Did Gingrich Really Ask for an “Open Marriage”?

That’s the report–but that’s not what the facts seem to indicate as noted by James Taranto:

The interview aired on “Nightline” some 90 minutes after the debate ended, and the bombshell turned out to be a dud. The supposed big revelation–that “he wanted an open marriage,” as she, not he, put it–turned out in context to be trivial.

As Mrs. Gingrich told the story, the then-speaker informed her over the phone that he wanted a divorce. “I said to him, ‘Newt, we’ve been married a long time.’ And he said, ‘Yes. But you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn’t care what I do.’ “

“What was he saying to you, do you think?” asked interviewer Brian Ross.

Mrs. Gingrich: “Oh, he was asking to have an open marriage and I refused.”

By her account, he first asked for a divorce. She protested, and he made clear that he was unwilling to give up his then-mistress. It’s unclear from Marianne Gingrich’s account whether Mr. Gingrich actually offered to remain married in exchange for tolerance of his infidelity, or if this was merely her inference.

In either case, there is an enormous difference between offering such an arrangement as a “compromise” to a spouse who does not wish to divorce, which is what Mr. Gingrich appears to have done, and flat-out asking for an open marriage. Neither reflects well on him, but the former is within the normal range of cruel and confused behavior during a breakup, whereas the latter is, at least by American standards, deviant.

Note first that Gingrich never proposed having an “open marriage”–that’s the ex’s characterization.  And it doesn’t seem accurate to me either.  It looks like what Gingrich told her is (1) I’m in love with Callista, (2) I would like a divorce, (3) that he was planning on remaining with Callista regardless of whether she granted him a divorce, and (4) it is ambiguous (to me) what “Callista doesn’t care what I do” it could reasonably interpreted that Callista would tolerate infidelity or it could also reasonably interpreted that he was saying that Callista didn’t care whether he got a divorce or remarried (again recall this is the ex’s characterization of a conversation a long time ago and what was actually said between those two meanings would require a lot of nuanced parsing).  One could use a lot of terms to describe that set of facts (none of them flattering) but “he was asking to have an open marriage” isn’t how I would characterize it nor do I think most people would characterize it that way.  Especially because, as Taranto notes, the use of that term in the United States connotes deviancy such as swinging with multiple sex partners, rather than a long-term extra-marital affair.

To which I’ll add that given the facts as they appear to be and that the inflammatory term was provided by the ex, not by Gingrich, I think he was justified to berate John King for giving credence to the story–and I would say the interpretation that he “asked for an open marriage” is so inaccurate to actually be false (although others might disagree).

It should be obvious that I am not defending Gingrich’s behavior but I’ll say that explicitly just to make sure.  I also think that character issues such as this are not necessarily out of bounds for the media because they matter to some voters.  I’m just saying that this is an exceedingly dubious characterization of the story, which is not nearly so deviant as reported.

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