How pleased was NBC to get this interview with Newt Gingrich today? They got the exclusive first reaction to a big story, plus they get to let him beat up on ABC — and very much deservedly so:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Gingrich, who is running in second place in South Carolina ahead of that state’s Saturday primary, said that he would remain “focused on the bigger issues that concern the American people, which are current challenges we have largely because of the failure of the Obama presidency.”

“We have real stories this morning about the failure of the Obama administration,” he said, blasting the “liberal media” for focusing instead on his personal life.

“We have a lot we can talk about today about real problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, ABC offers up the first look at Marianne Gingrich’s interview, and it’s intensely … personal:

In her most provocative comments, the ex-Mrs. Gingrich said Newt sought an “open marriage” arrangement so he could have a mistress and a wife.

She said when Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

“And I just stared at him and he said, ‘Callista doesn’t care what I do,'” Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. “He wanted an open marriage and I refused.”

Marianne described her “shock” at Gingrich’s behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista “in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington.”

In her most provocative comments, the ex-Mrs. Gingrich said Newt sought an “open marriage” arrangement so he could have a mistress and a wife.

She said when Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

“And I just stared at him and he said, ‘Callista doesn’t care what I do,'” Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. “He wanted an open marriage and I refused.”

Marianne described her “shock” at Gingrich’s behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista “in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington.”

If these are her “most provocative” comments, well, they’re not exactly a revelation.  The former Mrs. Gingrich has made these allegations before, although not on camera in a network interview.  I imagine that this won’t endear Gingrich to the family-values crowd, but they already know that Gingrich had an ongoing affair with his current wife while married to Marianne.  Unless there are some revelations of political malfeasance, this should be a nothingburger, but it’s hard to know how people will react to this.

It is, however, supremely unfair of Marianne to dump this on the race now — not to Newt, but to voters who sincerely backed Gingrich.  If Newt so lacked the “moral character” for the Presidency, why did it take Marianne eight months to tell us?  Her relative silence in 2011 gave voters the impression that she had nothing to add to the debate over who should represent the GOP in the presidential race.  It’s also unfair to her former stepdaughters who have been working tirelessly for their father for the last several weeks to help broaden Newt’s appeal, and for Newt’s grandchildren who have to hear about this now.  It’s also a large dollop of hypocrisy from the national news media who ignored reports of an ongoing affair involving John Edwards during the 2008 presidential campaign itself, complete with love child, until the National Enquirer ended up scooping everyone else.  Suddenly a 12-year-old affair is prime-time news?  It’s hard to come to any other conclusion that the party affiliation makes a big difference.

Speaking of Newt’s daughters, here’s my interview with Jackie Gingrich Cushman in New Hampshire from nine days ago. Jackie worked hard for her father in the Granite State, but this week she’s probably having to work harder than ever to rebut the story line that the ABC interview will provide in the final hours of this race. It’s a shame; no matter whether one supports Gingrich or not, Jackie very obviously has enthusiastic support for her father, and as I said last night on Twitter, it’s a shame that her time will have to be spent on dealing with family matters in a very public forum.

Video streaming by Ustream

Update: The Washington Post also interviewed Marianne Gingrich, and got essentially the same revelation … kind of:

Marianne Gingrich said she first heard from the former speaker about the divorce request as she was waiting in the home of her mother on May 11, 1999, her mother’s 84th birthday. Over the phone, as Marianne was having dinner with her mother, Gingrich said, “I want a divorce.”

Shocked, Marianne replied: “Is there anybody else?” she recalled. “He was quiet. Within two seconds, when he didn’t immediately answer, I knew.”

The next day, Gingrich gave a speech titled “The Demise of American Culture” to the Republican Women Leaders Forum in Erie, Pa., extolling the virtues of the founding fathers and criticizing liberal politicians for supporting tax increases, saying that they hurt families and children.

Er, not to be nosy — well, it’s far too late for that now anyway — but did Gingrich ask for a divorce or for an “open marriage”?  If one believes this version of the story, Gingrich asked for the divorce before Marianne knew about the affair.  In the ABC version, Newt asks about an open marriage after Marianne found out about the affair.  It’s possible both versions are accurate, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense if Gingrich wanted a divorce first so that he could pursue a marriage to his now-wife Callista.

In the end, though, I don’t really care much what the answer is.  It’s ancient personal history rehashed by the media for political purposes, which would have been fine had they pursued the John Edwards rumors four years ago with this kind of vigor.