Compared to the conflicts of interest that came up as a result of the foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while one of its principles was serving as secretary of state, this doesn’t amount to much. The news that ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos donated $75,000 to the Clintons personal “charity” isn’t even particularly shocking. Especially when you remember that before he crossed over to supposedly objective journalism, Stephanopoulos was a top operative in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and then served as communications director of his White House. But considering that the current host of ABC’s “This Week” Sunday show grilled Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer on the air without disclosing to the audience his personal involvement in his former bosses’ affairs, a mere ex post facto apology with no disciplinary action seems a weak response to this embarrassment. But while Stephanopoulos getting off without even a slap on the wrist isn’t surprising, the incident does raise serious questions about media bias and the cozy relationship some leading liberal mainstream media figures have with the once and would-be future First Family.
Author Schweizer is understandably upset that Stephanopoulos questioned him closely about his own possible bias in writing a muckraking book about the Clinton. Schweizer has a history as a writer connected to conservative causes and served briefly as a speechwriter to George W. Bush. That’s fair game. But how is it that the ABC host thought that was worthy of exposure but believed his own hefty contributions to the Clinton’s foundation was neither relevant nor of interest to viewers watching him try to shoot down the allegations about the Clintons?
The answer is that like the Clintons themselves, some of those around them seem to have the sense of entitlement and belief that the normal rules of political conduct or journalism ethics don’t apply to them.
To be fair, unlike most of those who gave far more than he did, Stephanopoulos cannot be accused of hoping to trade the donation for favors. He may well have given the money in order to support efforts to combat AIDS and deforestation as he said in the apology he issued today. Nevertheless, a savvier journalist than the ABC host might have noted the fact that the Clinton foundation actually spends only a fraction of the money given to it on actual charitable work (only ten percent) and contributions given to other more ethical and less political organizations would have done a lot more for those causes.
The revelation makes everything Stephanopoulos has said on the air trying to pooh-pooh the Clinton Cash scandal seem self-interested or biased but in the great scheme of things, it can’t be said that those comments did much to alter the trajectory of the story or harm the future of the republic.
But it does remind us of the intolerable coziness of so many media elites with the people they cover. We had hoped that the era of leading journalists acting as informal advisors or shills for politicians they liked was over. Surely we will never again see a repeat of the kind of behavior that led legendary Washington newsman Ben Bradlee to do that for his pal Jack Kennedy, not to mention the rest of the DC press corps that knew of JFK’s affairs but kept quiet about them. But Stephanopoulos’ involvement with the Clintons makes one wonder how anyone will be able to watch “This Week’s” coverage of the 2016 election without remember that a charter member of the Clinton machine with ongoing connections to them runs the show. Stephanopoulos has already recused himself from moderating any of next year’s presidential debates but not even that gesture can silence the questions he has raised.
Of course, we knew that before we learned about Stephanopoulos’s donations. But up until now he has been treated as a straight newsman under the informal rule that allows political operatives one free career change. We all seem to think there’s nothing much wrong with a politician or political aide crossing over into journalism so long as they keep away from partisan hackery and don’t actively work to advance the causes of their former associates or bosses. But by giving so much to what is, in effect, a non-profit political slush fund for Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Stephanopoulos has violated that rule.
He ought to recuse himself from any further reporting or comment about the Clinton Cash issue or Hillary but we know that won’t happen. Like the Clintons, Stephanopoulos will simply move on and act as if nothing has happened that should cause us to view him differently.
But while what happens to him isn’t all that important, it still must be pointed out that if a journalist were exposed as giving money to the Koch Brothers charities and then reported on them, there would be howls for his scalp throughout the media. The rules are different for liberals. Analysts who wonder about the shrinking audience for such shows and networks whose political coverage is drenched in the tired rhetoric of liberalism need wonder no more. Stephanopoulos’s lack of transparency is this story is just one more piece of evidence indicting mainstream outlets for outrageous and blatant liberal bias.