This isn’t an enormous journalistic scandal. But the reaction to it shows just how successful Clinton opponents, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the news media, have been at taking a charitable foundation that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on worthy causes and turning it into something that is widely assumed to be shady and suspect by its very nature.
And now, Stephanopoulos has helped reinforce the right’s belief that the media are in the tank for Hillary Clinton, something that could barely be further from the truth.
I say that this isn’t a great journalistic scandal for the simple reason that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a journalist like Stephanopoulos giving money to the Clinton Foundation, just as there wasn’t anything wrong when the News Corporation Foundation (that’s a foundation set up by the parent company of Fox News) gave it a contribution, or when the conservative news outlet Newsmax donated to it, or for that matter when Donald Trump did the same. That’s because it’s a charitable foundation. All those people and many others gave it money to support its work in areas like global health, economic development in poor countries, and climate change.
That being said, it was completely wrong of Stephanopoulos not to inform his viewers that he had donated to the foundation once it became part of a news story. Indeed, he should have mentioned it every single time the foundation came up. It’s particularly problematic that he didn’t do so when he was interviewing Peter Schweizer, the author of “Clinton Cash,” which alleges that certain foreign donors gave donations to the Clinton Foundation in an attempt to curry favor with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state.
So, yes, Stephanopoulos deserves criticism for failing to mention his donation. But it’s notable that everyone is now treating the Clinton Foundation as if it has long been central to sort of scheme to personally benefit the Clintons, and not a charitable foundation. For instance, look at this tweet from Politico media reporter Dylan Byers:
Notable: @Olbermann suspended at MSNBC for $7,200 in campaign contribs. ABC taking no action re: Stephanopoulos $50k to Clinton Foundation.
The fact that Byers thinks there’s a parallel between donating to a candidate’s campaign and donating to a charitable foundation run by an ex-president is remarkable, to say the least.
While Stephanopoulos’ donation wasn’t secret (it was listed on the foundation’s web site), by not making a point of disclosing it on-air, he reinforced the idea that there’s something questionable about the Clinton Foundation itself — and the idea that one could only give it money for nefarious reasons. It’s a pretty striking evolution in the foundation’s image.
The Foundation was never going to be a tremendous boon to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, because she’s been busy doing other things for the past 15 years, so she can’t really claim credit for whatever successes it has had. But it has done certainly done worthwhile things with all the money it raised. There’s no question that Bill Clinton has used the Clinton Foundation to do a lot of good since he left office, even if he was also getting rich at the same time. Yet judging by the way the foundation is now talked about — as if anyone who has had any association with it is tainted — you’d think it was running a network of international assassins instead of distributing malaria medication.
I’m not trying to defend Stephanopoulos. As I said, he made a significant error in not repeating on-air that he had donated to the Foundation. But that’s what he should be criticized for, not the donation itself.
It’s ironic that conservatives will now use Stephanopoulos’ donation as evidence that the media are biased in Hillary Clinton’s favor, when we’ve seen just how eager journalists are to flog every Clinton “scandal” they can find, whether there’s anything substantive to them or not. As Dylan Byers himself wrote just a week ago, “the national media have never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton (and, by the same token, elevate a Republican candidate).”
From now through next November, conservatives will claim that every story that reflects poorly on Hillary Clinton is just accurate reporting, while every story that reflects well on her (or poorly on Republicans) demonstrates the media’s pernicious liberal pro-Clinton bias. Stephanopoulos has been around long enough to know exactly how that game is played, and how hard it has often been for journalists to resist the pressure that puts on their work. He just did his and his colleagues’ critics a great big favor.