LIKE MOST EVERYTHING IN HER LIFE, IT WAS played out in public. As with accusations that some of the clothes under her Wal-Mart label have been made in illegal sweatshops, however, this was publicity that Kathie Lee Gifford could have done very nicely without. After years of regaling her talk show audiences with tales of the man she had described as the ideal husband, Kathie Lee discovered that her spouse of 11 years, Monday Night Football commentator Frank Gifford, 67, was not so flawless after all. The proof in the May 20 issue of the Globe tabloid showed Frank in the arms of another woman. For Kathie Lee, 44, the revelation was scarcely tempered by the fact that the tab reportedly had paid $75,000 to former flight attendant Suzen Johnson, 47, to lure Frank to her hotel room.

Yet for all the hurt and humiliating late-night punch lines, Gifford came through the crisis with the same kind of poise that had impelled her to turn the sweatshop scandal into a crusade for labor reform. "In all the years I've known her, I've never seen her lose a battle," says Regis Philbin of his cohost. "It always makes her stronger and smarter." This time the mother of Cody, 7, and Cassidy, 4, has shown a determination to stand by her man. "She believes in her husband and in her children," says her longtime agent and friend, Sam Haskell.

Throughout the ordeal, Gifford never let her fans see her crumble, continuing to tape Live with Regis and Kathie Lee in the studio each morning as usual. "There were days when I'm sure that she'd rather have been almost anywhere else," says Philbin. "But every day we were on the air, she delivered." That professionalism may, in the end, win over some of her longtime critics. "I think there was a lot of backlash against Kathie Lee because people thought her life was so perfect," says ABC newswoman Barbara Walters, a friend to both Giffords. "And I think people respect and admire the way she's handled this."