SAN DIEGO – January 19, 2012 – Once again, a public political figure’s private life is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Once again, America is talking about it. And once again, there is collateral damage to family members who have been drawn into the whole mess.
This time the revelations have been brewing for decades. Marianne Gingrich, the second ex-wife (yes, there are two) of former Congressman and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has been trash talking her ex-husband in interviews since the 1990s and hinting that if she really opened the floodgates it would derail his political aspirations forever. The ex-Mrs. Gingrich revealed some of the details in an interview with Esquire Magazine in 2010, and Gingrich himself has discussed many of them over the years.
Now Marianne Gingrich is back, talking to reporter Brian Ross of ABC News. Ross reportedly interviewed Marianne Gingrich at length. The network is deciding whether it is “fair” to air the interview just days before the upcoming South Carolina presidential primary. Political pundits and media observers are hotly debating the question.
But there is a more important and lasting discussion we should have as a society. Is it ever a good idea for an ex-spouse to “tell all” and reveal ugly information in a public forum? Should the second Mrs. Gingrich have conducted any of these interviews in the first place? Are they necessary and are they fair?
I’m not naïve enough to think this kind of thing isn’t going to continue. There is a huge public appetite for personal dirt, and there are people who are bitter enough about their former relationships who want to get their revenge and earn a buck or two for it by ruining a career or reputation.
But the real victim isn’t ever the target of the attack. The real victims are always the children, sometimes grandchildren, and the extended family.
It’s appalling to me that in response to the news about the interview, the Gingrich campaign issued a statement from candidate Gingrich’s adult daughters from his first marriage, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Gingrich Cushman. Their statement read: “Anyone who has had that experience (referring to divorce) understands it is a personal tragedy filled with regrets, and sometimes differing memories of events.”
Perhaps the women offered the statements defending their father willingly, but if the political campaign pressured them to defend Newt Gingrich, it is way too much to ask and shame on whoever did it.
Public figures or not, these are real people with real problems. A family and children were torn apart in the public eye, in this case twice. Going through a divorce or dissolving a longtime partnership can be the most traumatic experience someone will ever face, especially as a child. It is often more difficult than dealing with the death of a loved one. It is never really in the past.
It does not change the equation for me when the children of divorce become adults. The children remain the true victims. They should not be exposed to the infidelity, lies, betrayals and battles of their parents, either or both of them. It is mortifying to find out the gory details and realize the betrayal one parent has committed against another.
Forget anyone else’s “need to know” or our admittedly prurient interest in other peoples’ business. When people divorce who are parents, their first and most important obligation is to protect their children and ease their way through the situation as much as possible. Trash talking their mother or father does not help the situation. I know from experience it doesn’t make someone feel any better. Besides, you married him or her and had children with that person in the first place, so what does all the trash talk say about you and your judgment?
When individuals are public figures, they need to do whatever it takes to keep their private lives private, as long as there is no abuse or dangerous behavior involved in the marriage that needs to be reported. For once you need to forget about yourself and your spouse, and think of the life and legacy you are creating for your children when you engage in a public battle with your ex-spouse.
Bravo to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, who have so far managed to keep the business of their divorce mainly private, and seem to have figured out a way to interact and cooperate with each other to preserve some sense of family for their children. It is reported they even spent the Christmas holidays together. They are putting their childrens’ needs first ahead of their own, and they should be commended for it.
As an experienced divorce attorney and as a parent myself, the national discussion we should be having isn’t whether the timing of this interview is fair to Newt Gingrich. It’s whether we as a society that supposedly cares about the well-being of our children should ever permit or encourage these private family revelations in the first place.
Go ahead and tell your lawyer, your shrink, your religious authority, or your dog whatever you want. Otherwise, put a sock in it for your kids’ sake.
Read more about Newt Gingrich here:
Myra Chack Fleischer founded Fleischer & Associates in 2001 and serves as Lead Counsel with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Fleischer & Associates on Facebook and on Twitter @LawyerMyra
Copyright © 2012 by Fleischer & Associates, Attorneys at Law
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