ROBERT SMITH, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Robert Smith in Washington.
By now, most of us have seen the footage of Silda Wall Spitzer standing next to her husband, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, as he apologized to his family in public after a federal investigation linked him to a ring of high-priced call girls. Some interpret her decision as the rightful duty of a wife of a political figure; you stand by your man. But others said it was painful to watch her endure further humiliation for the sake of damage control.
Amy Dickinson, who writes for the syndicated 'Ask Amy' column for the Chicago Tribune, joins us today to talk about how to handle spousal betrayal. Should you stand by your spouse or not? And we'll also hear from one former first lady who had to deal with this firsthand. So what's your take? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? What did you decide to do and why? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also comment on our blog, it's at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Amy Dickinson joins us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome.
AMY DICKINSON: Hi, Robert. You know, last night, I had a conversation that I bet I was playing out in the living rooms all of the country.
SMITH: Which was?
DICKINSON: So I said to my sweetheart. Honey, if you ever do that to me, I would not attend the press conference. And he said if I ever did that to you I wouldn't dare ask you to attend the press conference. So, you know, this is -for some reason, this incident seemed like a tipping point to me.
SMITH: Absolutely, I have the exact same conversation with my wife. I asked her if she would go the press conference and she's - get over yourself, you would never have to hold a press conference. So I guess that's good. But I mean, you know, it has reached a tipping point because I think a lot of new stations sort of played this montage of betrayals of the past. And I don't know if they're playing it to be funny or to illustrate something, but it gave us sort of a sick feeling inside to see, sort of, a montage of pain.
DICKINSON: Right. And the thing is, and I actually went through something similar when I was married in a former life. Although, my former husband was not a politician, so he wasn't quite that skeezy, but — and there was no press conference involved. But anyone who's been betrayed knows that you cannot predict in advance how you would behave. I have to say in my own case, I was shocked that I immediately wanted to repair the relationship. That was my instinct. If you would ask me beforehand, I would've said, absolutely not, this is a deal-breaker. But when you're in a family and when things happen that are shocking and unexpected, you go into crisis mode. And in my case, chose to try and repair the relationship. And I'm not sorry I did try that.
SMITH: Well, it's a great point, which - you just don't know what's like until you're there. We have with us one person who, at least, has some insight into this.
Dina Matos McGreevey, she's the former first lady of New Jersey and author of the book "Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage." She stood next to her husband, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, in 2004 when he announced that he was gay and would resign. And she joins us now by phone from our office in Newark, New Jersey. Thanks for being on TALK OF THE NATION.
Ms. DINA MATOS MCGREEVEY: Oh, it's my pleasure.
SMITH: So, walk us through this. Did you have to make that decision to stand there or was it even beyond the realm of decision-making? It just happened.
Ms. MCGREEVEY: Well, my husband asked me if I would attend the press conference with him and I did not answer immediately. First of all, I was in state of shock (unintelligible) and I wasn't able to make any rational decisions. So it took me a while and I pondered it, I spoke to a therapist. And I - ultimately, I decided to stand there. And I stood there not because I was condoning what he was - what he had done, but I stood there in end for my daughter. I was standing there beside my daughter's father. Not as, you know, the scorned wife or - you know, it wasn't something that I wanted to do, but I felt it was a great thing to do at the time. However, he did ask me to do it.
SMITH: So this wasn't like you were (unintelligible) by political consultants or pressured to do…
Ms. McGREEVEY: No, not at all. I didn't even see his consultants. He had, you know, been in meetings for a couple of days, you know, crafting his speech and figuring out on how he was going to handle the whole situation. He did say, however, if you attend the press conference, you can't fall apart. You have to be Jackie Kennedy today. And at that point, I wanted to punch him, but I didn't have the energy to do it. But it was a very…
SMITH: You sir are no JFK, you know.
Ms. McGREEVEY: No, exactly. But I ultimately did it for my daughter. And in addition to that, this is a man I was married to. I, you know, married him because I loved him, I wanted to build a life with him. And though - you can't shut off the feelings overnight. They don't evaporate overnight, and you can't - it's not like turning off a light switch and saying, well, I'm going to wake up in the morning and I'm not going to love him anymore because he's caused me so much pain and humiliation. And I agree with the woman who just said, you don't know how you're going to react until you are placed in that position when you have to make that critical decision.
And, you know, if anyone had said to me prior to his announcement that I would have stood there next to him, I would say to them, absolutely not. There's no way that I would do that. But you don't know unless you're faced with that decision.
DICKINSON: Dina, can I ask a question?
Ms. McGREEVEY: Sure.
SMITH: Amy Dickinson. Go ahead.
DICKINSON: Why do you think he asked you to that with him? What was his motivation?
Ms. McGREEVEY: Well, in my husband's case, he was leading a double life and everything that he did was scripted and it was all about appearances and how it would look and what it would do for him. Although his political career was over, I don't think it had registered with him at that point. So it was all about appearances. And I believe that's why he asked me to be there. But my decision had nothing to do with politics. It wasn't - an I've been criticized and people think, well, you know, it was politically expedient. It had nothing, nothing to do with politics. This is, you know, an instinct.
I had been working alongside him, you know, during his - the course of his administration. And I had worked with him, I had experienced two gubernatorial campaigns with him, so it's an automatic response. But ultimately, the decision was for my daughter. I didn't want her 10 or 15 years down the road to learn about what happened and ask me, Mommy, why weren't you there? It was the most difficult time in daddy's life and you weren't there.
DICKINSON: And can I just offer that you being there, at least in my view, didn't make you look bad. But seeing how quickly his story unraveled so quickly after that, you being there made him look bad. Even worse.
Ms. McGREEVEY: Well - and I believe that's true for Mrs. Spitzer, as well, and for Governor Spitzer. And in addition to, you know, my daughter and the other reasons that I mentioned, imagine the - people they only criticize me for being there and they ask, even today, how could she have not known. But imagine the speculation had I not attended the press conference.
Ms. McGREEVEY: And…
SMITH: Go ahead.
Ms. McGREEVEY: And they followed me around and they were staked outside my home. I was a prisoner of my own home for days and weeks following that press conference. I - they would have found a way to get to me had I not attended the press conference. So in the end, I felt it was the right thing to do. I - if were to do it over again, if I had to do it, I would have made the same decision. I do not regret the decision that I made at the time.
SMITH: Dina Matos McGreevey, thank you very mush for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION. Dina Matos McGreevey is the former first lady of New Jersey and author of the book, "Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage." We're going to stay with Amy Dickinson and we're going to take some phone calls about betrayal.
Let's go to Quentin(ph) now. Quentin is calling us from Aiken, South Carolina.
QUENTIN (Caller): Hello. Hi.
SMITH: Go ahead.
QUENTIN: Yes, hello. Yes. I want just want to comment and say that…
QUENTIN: Hello? Yes, hello.
SMITH: You're still in the air, Amy Dickinson.
QUENTIN: Yes. I just wanted to say that I feel like I - I wanted to ask a question like - I know in a regular relationship, and usually if you suffer betrayal, it's a lot easier to work through than if you have a lot of public notoriety(ph). I also wanted to ask, what do you feel like the - you're (unintelligible) your decision acting now, you know, how are they taking it now that, you know, it's been some time since the scandal was made. And that's my question.
SMITH: Well, Quentin, what did you think - for a moment before you answer the question, what did you think about what you saw when you see spouses standing by their spouses in time of crisis?
QUENTIN: I was shocked. I didn't really think. (Unintelligible) - it reminded me of some, you know, past, you know, disclosures of infidelity, you know, like with the former president and with so many other political figures. I was shocked.
SMITH: Amy Dickinson, what about the kids? I mean…
SMITH: …we heard about Dina Matos McGreevey doing this for her child…
SMITH: …looking back later. What do you think about that?
DICKINSON: Well, what I think is - and, again, my feelings have evolved, if you could say. Because, you know, we all say, and I did this myself, I'm demonstrating family values, so to speak, from my child in my case. I - but I wonder, you know, after the Eliot Spitzer thing came out, I thought, well, what is Mrs. Spitzer demonstrating to her daughters that - I mean, what is the message when you stand there silently, are you saying this is okay? I mean, what are you saying? And I kept thinking, what would it be like if a wife didn't show up? What would that be like? I mean, what message - I don't mind if my daughter maybe finds out that that's not acceptable.
SMITH: Oh, you know, it could send a message of strength in the face of adversity - just a suggestion.
SMITH: Yeah. Is…
DICKINSON: I don't think standing there silently…
SMITH: (Unintelligible). Yeah.
DICKINSON: I don't think standing there silently really sends - it doesn't send a message that I want my daughter to receive necessarily, honestly.
QUENTIN: Yes. I also wouldn't come. I would just like to say that, overwhelmingly, even after all the publicity is gone and the cameras are gone, you know, they have to live their everyday lives and they still had to find some way to continue on. And I think that it's something that we should look into. That, you know, we shouldn't get so caught up into the public aspect of it that we don't forget these people are, you know, regular human beings. And, you know, people go through divorce and these types of situations everyday. And so we have to try to, you know, think about it in terms of reality and not just in the terms of, you know, the public life.
SMITH: Thanks, Quentin, for your phone call. Let's go to Monica(ph) now. Monica joins us from Medway, Massachusetts. You're on the air, Monica.
MONICA (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to say that I have experienced a similar situation. It was not infidelity, but it was lies. My current boyfriend was arrested and it was very difficult because we do have a child together. I made the choice to stand by him, even though he had done something that I did not really believe was the right thing for him to do. I felt like it was a bad choice. But I did not stand there silently. I made the message very clear that this was wrong, this was a mistake, but as long as the mistake is corrected, I will be there. And this is a one-time only stand-up situation. I will not be there next time.
SMITH: Well, Monica, you probably didn't have a press conference, but did you make this public, you probably had to tell family and friends and - what you were doing. Yeah.
MONICA: Yeah. It was a DUI. So there was (unintelligible) had to be arranged. And I think, personally, that was perhaps the more difficult part, is that when you are with someone, they more or less, public or not, relationship represent you. So from him making this choice and me choosing to be with him, it was almost as if I had done it, too.
SMITH: Well, thanks for your phone call, Monica. I appreciate it.
MONICA: Thank you.
SMITH: Amy, I wanted to get your reaction to one of our e-mails we just got from Jacqueline(ph). She said, let's look at this another way. Can you picture a female politician standing next to her cuckolded husband after spending $80,000 on male prostitutes. I cannot imagine any male in this planet thinking that's a good idea. I feel that women are expected by society to stand by their men to their indiscretions.
DICKINSON: I completely agree. And, you know, when I think back - I know we live in a cynical age, but when I think back to the LeBron James story where it seemed that there was a very - in my mind, anyway, a very cynical exchange. There was a lot of story about how his wife was given a huge diamond ring and she then stood by him in court as he went through his scandal. And I just wonder if there's some sort of deal, if there's some sort of bargain aside from we're married, I'm standing by you. And no, I cannot imagine - I cannot imagine a man standing silently, four feet behind his wife as she did what Spitzer did the other day.
SMITH: We have time for one more phone call, and we'll get this in quick. Madonna(ph) is calling us from St. Louis. Madonna, you're on the air.
MADONNA: Hi. I have a question. My grandmother - when we were talking about this yesterday, you know, I brought up the issue with Hillary Clinton. And my grandmother said, why should she give up all her power and position just because your husband fooled around on her? And yet, I say, you know, what - to what level are you willing to give up your own self-worth and self-dignity just to hold on to power? And I like to know what you're guest feels - you know, it's a very strong argument on either side of that, and I'd like to know what your guest has to say.
DICKINSON: Well, I love that idea that you're grandmother, of all people, is - has taken this incredibly realistic view of what is essentially, I gather, both a love match and a very political partnership between Hillary and Bill Clinton. And, you know, if you read about them, you see that this pattern of betrayal has pretty much been ongoing through their relationship. And, clearly, they have a - I don't know if it's a bargain or an agreement. But, you know, honestly, I identified with her in term - when this happened in the White House, I identified with her, and I understood why she stayed. And partly because Chelsea was a teenager, and what is she going to do?
SMITH: And Amy - yeah, Amy, we have to end now. We should say that you had mentioned LeBron James, you meant Kobe Bryant.
DICKINSON: Oh, Kobe Bryant. I'm sorry.
SMITH: Kobe Bryant.
DICKINSON: Yes. That's right.
SMITH: We want to apologize about that. Make sure we get the names right.
SMITH: Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated column, "Ask Amy," for the Chicago Tribune. She joined us from our bureau in New York. For a photographic look back at political spouses' reactions to scandals, you can go to our Web site at npr.org/talk.
Tomorrow it's SCIENCE FRIDAY. Lynn Neary will be here on Monday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.
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