One of the greatest stains marring the political career of Newt Gingrich is the ugly story of how he tried to finalize a divorce from his first wife while she was in a hospital bed for cancer surgery, amid extensive evidence of his philandering.
After Gingrich made his intention to run in 2012 official, his daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, decided the time was ripe to announce that the infamous hospital room divorce never actually occurred, in a column she penned entitled "Setting the Record Straight." According to Cushman, who was there in the hospital and "saw and heard what happened," this is how the divorce unfolded:
I was 13 years old, and we were about to leave Fairfax, Va., and drive to Carrollton, Ga., for the summer. My parents told my sister and me that they were getting a divorce as our family of four sat around the kitchen table of our ranch home... Later that summer, Mom went to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for surgery to remove a tumor. While she was there, Dad took my sister and me to see her.
It is this visit that has turned into the infamous hospital visit about which many untruths have been told... My mother and father were already in the process of getting a divorce, which she requested.
Cushman says she took so long to explain what happened because "it was a private family matter and my mother is a very private person." She drew no connection between her sudden desire to speak out and Gingrich's run for office.
But as Justin Elliot at Salon notes, Cushman's testimony, given thirty years after the events occurred, directly contradicts the testimony of her mother that was given only a few years after the 1980 incident. This is what Newt's ex-wife Jackie told the Washington Post in a 1985 profile:
He walked out in the spring of 1980 and I returned to Georgia. By September, I went into the hospital for my third surgery. The two girls came to see me, and said Daddy is downstairs and could he come up? When he got there, he wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was recovering from the surgery ... To say I gave up a lot for the marriage is the understatement of the year."
Elliot acknowledges that Gingrich has long disputed the events as told by his ex-wife, and that even her version itself has become exaggerated and skewed over the years: "Now, the story has often been rendered as Newt 'serving divorce papers' on his wife in the hospital. That's an exaggeration of Jackie's version. But her account is hardly flattering to Newt."
It's a very odd piece. Cushman says she's gong to "correct the record," but then recounts the bare fact of the hospital visit and provides no details at all of what happened. So what did happen?
His wife was recovering from surgery. The Gingrich daughters were visiting her. Newt did come up and demand that she discuss the divorce. The visit did turn heated. Legal pad or not, nothing in Cushman's account really changes anything we originally reported.
Amid these murky distinctions, one wonders why Cushman thought it so imperative to suddenly repaint the past in a rosier light. After all, the hospital bed story at this point is a legend. But to many, Gingrich's personal life is a fatal blow to his candidacy. Mark Warren writes for Esquire:
America cares about Newt Gingrich's personal life not because of a gratuitous or prurient interest in his untidy marital history — that's between him and his wives — but because of what an examination of those aspects of his life reveals about his reliability, his state of mind, and his fitness to serve in high office.