Unexamined Premises

The Real Stephanopoulos Scandal

No, it’s not his blatant partisanship, his ties to the increasingly thuggish Clinton Machine, or even his complete lack of journalistic ethics. It’s that ABC should never have hired him in the first place.

Back in the Stone Age, before reporters became “journalists” and before “journalists” became politically motivated Fifth Columnists masquerading as members of the Fourth Estate, there was a cardinal rule: a reporter could leave a newspaper and accept a job as a public-relations flack, but under no circumstances could he or she then return to reporting. Ever. In other words, once having forfeited any pretense of objectivity, and having accepted payment for advocating a particular point of view, that guy’s career in real journalism was finished.

Recall the horror that greeted the New York Times when it hired the late William Safire as an op-ed columnist. That horror was due not only to Safire’s previous employment working as a speechwriter for the disgraced Richard Nixon — a president the Left loved to hate, with a visceral passion that would not be surpassed until Ronald Reagan — but also to his background in public relations. The Times‘ hire of Safire violated every previous tenet of journalistic procedures. But —

Safire never became managing editor of the Gray Lady, nor did he have any editorial function beyond the opinion pages (he later wrote a widely loved column, “On Language”). He did what he was hired to do — provide some much needed balance and invigorated writing to a stodgy, dull and stupefying editorial page — and nothing more. Still, in retrospect, the Times was wrong to hire him, and I say this as a fan.

ABC, of course, promised that Stephanopoulos would have nothing to do with news selection, in large measure because he wasn’t really a journalist; a fact that was evident to all his colleagues there:

On CNN’s Reliable Sources media criticism program, Stephanopoulos’s former ABC News colleague, Carole Simpson, unloaded on the former top aide to Bill and Hillary Clinton that she said she likes and respects. “There is a coziness that George cannot escape,” said Simpson, who toiled for two decades at ABC News, notably as the weekend anchor of World News Tonight from 1988 to 2003. “While he did try to separate himself from his political background to become a journalist, he really isn’t a journalist.”

Byron York, in fact, noted that at the time. As he wrote the other day:

George Stephanopoulos was one of the most partisan of partisan warriors ever — just look at “The War Room,” the documentary from the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. So it was something of a surprise in 1996 when ABC News hired Stephanopoulos, fresh out of the Clinton White House. And there was some confusion about what the deeply partisan Stephanopoulos’ role would be: Analyst? Pundit? Straight news reporter? At the time, I asked ABC about it and was assured Stephanopoulos would be a pundit — like William Kristol, who was then with ABC News — and would not do any news reporting. Here is the opening of a piece I wrote in December 1996 for the Wall Street Journal editorial page:

Last week ABC News announced it has hired departing presidential aide George Stephanopoulos as a contributor to “This Week,” “Good Morning America” and other programs. The network seemed delighted with its catch. Mr. Stephanopoulos is “one of the best known and most articulate presidential advisers this country has ever seen,” news President Roone Arledge said. “His vast knowledge of Washington politics and policy will be an enormous asset to ABC News.”

The announcement created some confusion about Mr. Stephanopoulos’s role. A press release issued by ABC last Wednesday stated that he “will serve both as a political analyst and as a correspondent.” Vice President of News Joanna Bistany now says Mr. Stephanopoulos will be just an analyst; he will not report news or question guests on “This Week.” Ms. Bistany says his role will be similar to that of ABC contributor William Kristol, who was Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. “We want a mix of voices,” she says, adding that Mr. Stephanopoulos “won’t do anything that has any appearance of conflict.”

Ha ha ha! Remember, there is no lie the Left is not willing to tell in the furtherance of its aims (“by any means necessary”) and no amount of incrementalism too small for them to enjoy. The minute ABC crossed the line with Stephanopoulos, it was not just a little bit pregnant, it was destined to give birth to a bouncing baby boy.

The network had hoped their golden child would weather the storm, but as his unluck has it, his old (current?) boss Hillary! is being sucked into the vortex of the Clinton scandals, thanks in large part to the New York Times, which has been relentless in trying to take her down (going back to Whitewater, the Times has always loathed her), and Stephanopoulos is melting in the radioactive glare.  As the New York Post gleefully recounts, Steffi is on the ropes:

ABC has plenty of reasons to be freaking out over the George Stephanopoulos scandal — $105 million, to be exact. The “Good Morning America” and “This Week” anchor renewed his contract last year for $105 million, TV-industry sources told The Post Monday. The seven-year deal — which dwarfs the five-year, $50 million contract scored by since-suspended NBC rival Brian Williams — was supposed to keep Stephanopoulos in front of ABC’s cameras through 2021.

But now his credibility, and future, have been called into question since he admitted Friday that he had donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation since 2011, just as the presidential race gears up with Hillary Rodham Clinton the leading Democrats. In a mea culpa delivered Sunday on “This Week,” Stephanopoulos, who was also a top aide in Bill Clinton’s White House, said the gifts “were a matter of public record, but I should have made additional disclosures on air when we covered the foundation.” It was his second on-air apology in less than a week.

He can apologize all he wants, but he’s apologizing for the wrong thing; he’s apologizing for a breach of ethics as if he were a real journalist in the first place. But he’s not — never was, and never will be. Which is exactly the reason ABC hired him in the first place, and why they’ll defend him ’til the last dog dies.