ABC’s main anchor, George Stephanopoulos, has acknowledged that he gave $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation over the past three years. He didn’t tell his bosses, and he never mentioned it on the air, even when grilling the author of a book that questions whether foundation donations influenced decisions Hillary Clinton made as Secretary of State. (I’ve embedded video of that interview below.)
Now, Stephanopoulos says, he’s sorry he didn’t disclose the contributions. “I should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict,” he told viewers on Good Morning America.
The network’s reponse? “We accept his apology. It was an honest mistake.”
I’m not buying it. Stephanopoulos is no rookie. He knows full well that he’s been viewed as potentially biased in favor of Democrats in general, and the Clintons in particular, ever since ABC hired him in 1996, when he left his job as a senior advisor in the Clinton White House. He didn’t make a nominal gift to a much beloved national charity. He gave $25,000 for three years straight to a foundation linked to a polarizing political family, one he just happened to have worked for. And he didn’t think that would raise questions about his credibility as a journalist? Come on.
Stephanopoulos has been in the news business almost 20 years now. Surely he’s aware that one of the four key points in the SPJ ethics code is “act independently [and] avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” By any measure, he’s fallen short. But his employer is standing by him. While he won’t play any role in a Republican debate that ABC plans to air, Stephanopoulos apparently will still be involved in the network’s 2016 campaign coverage.
How is it that Stephanopoulos can escape any discipline? Can you spell ratings? As the host of ABC’s most-watched news program, Good Morning America, and its Sunday talk show, This Week, Stephanopoulos is worth a bundle to ABC News. With NBC News still reeling from the Brian Williams debacle and the unceremonious dumping of Meet the Press host David Gregory, ABC is loath to give up a competitive advantage by punishing Stephanopoulos.
In apologizing for his action, Stephanopoulos explained, “I’m sorry because I don’t want anything to compromise my integrity or the standards of ABC News.”
Too late. The damage is done. And by letting it stand, ABC News has compromised the credibility of its entire news division. Taking Stephanopoulos off the air for a few days and reminding the entire staff of their ethical obligations is the least ABC should do. It speaks volumes about the state of network news these days that ABC plans to do nothing of the sort.