Marianne Gingrich interview: Is it ethical for ABC to air it now?
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.
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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 “wanted her story told from her point of view, rather than be depicted as the victim or suffer a whisper campaign by supporters of Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid.” At the same time, according to a CBS spokesman, “ '60 Minutes' passed on this one.”Skip to next paragraph
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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. “Neither is the case here,” he says, via e-mail.
The standard should be simple: “If it's news, it should be broadcast, regardless of the timing," he says. "The voters can decide its relevance to their decision.”
An internal debate over a story’s potential impact on the campaign is a no-win proposition, adds Mr. Kamlet. “If 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,” he says. Moreover, the candidate himself has made his marriages public fodder, he notes.
“He 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,” he says.
However, this does not suspend obligations 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 “sully another person with the rants of a disgruntled former associate.”
But if information can be validated and confirmed, “it should be shared immediately," he says. "Then let the chips fall where they may.” A former spouse raises unique challenges concerning corroboration, but that still does not remove the necessity for it. “It comes down to the need for evidence,” he says. Without that, there is no proof, and “it should be passed over in silence.”
The history of such personal revelations amid a primary season suggests that the public would like to be the final arbiter. Revelations about Bill Clinton’s 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.
“The redemption narrative plays very well in American politics,” she says. But “the candidate has to step up right away or it will appear something is being hidden.”
IN PICTURES: South Carolina primary