The fruit doesn’t fall far.
Newt Gingrich’s daughter from his first marriage (he’s had 3 marriages) claimed she wanted to “correct the record” earlier this year when she published an article denying that Newt served his first wife divorce papers RIGHT BEFORE SHE DIED. And the Washington Examiner picked the story up again two days ago, claiming that the daughter has now denied the story, thus supposedly showing that it’s not true.
But of course, she denied something that wasn’t even the story.
The story wasn’t that mom was dying. The story was that Gingrich confronted his wife about the divorce while she was in the hospital having cancer surgery. Some reports say he served her papers, others say he confronted her to haggle over terms. But all the stories I’ve seen, see below, are about him confronting her in the hospital after cancer surgery. They don’t talk about her dying.
But that’s what Newt’s daughter’s denial says. Mom didn’t die. Okay. But the daughter admits that mom was in the hospital for cancer surgery (confirming a key part of the story). And she doesn’t confirm or deny that Newt confronted mom, or served her the final papers, in her hospital bed right.
I researched this story too, and I distinctly remember the sources I read never said that mom had died. They said that mom was in the hospital having cancer surgery and Newt served her divorced papers. Here’s what I wrote in February of the year:
the man who told his first wife he was divorcing her while she was recovering from cancer
And here’s how Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly described it in 2006 – again you’ll note, no “deathbed” reference:
Gingrich obtained his first divorce in 1981, after forcing his wife, who had helped put him through graduate school, to haggle over the terms while in the hospital, as she recovered from uterine cancer surgery.
Nothing the daughter said today contradicted any of this. Here’s what TPM said about this story last year:
Before marrying Marianne, Gingrich presented his first wife, Jackie Battley, with the terms of their divorce as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from surgery for uterine cancer.
Again, no deathbed. Now, the daughter does say that mom and Newt had already talked about the divorce before she went into the hospital, so if that’s true I was incorrect in saying he sprung the divorce on her at the hospital – meaning, it was the first time mom knew about the divorce. But that was my mistake only, and in any case it doesn’t negate the rest of the story, that something happened regarding his divorce over his hospitals cancer surgery bed. The other stories, including the original story where all of this came from (below), are about Newt confronting the wife about the divorce in the hospital after she had cancer surgery. The daughter doesn’t deny that anywhere.
Let’s look at the original story from Mother Jones in 1984 that started the alleged “rumor” – you’ll note that there’s no mention of a deathbed.
The divorce turned much of Carrollton against Gingrich. Jackie was well loved by the townspeople, who knew how hard she had worked to get him elected-as she had worked before to put him through college and raise his children. To make matters worse, Jackie had undergone surgery for cancer of the uterus during the 1978 campaign, a fact Gingrich was not loath to use in conversations or speeches that year. After the separation in 1980, she had to be operated on again, to remove another tumor. While she was still in the hospital, according to Howell, “Newt came up there with his yellow legal pad, and he had a list of things on how the divorce was going to be handled. He wanted her to sign it. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.
A number of reporters fell for Gingrich’s daughter’s “denial” earlier this year, including just this week the Washington Examiner. But as I’ve shown above, the daughter simply denied one aspect of the story that no one serious was alleging. The rest of the story, as described by Mother Jones in 1984, hasn’t been denied at all – least of which by Gingrich’s own daughter.
Now let’s look at the rest of the story, and why it was, and has been, a scandal that’s haunted Gingrich for 30 years – again from Mother Jones:
Despite the solid family-man advertising pitch, however, some of Gingrich’s associates could sense what was coming On election night, several of them took bets on how long his marriage would last. Unknown to them, the Shapard campaign staff was doing precisely the same thing. It seemed plain to many that while Gingrich had used his wife to get elected, he would now consider her a liability. “Jackie was kind of frumpy,” explains Lee Howell, who asked Gingrich to be his best man in 1979 but pulls no punches about his friend’s divorce. “She’s lost a lot of weight now, but she was kind of frumpy in Washington, and she was seven years older than he was. And I guess Newt thought, well, it doesn’t look good for an articulate, young, aggressive, attractive congressman to have a frumpy old wife.”
The winning bet, as it turned out, was 18 months. In April of 1980, the candidate who had promised to “keep his family together” told his wife he was filing for divorce. According to sources in whom Gingrich confided at the time, he was already having an affair with the woman he later married.
So the story is that Gingrich dumped his first wife while she was undergoing cancer treatment because she had gained weight and wasn’t the appropriate trophy wife that a congressman should have. Then, to add insult to injury, he came to her hospital bed with a notepad to haggle over the divorce.
That’s the story. Nowhere does the daughter deny any of this. Next time a Gingrich says something isn’t true, perhaps the media will actually look into the story before taking him, or his daughter, at their word.