The New York Times
George Stephanopoulos's Gifts to Clinton Foundation Reinforce G.O.P. Doubts
By JEREMY W. PETERS and JOHN KOBLIN
MAY 14, 2015
George Stephanopoulos, right, interviewing former President Bill Clinton last year for ABC's "Good Morning America." Credit Heidi Gutman/ABC
WASHINGTON — Even after more than a decade as an analyst, anchor and public face for ABC News, George Stephanopoulos has never been able to shake the image that many Republicans have of him: Clinton hatchet man.
That image was glaring to the Republican strategists who blocked him from moderating a debate last year in the Senate race in Iowa.
It was the elephant in the room in 2011 when, after an interview that Mitt Romney's advisers saw as especially argumentative, Mr. Stephanopoulos visited the campaign’s headquarters to try to reassure them that he was impartial.
And it has nagged at the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who has told people repeatedly that he does not want the anchorman anywhere near a debate stage in 2016.
On Thursday, the question of Mr. Stephanopoulos's political leanings and his future as a leader of the network's campaign coverage spilled out into the open as he acknowledged donating $75,000 to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation over the past three years. He withdrew from playing any role in a planned Republican primary debate on ABC and called his donations an "uncharacteristic lapse."
"I'm sorry because I don't want anything to compromise my integrity or the standards of ABC News," he said. "I don't want to do anything that would raise questions in the minds of our viewers. I'm sorry all of that has happened."
But his disclosure of the contributions — made after the conservative Washington Free Beacon started asking ABC News questions — seemed only to deepen Republicans' distrust in the most recognizable political journalist at the most-watched news network in the country. Criticism from both party leaders and news media experts was more acute, because Mr. Stephanopoulos had just last month conducted an aggressive interview with Peter Schweizer, the author of a new book about the Clinton Foundation. During the interview, Mr. Stephanopoulos seemed to dismiss Mr. Schweizer's reporting about conflicts of interest among donors to the charity who also had matters pending before the State Department. "We've done investigative work here at ABC News, found no proof of any kind of direct action," he said.
Conservatives have a long list of grievances against Mr. Stephanopoulos dating back to when the American public first caught a glimpse of him as a scruffy caffeine-addicted and fiercely partisan strategist for Bill Clinton in "The War Room," a documentary about the 1992 campaign.
Until now, though, allegations that he lacked journalistic objectivity had been mostly circumstantial — a badgering interview, a series of off-subject questions in a debate. As he reminds his detractors regularly, including on Thursday, his history shows that he is not shy about asking difficult questions of Democrats and Hillary Rodham Clinton, like the time he pressed her in a debate in 2008 about why most voters did not find her honest and trustworthy.
But with his acknowledgment that he had given a significant sum to the Clinton Foundation, he found himself facing accusations that he was effectively trying to buy favor with his former employers as Mrs. Clinton seeks the presidency for a second time.
Even before he recused himself from the debate, Republican candidates and party leaders said Thursday that Mr. Stephanopoulos could not be a credible interviewer or moderator given his ties to the Clinton family.
"I just think it's really, really hard because he's been there, so close to them, that there would be a conflict of interest if he tried to be a moderator of any sort," said Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Despite the criticism, Mr. Stephanopoulos insisted he would continue as a leader in the network's political coverage. "I am going to continue to cover the campaign," he said in an interview. ABC noted that the donations were reported in the foundation's public disclosure.
ABC appeared to support such a role for Mr. Stephanopoulos, despite the fact that he failed to inform the network of the donations. According to ABC News policy, a network spokeswoman said, an employee making a donation to a charity must "disclose that to us before covering a story related to that organization."
Mr. Stephanopoulos, however, has an unusually powerful role at ABC. The network has consciously made Mr. Stephanopoulos, 54, who is a co-host of "Good Morning America" and the host of the Sunday morning show "This Week," the face of its news division. Last year, ABC appointed him the main anchor for breaking news stories and election coverage. That broke a long tradition among network news divisions of having the evening news anchor handle such duties.
Oh, come on! In today's world, does anyone, truly, think that $ 75,000 (given over 3 years, i.e. $ 25,000 a year) will buy ANY influence at...
In an environment where everybody knows everything, or will in due course, I never cease to be amazed at how media unsavvy many politicians...
They have Sheldon Adelson and the Kochs, and they're worried about one charitable donation to a foundation run by a man George knows and...
The revelations about his donations threatened to blunt the momentum ABC News has enjoyed in the wake of the Brian Williams crisis at NBC. "World News Tonight," which is hosted by David Muir, snapped a five-year ratings losing streak last month when it beat "NBC Nightly News" in total viewers. Mr. Stephanopoulos's "Good Morning America" consistently beats NBC's "Today."
"We accept his apology," a statement from ABC said. "It was an honest mistake."
Even before Thursday, Republicans expressed strong misgivings about Mr. Stephanopoulos. Mr. Preibus has told other Republicans he was not comfortable with Mr. Stephanopoulos participating in the debate and would press the issue with ABC.
In 2012 advisers in the Romney campaign actively lobbied to exclude Mr. Stephanopoulos from the primary debates to no avail. Conservatives say their fears were borne out during the ABC News debate in New Hampshire that year. Mr. Stephanopoulos repeatedly asked Mr. Romney if he believed that states could outlaw birth control — a question that the Romney campaign saw as off-point and far afield of the issues that concerned voters. Mr. Stephanopoulos pressed repeatedly, asking six follow-up questions.
Many Republicans have blamed him — unfairly and conspiratorially, Democrats say — for the genesis of the "war on women" line of attack, which became a defining campaign issue in 2012. (Mr. Stephanopolous was not asked to participate in a more formal debate after the 2012 conventions. Martha Raddatz was the only journalist from ABC News that year who was selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates.)
But with Mrs. Clinton as the expected Democratic nominee, questions were only going to intensify for Mr. Stephanopoulos.
Ultimately, independent experts said, he had essentially become something no news organization wants to be: the story.
"He's demonstrated that he's a fine journalist and can be tough," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. But she added that the donations disqualified him from being a credible debate moderator.
"The moderator shouldn't be at issue," she said. "It changes the perception of the debate in ways that intrude on discussion of the debate and that interferes with the public’s ability to learn."
Mockingbird Media Lies EXPOSED