I was so distracted by Newt Gingrich tearing CNN’s John King’s head off at the South Carolina debate that I didn’t even notice this pretty serious charge the former speaker leveled at ABC. In the middle of his rant, Gingrich claimed he offered the network interviews with several of his friends who could rebut his ex-wife’s “open marriage” charge, but the news organization turned them down.
That could have been a major black eye for ABC. But as it turns out, it wasn’t true. Fittingly, John King got the story:
“Tonight, after persistent questioning by our staff, the Gingrich campaign concedes now Speaker Gingrich was wrong — both in his debate answer, and in our interview yesterday,” King said on tonight’s edition of John King USA. “Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond says the only people the Gingrich campaign offered to ABC were his two daughters from his first marriage.”
Needless to say, not a smart move on Gingrich’s part.
The supposedly bombshell ABC interview with his second ex-wife fizzled out on its own. But this brings it back into the news cycle, and it will almost certainly be brought up at tonight’s CNN debate. He turned this story from one that could have been construed as an attack against him (the timing of the ABC interview right before the South Carolina vote) to one where he now appears to have been caught in a lie. And while the lie may have been relatively inconsequential, it still plays into public uneasiness with his personal character.
The best response Gingrich can give tonight is to explain the miscommunication, move on, and hope this story dies out as quickly as the open marriage one. If he draws undue attention to it by going on another rant during the debate, he’ll only open himself up to more questions: who are these friends? Will they agree to go on one of the networks and reject the open marriage charges? If so, when? If not, why not? That could keep the story in the news for much longer than it otherwise would have been.