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Smarmy Brian Ross Touts His 'January Surprise,' Eagerly Digs for Gingrich's 'Skeletons'

ABC trotted out the "best of" Newt Gingrich slams on Thursday, finally revealing the results of an exhaustive Brian Ross interview with Marianne Gingrich, the former Speaker's ex-wife. Ross boasted that his scoop could be seen as a "January surprise" to harm Gingrich. Recycling old attacks, Ross eagerly prompted the ex-Mrs. Gingrich: "You know his secrets. You know his skeletons." [MP3 audio here.]

How bereft of new information was the segment? According to reports that broke on Wednesday, Ross sat down with Marianne Gingrich for two hours. In the eight minute segment, ABC only used two and a half minutes of actual footage from that interview. But Ross breathlessly hyped, "And we begin tonight with a story at the white-hot intersection of presidential politics, private lives and character."



At one point, Ross lectured, "Washington is a place full of two-timing politicians with a long trail of sordid affairs, ugly divorces and hypocrisy."

Of course, no Democratic examples of "two-timing politicians" were mentioned by the journalist. (An onscreen graphic did show a brief glimpse of a newspaper article mentioning John Edwards.)

The comments in the segment were simply a rehash of a September 2010 Esquire piece.

In Ross' piece, Marianne Gingrich recounts, "[I learned about his affair ] on the phone. And he said, 'I want a divorce." I said, 'Is there somebody else?' And it was quiet. And I knew."

The Esquire article by John H. Richardson recalls the same moment:

"There's somebody else, isn't there?"

She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do.

Richardson added, "He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused." With Ross, she described, "He was asking to have an open marriage."

The tease by anchor Terry Moran previewed the excited tone of the segment: "Tonight on Nightline, breaking her silence. In an exclusive TV interview, one of presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's ex-wives speaks out, questioning his moral fitness to be president."

Ross continued to hammer his attack on Gingrich, proclaiming, "And now, as a candidate for president, Gingrich regularly expounds on family values and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."

Not content to repeat old information on Gingrich's infidelity, Ross somehow forced in unrelated allegations:

ROSS: Marianne herself became the subject of an FBI sting investigation after meeting in Paris with a notorious arms dealer, who was working as an undercover government source. The investigation was ultimately dropped. But a 1997 FBI document, obtained by ABC News says, "Gingrich told the source that she was in a position to get things done in Congress and asked for $500,000 for herself, up front," as part of an alleged $10 million bribe to buy influence with her husband, the Speaker of the House.

MARIANNE GINGRICH: This is all made up, fabricated hogwash. This is a convicted felon talking with people who have nothing to do with me.

ROSS: But you met with him?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: I did meet with him.

ROSS: It would cost $10 million to get the job done. Did you ever try to sell your husband's position?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: [Laughs] Heavens, no.
Notice that Ross used the phrase "undercover government source." It took Marianne Gingrich to highlight that he's a convicted felon. Also, it should be emphasized, the charges were dropped.

Barack Obama certainly had questionable relationships with individuals such as William Ayers and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Can you imagine ABC dragging out stories in 2012 on them? Most journalists weren't interested in 2008.

A partial transcript of the January 19 segment, which aired at 11:35pm EST, follows

TERRY MORAN: Tonight on Nightline, breaking her silence. In an exclusive TV interview, one of presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's ex-wives speaks out, questioning his moral fitness to be president.

MARIANNE GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage.

MORAN: And as controversy swirls around our interview, his daughters tell us they don't believe the allegations.

KATHY LUBBERS (Daughter of Newt Gingrich): He says it's simply not true.

11:36

MORAN: And we begin tonight with a story at the white-hot intersection of presidential politics, private lives and character. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is surging in South Carolina, where voters go to the polls, Saturday. Gingrich has been in the public eye for decades and he's had a complicated private life. He's spoken openly about that life on the campaign trail, admitted wrongdoing, has said he sought forgiveness and reconciliation. His two ex-wives have stayed quiet on the sidelines. Tonight, ABC's Brian Ross investigates. Brian?

BRIAN ROSS: Terry, tonight, one of them is breaking her silence. His second wife, Marianne, saying does not believe Gingrich has the moral character necessary to be president. Marianne Gingrich was married to Newt for 18 years when he asked her for a divorce.

MARIANNE GINGRICH: It started with a phone call at my mother's house and he asked for a divorce.

ROSS: On the phone?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: On the phone. And he said, "I want a divorce." I said, "Is there somebody else?" And it was quiet. And I knew.

ROSS: Now, 12 years later, Marianne Gingrich is talking on television for the first time, a kind of "January surprise" for her ex-husband, as he faces a crucial presidential primary in South Carolina this Saturday.

MARIANNE GINGRICH: If he's running for president, he has answers to give.

ROSS: You know his secrets. You know his skeletons.

MARIANNE GINGRICH: I know some of them.

ROSS: Gingrich is now married to that somebody else, the other woman, Callista, a devout Catholic, who claims she was Newt's mistress for some six years when he was still married to Marianne.

MARIANNE GINGRICH: I found out during our conversation that it was occurring in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington. And he always would call me at night. He always ended with, "I love you" while she was there listening.

ROSS: Right next to him?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: In my home.

ROSS: Washington is a place full of two-timing politicians with a long trail of sordid affairs, ugly divorces and hypocrisy. As Speaker of the House, in the middle of his own secret affair with Callista, Gingrich was calling for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

NEWT GINGRICH: There's no administration in the American history with less moral authority than the Clinton/Gore administration.

ROSS: And now, as a candidate for president, Gingrich regularly expounds on family values and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

NEWT GINGRICH: And it's something worth protecting and upholding.

ROSS: But he has also freely admitted to his moral failings.

NEWT GINGRICH: I said openly. I've made mistakes at times. I had to go to God for forgiveness. I had to seek reconciliation.

ROSS: Marianne says Gingrich never asked her for her forgiveness. And when first seeking a divorce, Newt asked for her an arrangement where he could have a wife and a mistress.

MARIANNE GINGRICH: I said to him, "Newt, we've been married a long time. And he said, "Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do."

ROSS: What was he saying to you, do you think?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage. And I refused.

ROSS: He wanted an open marriage?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: Yes. That I accept the fact that he has somebody else in his life.

ROSS: And you said?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: No. No. That is not a marriage.

ROSS: Gingrich asked for a divorce from his first wife, Jackie, while she was being treated for cancer. He sought to divorce Marianne, she says, months after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, M.S. Did he know you had M.S.?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: Yes.

ROSS: When he asked you for the divorce?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: Yes. And he also was advised by the doctor while I was sitting there that I was not to be under stress. He knew.

ROSS: During tonight's CNN debate in South Carolina, the first question of the evening was about the open marriage allegations and Gingrich angrily denied it to cheers from the audience.

NEWT GINGRICH: You chose to start the debate with it. Don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start the debate with it. Now, let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. This story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us says that story was false.

— Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.