama term as well as the threat to their control by a Gingrich (or Palin) or any unpredictable or independently-minded non-RINO republican.

They are nothing more or less now than a kind of unapologetic vanguard of propaganda and personal destruction in service of an ideological totality. The purpose and ethic of journalism as understood within the American experience is over — though they continue to hide behind its presentation and exploit (as they debase) its traditions though “Journalism” schools and their pious declamations of “truth” and “freedom of the press” and all the inherent sacred connotations.

The Left has always used “McCarthyism” as a bogeyman of a “repressive” Right but in a perfect Orwellian inversion they now practice a concerted and vastly more sophisticated McCarythism simply as part of their workaday project. What they did to Gingrich was raw McCarthyism and raw power. They did it because they wanted to and because they could. They will keep doing it. Nothing will stop them. They are the enemy.

Where are the furious cries among the Media to release the unedited video tape of the interview?

Oh wait, wrong party. My bad….

The theme against “crazy” Newt is clear. ABC worked for months on this story, but it is hardly a Rev. Wright moment. There is also a hateful theme against Calista for being too young, dating Newt while he was separated, and looking like the blonde alien bimbo in “Mars Attacks”.

But what was the real reason for the assault on Newt by his fellow Republicans in the 90’s? “Good Newt” (as Krauthammer says) can explain conservatism best. So why are establishment Republicans so sure he is weak or unstable?

Romney’s 80’s and 90’s were making money at Bain … he’d like to portray that as just free market success, not manipulation of leverage and junk debt trading.

Newt’s 80’s and 90’s have some real conservative bona fides, but he also had his own party partly turn on him. Certainly personal destruction is a favorite method for those that fight the system … but Newt still needs to clarify those issues, as Mitt does with his jobs claims and Bain tactics.

But for the next 36 hours, sound bites might be most important. We have the “open marriage” buzz word echoing around … the six years of separation and removing all his things from the house needs to get out there. Then that story can produce backlash.

The other issue is the fatal media incomprehension of the GOP. This must end. John McCain assiduously cultivated the media for years believing he would be treated fairly when the time came. We saw how that worked out. Mitt Romney will go to his political grave believing he’ll get a fair shake from the media if he’s says all the right things and conforms to all the PC strictures.

Only Gingrich gets it. He knows the score. And they fear him for it. Romney and the rest they sneer at. Gingrich they fear.

    iconotastic in reply to raven. | January 20, 2012 at 11:27 am


    Precisely true. And every time that Newt throws leftist presumptions back into their teeth they hate and fear Newt even more. As much as anyone, Newt is responsible for ending the decades long dominance and corruption of the Democrats in Congress through this unapologetic boldness. The notion that he might do it again frightens every leftist in the MSM. I still remember the shock of the MSM when Democrats lost the House majority–reporters literally had no idea who to talk to in the GOP. It was hilarious but frightening.

And when Drudge and the Swiftboaters Against Kerry went after Kerry and when the GOP and press went after Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, what were they doing? Oh yeah, they were doing the same thing that ABC did.

Cry me crocidile tears.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to jimbo3. | January 20, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Alternative media doesn’t reach the masses yet … but it may be our only hope.

    And I may be biased, but this blog certainly seems more fair and balanced than big media.

    Valerie in reply to jimbo3. | January 20, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Did you read the Washington Post piece that the paper claimed “debunked” the Swift Boat veterans charges?

    Did you watch the interview with the author of John Kerry’s autobiography, who is supposed to be a “historian,” and did you watch him admit such facts as to make one conclude that he had written a hagiography?

    Did you read “Unfit for Command”?

    I did all these things, and I understand exactly where the Swift Boat Veterans are coming from.

    I also read John Kerry’s “autobiography.” He was accused of slandering men with specific names, in specific incidents. They had a point, and they had every right to answer that unprovoked assault on their reputations.

      jimbo3 in reply to Valerie. | January 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm

      And everyone has the right to go after Newt for things he admits are true. LukeHandCool, I guess you no longer believe that questions about admitted truthful things are no longer legitimate?

    SmokeVanThorn in reply to jimbo3. | January 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    They were doing the same thing only if a false accusation is the same as a true one.

    I bet you still defend Dan Rather.

    punfundit in reply to jimbo3. | January 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Sure, as soon as you can show us a crocidile.

Excellent write-up, Prof. Top to bottom, a fine piece of exposition.

Great post, Professor.

Dear RealClearPolitics, You recently linked one of the Professor’s posts … now would be a good time to link again.

Obama owes his rise to digging up sensational allegations made in a nasty divorce case of his opponent. He got rid of Jack Ryan in the 2004 Illinois Senate election using just this tactic. Ryan’s divorce file had been sealed by the court until the Chicago Tribune and a Chicago TV station went to Los Angeles and petitioned the court to unseal the records. Once they obtained the records containing salacious allegations they used them to effectively smear Ryan and compel him to drop out of the race. Ryan dropped out and was replaced by Alan Keyes. Obama then sailed to an easy win against a much weaker opponent.

Obama has never had a record to run on. Getting rid of a strong opponent has always been necessary for him to win. It worked before so that’s the strategy now. A compliant media is a necessary partner in this scheme, and ABC was glad to assume that role.

History will show that a variation of this tactic was used in the 2008 presidential election. A google search reveals stories circa 2008 regarding John McCain’s divorce from a former wife. The media McCain thought were his friends looked hard for juicy details that would help Obama by discrediting him. Few were found, as I recall. McCain’s war record was probably going to save him anyway. But the efforts made by Democrats to assure that McCain would become the Republican nominee were a clever production of the Obama doctrine to get rid of the strong opponents so you can get a weak one. The Democrats knew all along that the Republicans were stupid to think McCain was their best bet. McCain easily became the nominee in 2008 because the Republicans wanted him, and so did the Democrats. For different reasons, of course.

Establishment Republicans are making the same mistake this time with Romney. The Democrats and their pals in the media are more than happy to help. But Newt is getting in their way. He must be gotten rid of.

[…] after all, are judgmental “values voters” who will (according to the playbook) be repelled by tawdry stories of narcissistic (Republican, only) politicians who serially cheat on their […]

Well? Despite Romney and the media attacks on Newt? What do we see now?

Let me tell you…this is the sort of thing that can unite an otherwise ho hum process. Folks can say what they like about Newt…but he’s the one guy that makes us JohnQAverageamericans feel like maybe just maybe a guy thats obviously more connected to us can indeed prevail over conventional (no pun intended) wisdom.

Who would have thought two weeks ago this was possible?
Putting my Gingrich in 2012 hat back on.

Newt has done such a service. He’s shown that the way to score is to play offense … and put the biased “journailsts” on defense.

It’s so refreshing … I’m so tired of seeing Republicans not only playing defense … but acting guilty!!

Don’t try to answer smears! Treat them for what they are … smears! And shove them down the malicious accusers’ throats.

Get a spine, grow some balls, and be articulate, for crying out loud!

I see by Mitt’s feisty rebuttal to OWS hecklers that he’s learned at least a little bit from Newt’s performances.

Thank you, Newt, for showing how it’s done. If you’re asked malicious and foolish questions … don’t answer them as legitimate questions. Put the monkey back on the back of the questioner.

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