Gingrich Rips 'Reprehensible' NBC Reporting on His Wife, Demands Apology

Appearing on Fox News's On the Record Wednesday night, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich slammed NBC News for its reporting earlier that day that Callista Gingrich was a main cause of the exodus of Gingrich staffers last week: "I believe NBC owes Callista an apology....I think the program this morning was totally irresponsible and personally reprehensible..."     

Host Greta Van Susteren asked Gingrich: "What was her role in the campaign prior to the departure? What is her role now? And had there been any internal conflicts with Callista and any of the people who left?" Gingrich responded: "Look, Callista and I have a very similar relationship to Nancy and Ronnie Reagan. And people blame Nancy Reagan for things that Ronald Reagan did."

On Wednesday's NBC Today, investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff reported: "Campaign sources tell NBC News that the private blow-ups within the Gingrich campaign were even worse than his public gaffes....Current and former campaign sources are telling NBC new details about the conflicts that led to the exodus. Campaign insiders say the problems circle around the role of his third wife, Callista. A publicly supportive wife, but aides say, privately, a demanding one."

Isikoff further detailed staffer claims:

Gingrich advisers say she even dictated the campaign schedule, refusing to allow early morning take-offs for events so she could have her hair done. The sources say she also demanded the campaign help arrange screenings of the couple's movies produced by Gingrich Productions, a for-profit company. There is even a link promoting the movies on the Gingrich campaign website.

But the conflicts escalated Memorial Day weekend when his staff wanted him campaigning in South Carolina. Instead, Gingrich flew home to accompany Callista to the opera at the Kennedy Center. A few days later, the final straw. The Greek isles. Ignoring the pleas of his top aides, Gingrich put his campaign on hold to go with Callista on a cruise. 16 Staffers resigned.

Reporting on the role of Gingrich's wife in the campaign and its problems was featured not only on NBC, but in the pages of The Weekly Standard. On June 9, executive editor Fred Barnes wrote an article entitled: "The Problem Was the Wife."

In his report, Isikoff used a sound bite from New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, who noted: "Gingrich's aides felt that his wife was making unreasonable demands on his time. She was very particular about the way she wanted things done." Early on, Stolberg had reported on Callista's role in the campaign.

On Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry mentioned Gingrich's criticism of the network to political director Chuck Todd. Todd countered: "Well, look, this is misplaced anger....his anger probably should be at his aides because all of the reporting on this has been about how Newt Gingrich was allowing his personal issues, whether it was actions by his wife, actions by his production company, to somehow be prioritized over the presidential campaign. That's why these folks left [the campaign]."

MRC intern Eric Ames transcribed Gingrich's June 15 exchange with Van Susteren on Fox:

10:01PM ET

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Newt Gingrich joins us. Good evening, Mr. Speaker. And before we get to the shovel-ready comments that the President made, I'm curious if you have any response to the report by NBC that it is your wife, Callista, that essentially blew up your campaign and the reason for the exodus – or the exit of senior staff members.

NEWT GINGRICH: Greta, I'm really glad you asked about that because you know Callista. We've spent time together. Like you, she's a cheesehead from Wisconsin. Like you, she bowls. I just want the American people to know that Callista graduated as a piano major. She's played in the city of Fairfax band on the French horn since 1989. She sings in the basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception choir. She's the head of Gingrich Productions and has helped make seven different documentaries, one of which, about Pope John Paul II, was picked as one of the top three films by the Vatican this year about the pope. She chairs a foundation which has given away $800,000 to charities. And she's currently writing a children's book, in which Ellis the elephant introduces 5 to 8-year-olds to a sweet land of liberty, the history of America.

I say that as background because I thought NBC this morning, in a program that had nobody on camera, nobody quoted by name, that quoted reporters talking anonymously about cowardly people, who, frankly, lied about my wife – and I believe NBC owes Callista an apology. The fact is, my campaign is my campaign. Yes, we make decisions as a couple, but in the end, I take full responsibility. And I think the program this morning was totally irresponsible and personally reprehensible and the kind of thing that makes it hard to get decent people to run for public office.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was role – what was her role in the campaign prior to the departure? What is her role now? And had there been any internal conflicts with Callista and any of the people who left?

GINGRICH: Look, Callista and I have a very similar relationship to Nancy and Ronnie Reagan. And people blame Nancy Reagan for things that Ronald Reagan did. The fact is, we are partners in thinking a lot of things through. We try to work out our schedule together. We try to work on a lot of projects together. We've made movies together. We've written books together. I think that unnerved some of the – some of the consultants who thought they ought to own everything, they ought to control everything. And they resented the idea that they had to have the two of us actually talk with them about things like our schedules. So there's a fundamental difference between the modern world, where I think couples try to work together, and some of the consultants who I think, frankly, had no idea about how to deal with a couple that cared together about their lives.

VAN SUSTEREN: There's nothing I hate more than anonymous sources. It's a very easy way to slime somebody. Anonymous sources was supposed to protect someone who might be a whistleblower, someone from retribution from the government, getting fired, that kind of thing. When they do anonymous sources, that really bothers me, But I'm curious...

GINGRICH: And remember, these – these – by the way, these are supposed to be professionals, who we were paying, who supposedly had some sense of confidentiality, and who promptly, frankly, did some back-stabbing in a way that I just found amazing. After all my years in public life, I don't mind people attacking me. I'm the candidate. I'm a big guy. I can take it. But to go after anyone's wife I think is pretty despicable.

VAN SUSTEREN: Were there actual problems, though, with Callista and staff members?

GINGRICH: I have no idea. There were problems with me and staff members. I wanted to run an idea-oriented, grass-roots, solutions-based campaign that used Facebook and YouTube and all sorts of exciting things. And we had a couple staff members who wanted to run a 1952 campaign that I thought was hopeless and couldn't possibly win. So I'll take the responsibility. I wanted a fundamentally different campaign than my staff did. I wanted – and by the way, most of my original staff is still here. We only lost one person from my original team. Everybody else is an outside consultant who left, and they left because – for example, the book you just mentioned, "A Nation Like No Other," is about big ideas. It's about the heart and soul of America. Some of these consultants didn't understand why that mattered to a campaign, and yet I would say the heart and soul of America is what this is about. Barack Obama stands for European secular socialism. We stand for American exceptionalism. It couldn't be a bigger choice than that, but some of the consultants didn't get that at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know who it is on your staff who you suspect NBC spoke to, number one? And number two, did NBC call you or Callista before this report?

GINGRICH: We didn't -- we don't comment about anonymous back-stabbing comments.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know who it is, though? I mean, generally...

GINGRICH: I wouldn't respond tonight...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, I know if someone – I mean, I got a pretty good idea if someone – someone takes a slap at me, who it is. Do you have a pretty...

GINGRICH: I have no idea. And I'm not – look, I don't care what the staff did. NBC is supposed to be a responsible news organization. And I think for them to attack somebody's wife is utterly reprehensible. And I hope none of them ever have the experience of having their spouse attacked in that kind of reprehensible matter.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would it be newsworthy if the person had been identified? I mean, is it – the thing that bothers me is...

GINGRICH: Well, at least...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... anonymous.

GINGRICH: At least you could have – at least you could have had a straight argument and explained who the person was. We had several people who quit, frankly, who had failed totally in their professional duties and who for the last month had not been doing their jobs. So I'd have been perfectly happy if they wanted to step up because we would have pointed out chapter and verse about why they were gone, and it wasn't for a very good reason.

Here is a full transcript of Isikoff's June 15 NBC report:

7:10AM ET

ANN CURRY: As we've been reporting, the campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got off to a bumpy start. Well now, the GOP hopeful is facing new questions about why his entire senior campaign staff walked out on him. NBC's investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff has new details on that. Hey, Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good morning. Campaign sources tell NBC News that the private blow-ups within the Gingrich campaign were even worse than his public gaffes.

NEWT GINGRICH: It's going to improve lives, lower costs, and it's going to create millions of American jobs.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: NBC News Investigates; Why Have Top Staffers Quit Gingrich Campaign?]

ISIKOFF: In New Hampshire on Tuesday, Newt Gingrich was doing his best to stay on message.

GINGRICH: My whole focus this morning will be on specific steps to get this economy fixed.

ISIKOFF: But he is still facing constant distractions.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [REPORTER]: Can you just answer the question as to why the charity you founded paid $200,000 to your for-profit company?

ISIKOFF: It's a campaign that is struggling to stay alive after Gingrich's entire senior staff quit. Current and former campaign sources are telling NBC new details about the conflicts that led to the exodus. Campaign insiders say the problems circle around the role of his third wife, Callista. A publicly supportive wife, but aides say, privately, a demanding one.

SHERYL STOLBERG [THE NEW YORK TIMES]: Gingrich's aides felt that his wife was making unreasonable demands on his time. She was very particular about the way she wanted things done.

ISIKOFF: Gingrich advisers say she even dictated the campaign schedule, refusing to allow early morning take-offs for events so she could have her hair done. The sources say she also demanded the campaign help arrange screenings of the couple's movies produced by Gingrich Productions, a for-profit company. There is even a link promoting the movies on the Gingrich campaign website.

But the conflicts escalated Memorial Day weekend when his staff wanted him campaigning in South Carolina. Instead, Gingrich flew home to accompany Callista to the opera at the Kennedy Center. A few days later, the final straw. The Greek isles. Ignoring the pleas of his top aides, Gingrich put his campaign on hold to go with Callista on a cruise. 16 Staffers resigned.

JOE DE SANTIS [GINGRICH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR]: Of course they make decisions together about their schedule, it's their life.

ISIKOFF: Gingrich's campaign spokesman defends the candidate's strategy.

DE SANTIS: The fact is this is Newt's campaign. He's going to run it the way he thinks is best for America.

ISIKOFF: But many Republicans wonder if Gingrich can ever recover.

JOHN FEEHERY [REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST]: This started as one of the worst campaign starts in the history of campaigns and my guess is he's going to be done fairly soon.

ISIKOFF: All of the conflicts had a devastating impact on fundraising. When the first campaign reports are filed next month, GOP sources say that front-runner Mitt Romney will report more than $40 million so far. And for Gingrich, sources say as of this week, the number is likely to be no more than $3 million. Matt.

MATT LAUER: Alright, Michael Isikoff, thank you very much. 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC