John King, moderator of the CNN sponsored debate, mentioned that Gingrich's ex-wife Marianne had given an interview to ABC News, in which she claimed that Gingrich -- having an affair with his now-wife Calista -- asked Marianne for an "open marriage." ABC released excerpts on Thursday, and aired the interview on "Nightline" -- on the same night as the debate.
King asked Gingrich if he "would like to take some time" to respond to his ex-wife's comments. The entire exchange follows:
"No -- but I will," Gingrich said -- to cheers and applause.
"I think -- I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that," Gingrich said to more cheers and applause.
"Is that all you want to say, sir?" King asked.
"Let me finish," Gingrich said.
"Please," King said -- prompting some boos.
"Every person in here knows personal pain," Gingrich said. "Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it --two days before the primary -- a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine. (Cheers, applause.)
"My -- my two daughters, my two daughters wrote the head of ABC, and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it. And I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate." (Cheers, applause.)
King responded that the story did not come from CNN, and that it was "a subject of conversation" on the campaign trail.
"John, John, it was repeated by your network, Gingrich said -- prompting boos from the crowd. "You chose to start the debate with it. Don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with that." (Cheers, applause.)
Gingrich continued: "Now, let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested, because they would like to attack any Republican. They're attacking the governor, they're attacking me. I'm sure they'll probably get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul. I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans." (Cheers, applause.)
On the campaign trail, Gingrich said he's been open about his life and about the mistakes he has made, and he says he has gone to God for forgiveness and reconciliation.