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Correcting The Record: Newt Gingrich Didn’t Divorce His First Wife While She Had Cancer

It’s become both the butt of jokes and the reason for criticism that Newt Gingrich informed his first wife that he wanted a divorce while she was in the hospital being treated for cancer. Now, we have a first hand account from one of Gingrich’s daughters that this is untrue:

For years, I have thought about trying to correct the untrue accounts of this hospital visit. After all, I was at the hospital with them, and saw and heard what happened. But I have always hesitated, as it was a private family matter and my mother is a very private person. In addition, for the four people involved, it was one of a million interactions and was not considered a defining event by any of us.

My mother and I have both recently run into quite a few people who hold an inaccurate understanding of this hospital visit. Many think my mother is dead.

So, to correct the record, here is what happened: My mother, Jackie Battley Gingrich, is very much alive, and often spends time with my family. I am lucky to have such a “Miracle Mom,” as I titled her in a column this week.

As for my parents’ divorce, I can remember when they told me.

It was the spring of 1980.

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.

Soon afterward, my mom, sister and I got into our light-blue Chevrolet Impala and drove back to Carrollton.

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. I won’t repeat them. You can look them up online if you are interested in untruths. But here’s what happened:

My mother and father were already in the process of getting a divorce, which she requested.

Dad took my sister and me to the hospital to see our mother.

She had undergone surgery the day before to remove a tumor.

The tumor was benign.

As with many divorces, it was hard and painful for all involved, but life continued.

Like many others, I repeated this story because I’d heard it from others. As with many things on the Internet, it turns out the story was untrue. This doesn’t change my opinion of Newt Gingrich all that much, but the guy doesn’t deserve to have this kind of untruth spread about him.

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chad S says:

    Why did it take a decade for the Gingrich family to refute this story?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 14

  2. How do you “refute” an Urban Legend that’s gone viral?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 6

  3. mantis says:

    I thought the story was true, too, and had believed it came directly from his ex-wife. Thanks for posting this and setting me straight.

    There’s plenty to dislike about Newt without telling stories that aren’t true. This is one story I won’t repeat again.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3

  4. legion says:

    As someone who’s been in a similar situation, I have to point out: when they tell the 13-year-old child doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with when the decision to divorce was made.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 10

  5. legion,

    But if they told the kids before she was even in the hospital then that seems to undercut the whole story right there.

    Not to mention the fact that most versions of this story that I’d heard ended with the first wife being dead, which isn’t true at all

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  6. Brian says:

    Misleading title – Newt did divorce his wife when she had cancer, assuming the tumor didn’t swiftly appear. According to Mrs. Jackie Gingrich, he didn’t ask for a divorce while she was in the hospital recovering, which is what I always heard. The Esquire article where (I think) the rumor came from was from an interview with Newt’s 2nd wife, but didn’t actually quote her on this or source the rumor (X says…). The only sorta issue I have is her (Jackie’s) weasely way of saying the mother asked for the divorce…well, yes, because Newt was cheating on her with another woman and had proposed marriage to said woman. That little polishing of the facts doesn’t instill me with confidence overall…and of course, since I don’t like Newt, it could very well be my own prejudices here.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 23

  7. Brian says:

    Of course, in Mrs. Jackie’s favor is the fact that should she be lying, the mom could easily embarrass her AND Newt by telling the truth and would have every right to do so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  8. Brian says:

    @Doug: Most stories I heard didn’t end with the first wife dying, but with Newt fighting the divorce and alimony so much the family had to rely on church charity to eat. I know that was in the Esq. article as well, which is at least now contested on some of the facts, so take it as you will.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  9. Trumwill says:

    Newt did divorce his wife when she had cancer, assuming the tumor didn’t swiftly appear.

    Does it qualify as cancer if the tumor is benign?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  10. PJ says:

    Does it qualify as cancer if the tumor is benign?

    Which begs two questions, when did they find out about the tumor, and when did they find out that it was benign?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  11. TG Chicago says:

    It’s certainly good to have the facts straight. Is it accurate, though, to say that he was cheating on his first wife with his future second wife prior to the divorce?

    The cancer story added some extra ooomph to things, but even taking that away, it seems that he cheated on both of his first two wives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  12. Tano says:

    I have heard, at various times in the past, that the simplified version of the story was incorrect – that Newt asked her for the divorce (or told her about it) in the hospital.

    I distinctly remember reading somewhere, at least a year or two ago, that what actually happened was that he pressed some papers on her at the hospital, having to do with the nature of the settlement.

    That does not seem to be either confirmed or denied by the daughter’s statement.

    Once again we see Doug accepting and transmitting a statement from a highly interested player in a political situation without a hint of skepticism or any questioning as to the context or the nature of things left unsaid. Laziness? Naivete? Or does it always happen only with certain people?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  13. mantis says:

    Once again we see Doug accepting and transmitting a statement from a highly interested player in a political situation without a hint of skepticism or any questioning as to the context or the nature of things left unsaid.

    I question your characterization of the Gingrich’s daughter as a “highly interested player in a political situation.” She’s an eyewitness to the events in question, and has far more knowledge of the situation than any random story on the internet.

    This being a private family matter, the only decent thing to do here is to accept her at her word and let the matter rest. As she notes, her mother doesn’t give interviews, so you’re never going to find the “real story,” should it be different from the daughter’s account (show us the long-form!).

    Again, Newt is a liar, an adulterer, and has had several wives. There is no need to push this story (though it would be wrong to push it even if there were no other lines of attack).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  14. legion says:

    Doug,
    I certainly sympathize with the daughter’s position, I’m just saying she doesn’t actually qualify as a ‘first-person’ account; only Newt & his Ex can claim that.

    TG,
    That’s always been at least as damning an aspect of this incident as the divorce timing, IMHO, and one none of the main players seem interested in addressing (not that I blame any of them).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  15. Brian says:

    @Trumwill: Good question. I have no idea. Anyone know?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  16. Chad S says:

    @Doug. They didn’t have to let this become an urban legend. This has been out there since the late Clinton years. If someone made an accusation about me like that and I was a national political figure, I would have refuted it as soon as I heard it. The silence over this is telling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 8

  17. michael reynolds says:

    I think I’m going to take the daughter at face value unless something else comes along. So I won’t be repeating this about Gingrich.

    I will however continue to say that he’s a fatuous, dishonest windbag with an entirely underserved reputation for brilliance.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 11

  18. Rick Almeida says:

    How do you “refute” an Urban Legend that’s gone viral?

    Release the long-form divorce decree with the Gingrichs’ footprints on it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  19. Tano says:

    I question your characterization of the Gingrich’s daughter as a “highly interested player in a political situation.”

    Where is the question? How can it possibly be denied that she is a highly interested figure in what is about as political a situation as one can find, a presidential campaign?

    I think I’m going to take the daughter at face value unless something else comes along

    from a Salon piece…

    But Cushman’s column, titled “Setting the Record Straight,” is directly at odds with the testimony of her mother from just a few years after the 1980 incident

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  20. Rose Bunjas says:

    Clearly there is a lot of smoke surrounding this fire that just won’t go away. Newt’s explanation of his indiscretions using the argument that he was overworked doing good for the country flys in the face of family values. Newt digs up the family values when it is convenient and begs forgiveness after stooping some strange. Why is it so many Christians commit adultery only to find God afterwards? Newt was part of the Clinton lynch mob while concurrently oozing his seed on a little strange — cancer be damned.

    Lets not forget that Newt dumped his first wife while getting her third cancer treatment. He dumped his second wife after she was diagnosed with MS. How sick does his third wife have to be before he goes for wife 4.0? At least Newt doesn’t seem to be a homo and he is not black so we still have two good reasons to vote for him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 10

  21. [...] then you go on to throw a whining tantrum over a question being asked. Pull your head out of ass. Correcting The Record: Newt Gingrich Didn’t Divorce His First Wife While She Had Cancer __________________ In one of the Stranger quirks of life nobody gets out of it alive. +18 [...]

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