Perhaps we are being braced for Newt's audition as the "Anybody But Romney" candidate; Glenn and Ace link to a story from last May revising the legendary hospital vist by Newt to his wife. Ace's headline:
Gingrich's Daughter: No, My Father Did Not Visit My Mom While She Was In The Hospital For Cancer To Demand a Divorce
The divorce turned much of Carrollton against Gingrich. Jackie was well loved by the townspeople, who knew how hard she had worked to get him elected-as she had worked before to put him through college and raise his children. To make matters worse, Jackie had undergone surgery for cancer of the uterus during the 1978 campaign, a fact Gingrich was not loath to use in conversations or speeches that year. After the separation in 1980, she had to be operated on again, to remove another tumor. While she was still in the hospital, according to Howell, "Newt came up there with his yellow legal pad, and he had a list of things on how the divorce was going to be handled. He wanted her to sign it. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.
One might have inferred that the 1980 operation was for cancer, and it may well have been a follow-up to the 1978 cancer treatment, but there is no specific claim of cancer in 1980 made here.
Justin Elliott of Salon reprised the media treatment of this incident over the years in a March 2011 article; he summarizes the legend in his lead:
For almost three decades, Newt Gingrich has been dogged by a single devastating anecdote from his past, one that has been repeated in the national press hundreds of times and that has arguably come to define his political persona. After being elected to Congress in 1978 on a family values platform, the story goes, he visited his wife Jackie, who was in the hospital recovering from an operation for uterine cancer, and demanded that she discuss terms of their divorce.
It’s a story that, remarkably, Gingrich disputes to this day. Testament to how deeply it has reverberated, some version of the story — often rendered as Gingrich “serving divorce papers” to his wife in the hospital — has been cited in the last month alone by Slate, MSNBC, Politico, Commentary and the New York Times, among other outlets.
I would say that nicely illustrates the inaccuracies that crept into the telling of that tale. Let's just peek at what the Times wrote - here is Jeff Zeleney in February 2011, near the end of a profile on Newt:
In 1981, he and his first wife, Jackie, divorced, and he married his second wife, Marianne, that year. In an episode often cited by his detractors, he visited Jackie in the hospital in 1980 while she was recovering from a cancer operation to discuss terms of their divorce. Mr. Gingrich disputes the account.
And the always thoughtful Gail Collins:
The most famous story about Gingrich’s failed marriages is about his first wife, Jackie, who had been Newt’s high school math teacher before he appeared at her door and suggested a new equation. Jackie was recovering from surgery for uterine cancer when her husband walked in and started talking about the terms of a divorce.
The first ex-wife gave her version to the WaPo in early 1985, as described by Salon:
“He can say that we had been talking about [a divorce] for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise,” says Jackie Gingrich, in a telephone interview from Carrollton. “He’s a great wordsmith … He walked out in the spring of 1980 and I returned to Georgia. By September, I went into the hospital for my third surgery. The two girls came to see me, and said Daddy is downstairs and could he come up? When he got there, he wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was recovering from the surgery … To say I gave up a lot for the marriage is the understatement of the year.”
Asked if, in fact, he handled the divorce as insensitively as portrayed, Gingrich responded: “All I can say is when you’ve been talking about divorce for 11 years and you’ve gone to a marriage counselor, and the other person doesn’t want the divorce, I’m not sure there is any sensitive way to handle it.”
I'm glad to hear that the cancer part of the story was an exaggeration. Take that out and take out the notion that Newt visited the hospital with the intention of discussing the divorce (rather than bringing the two girls), and the incident is much less ghastly.