Look Who’s Talking: Gingrich Gets a “D” for Infidelity Quote on CBN – Tips for the Rest of Us


Carmie McCook

By Carmie McCook, President, Carmie McCook & Associates


In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last week, former Speaker of the House and potential presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, was asked about the uncomfortable subject of his marital affair that made headlines in the 1990s. In the interview he said, “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”

He went on to say he believes in a forgiving God, and that he had asked for God’s forgiveness.

Gingrich’s Response to a Sticky Question: Grade D

There is a topic in everyone’s life we would prefer to not discuss in a media interview. But, controversy makes interesting news. If there is a Darth Vader issue in your past, it is imperative that you take the time to plan a response that will honestly address the issue and minimize the possibility of additional damage to your public image. The response Mr. Gingrich gave did nothing to endear him to those who have strong, negative feelings about anyone having an extramarital affair, much less someone seeking the highest office in the US.

I gave Mr. Gingrich’s response a D because he sounds like he’s justifying his past affair as an unfortunate result of his super-human devotion to the country. His response implies he sees himself as a defenseless victim of working too hard for America and, therefore, he was unintentionally led astray. Huh? When did patriotism make infidelity okay? Excuses for bad behavior, especially pathetic ones, only weaken one’s credibility and increase the public’s disdain for the conduct.

Media Coaching Advice:

Never place the blame for your bad behavior on others or on outlandish circumstances. If you have done something wrong, take responsibility, admit it, apologize, and do not try to sugarcoat or justify it.

Planning a Response:

When planning a response to a difficult question you must appeal to the concerns of the audience most important to win over. In this case, the strong right-wing Christian voters are the primary viewers of the Christian Broadcast Network. Many could view his infidelity as a reason to eliminate him immediately from their presidential radar. Saying he sacrificed his marriage vows because he was just too dedicated to America is about as plausible as saying the dog ate my homework.

A Better Response:

“There’s no question that many years ago events happened in my personal life that were not appropriate, for which I am deeply sorry. But I believe in a forgiving God and I asked for His forgiveness. I know with His help, we can learn how to become better people. I know He has helped me become a much wiser and stronger person.”

The Lesson to Be Learned:

Bad responses in a media interview stick like glue in the minds of the public. That is why it is extremely important to anticipate tough questions that might come up and plan concise and credible answers. I am certain Mr. Gingrich has heard negative feedback about his reply. I am certain he has now added fuel to a fire he wishes would go away.

And, knowing he is surrounded by media advisors, I’m certain we will hear a different response in the future.

Carmie McCook is a nationally known executive communications trainer and coach, (www.carmie.com) specializing in preparing high-profile clients for media interviews, crisis communications, keynote speeches, and presentations. A former TV reporter and former Director of Communications for a Fortune 100 company, Carmie now uses her powers for good rather than evil. She is based in Washington, DC. She can be reached at carmie@carmie.com.



  1. Dave Skocik on March 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with the strategy of preplanning responses for worst case scenarios. Lawyers do it all the time when speaking for their clients. Even intelligent, experienced speakers like Newt Gingritch are prone to mistakes when unprepared for each and every interview.

  2. Mari Lou Livingood on March 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Great advice and something we should all follow in business and life.

  3. aaron mindel on March 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Good advice for handling such situations. Taking responsibility, and the ensuing lumps, and then moving on isn’t always the easiest approach but in most cases is the best overall.

  4. Jane Scott on March 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Great article!

  5. david spalten on March 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    This is a great article. I’d like to see more like it.

  6. Bob Brinley on March 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Right on spot.

  7. Michael McEntee on March 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Brava Miss McCook, Well done.

  8. Berta Maginniss on March 17, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Sound advice … and well written!

  9. Andrea Obston on March 17, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Well said, Carmie. Your rewrite has the true components of a substantive, responsive and sensitive remark. That’s the right way to handle a situation that cannot and should not be dressed up.

  10. David Ross on March 18, 2011 at 1:48 am

    Thanks for this. It’d be helpful to see more articles like this where someone analyzes events that affect media personalities and how well they responded, and what they should’ve done. Seems like Ms. McCook did an excellent job breaking down the topic and providing sound advice.

    • admin on March 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      David … thanks for the comment. There will be MORE of these. In fact, watch for one on Monday on an incredibly timely/tragic topic and POTUS’ response.

  11. Gloria Clements on March 22, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Making mistkes can be forgiven…Being UN-PREPARED as a professional is unexcusable Right on, Carmie!