ABC newscaster George Stephanopoulos stepped into some doodoo this week. And he compounded the odor and error by being forced by media inquiries to admit he contributed $75,000 to the foundation of his former boss, ex-president Bill Clinton. Who’s been in the news lately a bit because his former First Lady wants the top job.
It’s a reinforcement that cable and network anchors are really more entertainers, or even news readers, than journalists.
The New York Times story today sums up the issue perfectly:
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.”
Once a pol, always a pol?
Come on, George. Did you honestly believe that giving money to the Clintons was a good idea, even at the time? Wasn’t it closer to, “I sort of have to do this, but I hope I don’t get caught?”
This wasn’t a lapse in judgment. It was a judgment. In five figures.
People contribute to charities for many reasons. They support the cause. They want to take a tax write off. They want to feel good about themselves. They want to sit at the head table at the annual gala, or have their name on the new building on campus. But there’s almost always a return on investment. You get your name listed with all the other high rollers.
What Stephanopoulos tried was to have it both ways — Clinton confidant and supporter and “objective” network anchor.
There is somewhat of a double standard here, but it’s only worth mentioning as a footnote. If Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity contributed $75,000 to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library or even the Romney Family Foundation [if there is such a thing] no one would blink. But then they don’t pretend to be objective.
Not smart, George. You got caught.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.