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The ethics of ABC's Gingrich ex-wife story

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," January 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY: Back of the book segment tonight, Bernie Goldberg is usually on the Factor each Monday, but we wanted to get his take on whether ABC News right or wrong for running the interview with Speaker Gingrich's former wife on Nightline.

Bernie joins us now from Miami.

What is the verdict, Mr. Goldberg?

GOLDBERG: Well, let me say that reasonable people may disagree on this matter, but if you're asking if I would run it, the answer is no, I wouldn't have. And in case anybody's interested, it has nothing to do with whether I like or dislike Newt Gingrich or it has nothing to do with politics at all.

In fact, I could only think of one reason to run the interview and that is it's a ratings bonanza. When you get beyond that, which isn't easy, when you get beyond that, most of it is old news. The new stuff about the open marriage, what does this tell us about Newt Gingrich's character? Everything the electorate needs to know about Newt Gingrich's character is out there and it's been out there for a long time.

This is very important. Brain Ross, a very good reporter, went on radio to promote the show last night, to promote the Nightline last night, he went on radio yesterday morning and he actually said this, we start by knowing that what an ex-wife has to say, we all take with a grain of salt. Really?

If Brian Ross, who's a topnotch reporter is telling the viewers that we need to take what this woman says with a grain of salt, why are you running the interview in the first place?

O'REILLY: Yes, I -- I agree. I told Brian Ross last night on this program, I would not have done the interview and I would not have run it and the reason is because there's no corroboration for the personal attack launched at the Speaker by his former wife.

And this is the key. This is the key and Goldberg knows this, because both Bernie and I came up the old-fashioned way, okay?

GOLDBERG: Right.

O'REILLY: Any gutter-snipe in the world, and they do it on television and radio every single day in this country and it's disgusting, can attack somebody personally and get somebody to back it up. I saw O'Reilly do this; I heard O'Reilly do that. But you -- if you don't have corroboration independently as Marianne Gingrich absolutely does not.

GOLDBERG: Right.

O'REILLY: Absolutely there's no corroboration. It's her and her agenda alone that ABC News got behind and then the damage to a human being, whether you like him or not, is significant.

In my conscious, I can't do that kind of reporting. Now I'm not putting Brian Ross down, I'm not putting ABC News down. I can't do it.

GOLDBERG: Neither could I. I would -- I heard you last night and I said to the TV set, I wouldn't have done that interview either.

Let me say one word very briefly about Marianne Gingrich, and this not about her voracity at all, obviously she has every right to feel any way she wants about her ex-husband, obviously; but when you take a conversation and when you reveal a conversation, that's a better word, when you reveal a conversation from the privacy of a marriage and you share it, not with your sister or your best friend, but with a couple of million total strangers, that, to me, is not a classy move. That's not a good thing and --

O'REILLY: No, it's payback though --

GOLDBERG: I'm not speaking about her truthfulness --

O'REILLY: It was payback and that's what it was.

GOLDBERG: Well if it's payback that that ought to be factored into the decision as to whether or not to run the interview.

O'REILLY: Okay.

GOLDBERG: And which is what I think you said earlier.

O'REILLY: Right.

It's a disturbing situation, but with the 24/7 news cycle, it's not going to get any better.

Now there's an interesting study at George Mason, who -- and this university in Virginia is doing some good work, about the coverage of Mitt Romney so far in the primary season. And the headline is that Mitt Romney is getting far more negative press than anybody else in the GOP field.

That's interesting, all right, because he's not a bomb thrower like Gingrich and he's not as conservative as Santorum and he's not as out there as Ron Paul. But Romney's getting 78 percent negative coverage, 22 percent positive. Even Fox News -- even Fox News is more negative than positive about Romney.

On Special Report, Brett Bair's show, 63 percent negative on Romney, 37 percent positive.

So what do you read -- how do you read that?

GOLDBERG: Yes, I think -- I think this is -- it's because he's the frontrunner and journalists love to tear down frontrunners, especially if they're Republican frontrunners.

But there's another part of the -- the poll that's really, really interesting. Get this, Bill, they -- they -- they went through all these stories in the beginning of January, not just about Romney, then they did another poll for the entire GOP field. You're going to love this.

Of the entire GOP field, CBS had the most positive portrayals of Romney, 57 percent positive, 43 percent negative. Fox, and these are the exact words of the poll, quote, "had the most balanced overall coverage with 52 percent positive and 48 percent negative." This is of all --

O'REILLY: All the candidates, right.

GOLDBERG: -- of the entire field.

And you're ready for this? NBC was the most negative overall with 27 percent positive and 73 percent --

O'REILLY: NBC?

GOLDBERG: I know, you're shocked, right? Seventy-three percent negative, in other words, 73 percent of the things NBC News put on the air about all of the Republicans --

O'REILLY: Right.

GOLDBERG: -- was something negative.

O'REILLY: All I want to say --

GOLDBERG: Nice going.

O'REILLY: -- is -- is MSNBC is having election coverage tomorrow night, you know returns coming in.

GOLDBERG: Oh, yes that's going to be a lot of fun.

O'REILLY: Every -- every -- every one on the Dias is -- that's all I'm going to say.

If anyone there, all right, who is a reporter or it's -- it's all boom. So, you know I -- I -- I don't know.

We live in crazy world, Goldberg, you know what I mean? And the media is just going nuts and that's why --

GOLDBERG: It's not -- it's not --

O'REILLY: -- that's why Gingrich scored big man. He laid into us last night and the folks went right on. They know what's going on.

GOLDBERG: That's right.

O'REILLY: Bernie Goldberg, everybody.

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