Thursday morning, it was announced that ABC News’ Brian Ross conducted an interview last week with Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich. Marianne was the second wife of the former Speaker of the House. The two had a well-publicized, messy divorce after Newt began an affair with his current wife, Callista, in the mid 1990s. Marianne has been reported to still hold bitter resentment toward Newt, and her self-described reasoning for agreeing to the interview was to warn voters that her ex-husband lacks the “moral character” to be president.
The timing of the interview has been called into question by media critics because the planned airing will be less than 48 hours before the South Carolina Republican Primary. Gingrich is currently the leader in that state, if current public opinion polls are correct. ABC News’ decision certainly raises questions about journalistic ethics and whether it’s appropriate to air that type of interview so soon before a crucial vote that will most likely decide the political future of the affected candidate.
Now, I’ll go ahead and lay my cards out on the table: I’m not an expert in journalistic ethics. My background is in software technology, not Journalism. While I feel that I have a generally firm grasp of whether or not the media is being fair when it comes to the reporting of certain stories, this timing issue is above my paygrade. I would defer to the expertise of the owner of this site for a more substantive analysis. I’m sure Mr. Goldberg will weigh in on this topic sometime in the near future.
However, what struck me were some comments that Brian Ross, the interviewer, made this morning when speaking with a radio station. In prefacing his interview with Marianne Gingrich, he said, “I think we start by knowing that what an ex-wife has to say we all take with a grain of salt, I hope, because that’s what ex-wives can be known for.” I found that remark fascinating. Ross certainly brings up a strong point about the reliability of a bitter ex-spouse’s account of a failed marriage.
So… If that’s the overture Ross feels is appropriate for the interview, why was it appropriate for ABC News to pursue an interview with Marianne Gingrich for which the news organization had reportedly been courting her since November? If a news outlet doesn’t believe a story to be newsworthy or doesn’t believe the source to be credible, why would they offer a national platform to that source? It’s not as if Marianne came forward and contacted Gloria Allred for a joint press conference in hopes of derailing her ex-husband’s presidential campaign. She was actively pursued by a major news organization for the precise purpose of getting her to air out the negative feelings she has for her ex-husband, which by Brian Ross’ own admission, should be taken “with a grain of salt.”
Again, as someone outside of the journalistic profession, that just doesn’t seem ethical to me. It seems much more like tabloid journalism than anything else. Am I wrong?