Revelations that George Stephanopoulos made donations to the Clinton Foundation in recent years, while failing to disclose them in relevant news reports, are generating a world of trouble for ABC News and its chief anchor. Trouble like this:
— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) May 14, 2015
That tweet comes from Conn Carroll, communications director for Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican. Carroll declined to elaborate on the matter over the phone.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a presidential candidate, said that the donations essentially disqualified Stephanopoulos from moderating debates in the 2016 race. “It’s impossible to divorce yourself from that, even if you try. 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 Paul.
Stephanopoulos is listening. He told Politico’s Dylan Byers today that he won’t be moderating a February 2016 Republican presidential debate. “I think I’ve shown that I can moderate debates fairly. That said, I know there have been questions made about moderating debates this year. I want to be sure I don’t deprive viewers of a good debate.”
Those are the words of a wounded talent. Earlier today, ABC News and Stephanopoulos himself apologized for the donations but stood pat on his suitability to cover politics. “We stand behind him,” said an ABC News statement, in part. So why not just steamroll the resistance and insist that the anchor remain the designee to moderate the debate?
Withdrawal from the debate gives the anchor’s longtime critics an opening: If Stephanopoulos is essentially conceding that his donations could well deprive “viewers of a good debate” in February 2016, doesn’t it stand to reason that any other involvement in the coverage would also deprive viewers? Now that he has retreated, how does he advance?
Stephanopoulos has disclosed that he gave $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation over three years, not $50,000 over two years, as previously reported throughout the media.
Peter Schweizer, author of “Clinton Cash,” sat through a tough interview with Stephanopoulos over his book’s suggestion of overlaps of interest between donors to the Clinton Foundation and State Department business while Hillary Clinton was running the agency, from 2009 to 2013. ““Really quite stunned by this,” Schweizer told Bloomberg in an e-mail. It’s “a massive breach of ethical standards. He fairly noted my four months working as a speech writer for George W. Bush. But he didn’t disclose this?”
No, he didn’t. Not only did he make donations to a charity run by a former Democratic president and former boss (Stephanopoulos was a Clinton White House aide), but he also failed to disclose them when they really, really bore on his independence as a newsman. In defending its anchor, ABC News released this statement:
As George has said, he made charitable donations to the Foundation to support a cause he cares about deeply and believed his contributions were a matter of public record. He should have taken the extra step to notify us and our viewers during the recent news reports about the Foundation. He’s admitted to an honest mistake and apologized for that omission. We stand behind him.
An honest mistake is when a Fox News reporter on location in Baltimore thinks he sees a shooting that didn’t happen. An honest mistake is when the New York Times inaccurately states the subject of the 2012 movie “Mansome” as Charles Manson, not male grooming. An honest mistake is when NPR wrongly states that the methane emissions related to livestock come via fart, as opposed to belch.
Stephanopoulos’s missteps diverge from this model. First, he erred in judgment by making contributions to a charity headed by the country’s premier Democratic family. Second, he committed the evasion of failing to disclose the contributions just when they took on relevance. Both very serious transgressions for a network anchor. Nothing “honest” about this whole scenario.