The Long March of Newt Gingrich: Part One

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December 19, 2011
This week, FRONTLINE is putting up excerpts from our 1996 biography, The Long March of Newt Gingrich. Watch part two, part three and part four.

“You either love him or you hate him and he’s the kind of person you can’t ignore. So you do, you love him or you hate him. He’s going to be in your face at all times, one way or another.”
Robert Gingrich, Newt’s stepfather

In January 1996, as the country headed into a presidential election year, FRONTLINE aired The Long March of Newt Gingrich, an investigative biography of the outspoken and controversial Speaker of the House.

As Gingrich gained momentum in the current race for the Republican nomination, we re-watched the film and thought it was too good to sit in the archives. Today through Wednesday we’ll be posting excerpts from the film, which examines the people, places and events that have profoundly influenced and shaped his personality and political career.

In the first installment, which features Gingrich family photos and home movies, correspondent Peter J. Boyer — author of Newsweek‘s recent cover story, “The Audacity of Newt” — examines Gingrich’s childhood and talks to his mother Kathleen and stepfather Bob.

“Newtie,” as his mother calls him, was the product of her three-day marriage to “Big Newt” McPherson, a hard-drinking, 19-year-old mechanic, whom she says she walked out on after he hit her. Kathleen would later marry Bob Gingrich, a military man, who adopted her son.

Young Newt grew up as a lonely, precocious Army brat, who loved the movies and animals. Kathleen recalls how at age 10, Newt presented a plan to build a zoo to the local mayor. But at age 15, his life was changed by a family trip to the battle site of Verdun, where nearly 1 million died in World War I. At Verdun, Newt saw that it was politics that truly shaped the world.

Bonus: Vanity Fair‘s Gail Sheehy interviewed Gingrich and his family for “The Inner Life of Newt Gingrich,” a September 1995 profile of Newt’s wars, his women and his contract with himself.

Produced by Steve Talbot, The Long March of Newt Gingrich was a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting.


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