What is surprising about the latest George Stephanopoulos controversy is that most of the media are treating it as something unusual rather than an acknowledgement of a problem that’s been plaguing the media for decades. We at Accuracy in Media are happy to see this issue receive the scrutiny it deserves. However, anyone convinced that Stephanopoulos’s ongoing political conflict of interest and failure to disclose it to his viewers is the exception, not the rule, hasn’t been paying attention to a long history of media corruption.
“George Stephanopoulos April 2009” by Tulane Public Relations – http://www.flickr.com/photos/tulanesally/3486488288/in/photostream/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Stephanopoulos interviewed Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on April 26. But the ABC host, formerly a Senior Advisor on Policy and Strategy, and unofficial hatchet-man, for President Bill Clinton, treated his broadcast as more of an interrogation than an interview in an effort to discredit Schweizer and defend, in turn, the Clintons. A real interview would have endeavored to understand Schweizer’s critique of the Clintons, not demand to see a “smoking gun” or “evidence” of a crime.
Stephanopoulos’s conflict of interest was blown wide open by an excellent outfit, The Washington Free Beacon, which started the ball rolling when it contacted ABC News about Stephanopoulos’s donations to the Clinton Foundation. ABC’s spokeswoman, Heather Riley, said that they would respond, but then turned first to a friendly ally—Politico—to spin the story favorably for the network and its golden boy.
“I thought that my contributions were a matter of public record,” said Stephanopoulos in his apology. “However, in hindsight, I should have taken the extra step of personally disclosing my donations to my employer and to the viewers on air during the recent news stories about the Foundation.”
ABC News initially incorrectly stated that he had given only $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation—an amount he later amended to $75,000 over three years.
But there’s more, much more.
The Washington Free Beacon’s Andrew Stiles reported that Ms. Riley “worked in the White House press office from 1997 to 2000,” including serving “as a press contact for then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.”
But beyond that, Schweizer followed up on the week’s revelations, and found that Stephanopoulos’s ties with the Clinton Foundation were much closer than just cutting checks to the foundation. Schweizer called it “the sort of ‘hidden hand journalism’ that has contributed to America’s news media’s crisis of credibility in particular, and Americans’ distrust of the news media more broadly.”
He pointed out that Stephanopoulos “did not disclose that in 2006 he was a featured attendee and panel moderator at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).” Nor did he “disclose that in 2007, he was a featured attendee at the CGI annual meeting, a gathering also attended by several individuals I report on in Clinton Cash, including mega Clinton Foundation donors Lucas Lundin, Frank Giustra, Frank Holmes, and Carlos Slim—individuals whose involvement with the Clintons I assumed he had invited me on his program to discuss.” And on it goes.
Stephanopoulos inadvertently revealed in another setting what donations such as his are all about. “But everybody also knows when those donors give that money—and President Clinton or someone, they get a picture with him—there’s a hope that it’s going to lead to something. And that’s what you have to be careful of,” Stephanopoulos said to Jon Stewart about Schweizer’s theory on April 28. “Even if you don’t get an action, what you get is access and you get the influence that comes with access and that’s got to shape the thinking of politicians. That’s what’s so pernicious about it.”
“Could Stephanopoulos, who is also ABC News’s chief anchor and political correspondent, be hoping for access to and exclusives from Bill and Hillary, giving him a competitive edge during the 2016 presidential campaign?” asks Lloyd Grove for The Daily Beast.
On the May 15 broadcast of Good Morning America Stephanopoulos “apologized” again—while patting himself on the back for supporting children, the environment, and efforts to stop the spread of AIDS. “Those donations were a matter of public record, but I should have made additional disclosures on air when I covered the foundation, and I now believe that directing personal donations to that foundation was a mistake,” he said. “Even though I made them strictly to support work done to stop the spread of AIDS, help children, and protect the environment in poor countries, I should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.”
The extra mile?
This is, basically, the same argument the Clintons and their Foundation have put forth to explain their conflicts of interest or “errors,” after having taken millions of dollars from companies and countries that had business with the U.S. government while Mrs. Clinton served as Secretary of State. Their failure to disclose many of these donations resulted in them refiling their tax returns for five years, once the obvious conflicts of interest came to light.
In reality the Clinton Foundation gives about 10% of what it collects to direct charitable grants, according to a study by The Federalist, as reported in National Review. “It looks like the Foundation—which once did a large amount of direct charitable work—now exists mainly to fund salaries, travel, and conferences,” writes David French. The study pointed out that “Between 2011 and 2013, the organization spent only 9.9 percent of the $252 million it collected on direct charitable grants.” In other words, less than $10,000 of the money that Stephanopoulos paid as tribute to the Clintons went to the causes he claims to care about.
Stephanopoulos has removed himself from the ABC-sponsored Republican presidential primary debate next February. Yet he simultaneously claimed, “I think I’ve shown that I can moderate debates fairly.” His decision to not participate ignores the bigger picture.
As we have pointed out, the incestuous relationships between the Democrats and media are almost endless. It’s not just ABC’s Sunday show, but the two other main broadcast networks that also feature highly partisan Democrats as hosts. NBC’s Meet the Press host Chuck Todd “served as a staffer on Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s 1992 presidential bid,” according to Politico. John Dickerson, the new host of CBS’s Face the Nation gave the following advice to President Barack Obama in 2013: “The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat.”
Stephanopoulos says he should have announced his conflict of interest. If such announcements become commonplace, which they should, where exactly will that end? Should CBS News announce each and every time it broadcasts news about President Obama’s foreign policy or national security issues that the president of CBS News is actually the brother of White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes? Or should ABC News have regularly disclosed that its former ABC News President Ben Sherwood had a sister with the Obama White House? She still works with the Obama administration. And, NBC? That’s the network of Al Sharpton, Brian Williams, Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow. Need I say more?
Chris Harper, formerly of ABC News, has posted his views, along with those of other mostly liberal former ABC News people, as cited by Kevin Williamson of National Review: “During the 15 years we worked for ABC News,” wrote Harper, “we remember that we had to sign a yearly disclosure of gifts worth more than $25 and contributions. Perhaps these documents no longer exist in the muddled world of TV news.”
Added Harper: “Mr. Stephanopoulos has few defenders among his former colleagues. According to a Facebook page, ABCeniors, the rather liberal bunch of former network staffers discussed the problems with his contributions. ‘That shows either indifference or arrogance. Or a nice cocktail of both,’ wrote one former ABC hand. A former producer noted: ‘He knew what he was doing, and he didn’t want us to know. That’s deceit.’”
Geraldo Rivera recalled that he had been fired from ABC back in 1985 because of a $200 political donation. At least that was the reason given at the time. Rivera wondered why Stephanopoulos was being treated differently: “The point is ABC treated my undisclosed $200 donation harshly because the network wanted me out for that unrelated reason,” Rivera continued. “Now ABC is bending over backward to minimize and forgive George Stephanopoulos’s $75,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation because he is central to the network’s recent success.”
Former ABC News reporter Carole Simpson said Sunday on CNN’s Reliable Sources that she “was dumbfounded.”
“But I wanted to just take him by the neck and say, George, what were you thinking?
“And clearly, he was not thinking. I thought it was outrageous, and I am sorry that, again, the public’s trust in the media is being challenged and frayed because of the actions of some of the top people in the business.”
She added that “there’s a coziness that George cannot escape the association. He was press secretary for President Clinton. That’s pretty close. And while he did try to separate himself from his political background to become a journalist, he really is not a journalist. Yet, ABC has made him the face of ABC News, the chief anchor. And I think they’re really caught in a quandary here.” She believes that ABC, despite their public support for Stephanopoulos, is “hopping mad” at him.
When the left has conflicts of interest involving money, the media allow the perpetrators—including themselves—to portray this as charity and supporting good causes. “[NBC’s Brian] Willams wrapped himself in the flag; Stephanopoulos cloaked himself in charity,” writes Grove. MSNBC identified 143 journalists making political donations between 2004 and the start of the 2008 campaign. “Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes,” according to NBC News.
But when conservatives are shown to have financial conflicts of interest, or even to have accepted legitimate campaign donations, they are generally portrayed as serving the interests of evil, greedy businessmen or lobbyists who are paying off politicians to allow them to pollute, destroy the environment, fatten up defense contractors and avoid paying taxes.
“As you know, the Democrats have said this is—this is an indication of your partisan interest. They say… you used to work for …President Bush as a speechwriter. You’re funded by the Koch brothers,” Stephanopoulos told Schweizer during the interview, casting the author as biased. Stephanopoulos, however, they want us to believe, is just an impartial journalist inquiring after the truth.
This is what happens when you have a corrupt media that don’t play fair, but instead put their thumb on the fairness scale to tilt it towards their partisan interests.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.