Callista Bisek’s friends from rural Wisconsin were stunned when, well over a decade ago, she confided that she was secretly dating an older, married man: Newt Gingrich.
That’s the lead to a New York Times story on the marriage of Newt and Callista Gingrich: “Gingrich Set to Run, With Wife in Central Role.” It will be the first of many in this vein. Jonathan Tobin of Commentary’s Contentions blog sums up the content of better than I could:
The good news for the Gingriches was that the piece produced nothing unflattering about their marriage. The portrait that emerged from the piece is that they are basically inseparable and work closely together on the projects that have occupied the politician since he left Congress 12 years ago. The bad news is that the only reason the article was written is the one detail about them that everybody already knows: they met while she was Congressional staffer and he was a married member of the GOP leadership and dated for years while Gingrich was among those leading the charge to impeach President Bill Clinton for charges relating to his infidelity.
That puts Mrs. Gingrich and her husband in a rather unique position in this campaign. No other candidate’s spouse is even on the radar of the political press at this point. Unless they are already public figures, that sort of scrutiny doesn’t usually start until a candidate has been nominated. Leaving aside the obvious difficulties of explaining the start of their relationship-however much they might be in love, that sort of story doesn’t qualify as “meeting cute”-Callista Gingrich must now expect that so long as her husband is in the race, her every appearance and utterance will be deemed newsworthy. That means that she must not only break her silence about the past but must actually start talking to the press (neither of the Gingriches consented to be interviewed by the Times).
I’m speaking for myself only when I say that I think this is all fair. The public can make up its mind about how much this matters. I go back and forth about how much this matters. For the record, I was outraged by a New York Times story that tried to portray Senator John McCain as having a liaison with a female lobbyist during the presidential campaign. It was a sleazy story. But here is the difference: the McCain story was all innuendo. A good rule in journalism is: If you can’t get the story, don’t write it.
The Times didn’t have much of a story in the McCain case. But in the Gingrich case, the story is there, almost in plain view. I’m not sure I share Mr. Tobin’s suggestion that Mrs. Gingrich “open up” on the subject of their courtship, but in all probability she has to say something. (Should Calista Gingrich don a headband and go on “60 Minutes” to tell Steve Kroft she doesn’t bake cookies?)
Trial by media isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the maturation of a candidacy. Tobin concludes:
Her husband’s candidacy has more problems than nasty memories of his infidelity. Yet if Callista Gingrich can survive the ordeal of intense media scrutiny that she is about to undergo it’s just possible that she can turn one of her husband’s greatest problems into something of an asset.