Marianne Gingrich interview: Is it ethical for ABC to air it now?(Read article summary)
Questions are already arising about whether ABC's 'Nightline' is justified in airing its 'bombshell' interview with Marianne Gingrich, an ex-wife of Newt Gingrich.
As the Newt Gingrich campaign confronts uncomfortable revelations from the candidate's second wife, Marianne Gingrich, that he asked her for â€śan open marriageâ€ť â€“ charges that will air Thursday night on ABCâ€™s "Nightline" â€“ questions are also surfacing about about the networkâ€™s motivations for broadcasting it now.Â
Does ABC have it in for Mr. Gingrich? Is the show timed to hurt his prospects, which have been rising, in Saturday's South Carolina primary? Why dredge up now something that happened 10 years ago?Â
The full interview wonâ€™t run until after the CNN-sponsored GOP presidential debate Thursday evening, but clips of it have gone viral on the Internet, and reporter Brian Ross appeared on ABCâ€™s â€śThe Viewâ€ť to discuss the potential effect of Mrs. Gingrich's interview. â€śShe spoke in measured tones,â€ť he said, attempting to play down what co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck introduced as â€śbombshellâ€ť allegations." He also noted that the final impact is â€śfor the voters to decide.â€ť
Defending the networkâ€™s decision to broadcast the interview two days before the South Carolina primary, Mr. Ross noted that ABC has been scrutinizing all the candidates, pointing to its reports Wednesday night on Mitt Romneyâ€™s possible tax evasions. Beyond that, he said the interview took place on Friday. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider says "Nightline" â€śreached out to the Gingrich campaignâ€ť for a response. The candidate has declined to comment on the allegation.
â€śThis is one of the toughest decisions news executives and producers face,â€ť says former ABC News producer John Goodman, via e-mail. â€śYou have a story that can impact a political campaign. Do you go with it, or sit on it?â€ť he says. â€śThe journalist in you says you have to air it. But you clearly understand that by doing so, you create a PR nightmare.â€ť
The fact that most of Mrs. Gingrich's comments are â€śold news,â€ť and that the South Carolina primary is days away, feeds the â€śsuspicion by the average American that ABC has a liberal bias and canâ€™t wait to air the story to destroy Gingrichâ€™s presidential hopes,â€ť Mr. Goodman says. In obtaining the interview, he adds, ABC must ask itself this question: Does she have a vendetta to destroy her ex-husband? â€śThereâ€™s no clean-cut, no-brainer, right-or-wrong answer,â€ť he says. "You just have to do what you feel is the right decision.â€ť
ABC is not Marianne Gingrich's only recent brush with the media. The Washington Post published an interview with her on Thursday, in which she said she was speaking out for the first time because she â€śwanted her story told from her point of view, rather than be depicted as the victim or suffer a whisper campaign by supporters of Newt Gingrichâ€™s presidential bid.â€ť At the same time, according to a CBS spokesman, â€ś '60 Minutes' passed on this one.â€ťÂ
Withholding a story is justified only on the rarest of occasions, says Lee Kamlet, dean of the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., and a former ABC News producer. It might be justified if national security is threatened, or if a person's life could be put in danger. â€śNeither is the case here,â€ť he says, via e-mail.
The standard should be simple: â€śIf it's news, it should be broadcast, regardless of the timing," he says. "The voters can decide its relevance to their decision.â€ť
An internal debate over a storyâ€™s potential impact on the campaign is a no-win proposition, adds Mr. Kamlet. â€śIf ABC News decided to hold the story until after the South Carolina primary, they would be just as susceptible to speculation and criticism that they withheld it in order to avoid embarrassing Newt Gingrich,â€ť he says. Moreover, the candidate himself has madeÂ his marriages public fodder, he notes.
â€śHe has spoken about them and addressed the question in at least one nationally televised debate. Once the candidate puts a personal subject like that out before the public, he has made it fair game for reporting by any news organization,â€ť he says.
However, this does not suspend obligationsÂ for careful reporting, says Len Shyles, a communication professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. It is critically important, he says, for the media not to â€śsully another person with the rants of a disgruntled former associate.â€ť
But if information can be validated and confirmed, â€śit should be shared immediately," he says. "Then let the chips fall where they may.â€ťÂ A former spouse raises unique challenges concerning corroboration, but that still does not remove the necessity for it. â€śIt comes down to the need for evidence,â€ť he says. Without that, there is no proof, and â€śit should be passed over in silence.â€ť
The history of such personal revelations amid a primary season suggests that the public would like to be the final arbiter. Revelations about Bill Clintonâ€™sÂ relationship with Gennifer Flowers became a major campaign issue, yet "he was ultimately elected," says Karen Curry, a Drexel University professor and former NBC News bureau chief. The key, she says, is for the candidate to step up and take the heat immediately. Gingrich is in a good position to do so, she says, adding that he has already introduced the notion of being a changed man, regretful about past mistakes.
â€śThe redemption narrative plays very well in American politics,â€ť she says. But â€śthe candidate has to step up right away or it will appear something is being hidden.â€ť Â