Stephanopoulos’ Clinton Donations Not the ‘Scandal’ Everyone Wants It to Be


It’s 2015 and suddenly everyone is shocked that ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos has a unique relationship with the Clintons. Hours after news broke that Stephanopoulos, who spent four years in the Bill Clinton White House as a senior adviser, made a $50,000 $75,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation over the course of the past three years, conservatives are already calling for him to be suspended — if not outright fired from his dual roles as host of Good Morning America and This Week. But how bad is Stephanopoulos’ supposed offense really?

Bad enough that Stephanopoulos decided to publicly apologize for failing to disclose the donations, especially given his aggressive interview with Clinton Cash author Peter Schweitzer last month, in a statement that has been appended to relevant ABC News stories online:

I made charitable donations to the Foundation in support of the work they’re doing on global AIDS prevention and deforestation, a cause I care about deeply. I thought that my contributions were all a matter of public record. 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. I apologize.

He then told Politico that “in retrospect” he “probably shouldn’t have” made the donations at all and said he would recuse himself from moderating ABC News’ 2016 GOP debate.

But not bad enough that ABC News is not firmly standing behind him with a supportive statement of its own:

As George has said, he made charitable donations to the Foundation to support a cause he cares about deeply and believed his contributions were a matter of public record. He should have taken the extra step to notify us and our viewers during the recent news reports about the Foundation. He’s admitted to an honest mistake and apologized for that omission. We stand behind him.

For many conservative politicians and commentators, along with a handful of left-leaning media critics, the “honest mistake” excuse is not enough. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has indicated that he is no longer interested in engaging with Stephanopoulos in any way. Sites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller are predictably jumping all over the story in an attempt to “expose” Stephanopoulos’ pro-Clinton bias once and for all. And even the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple has declared that Stephanopoulos no longer has the “bona fides” to cover the Clintons at all.

Some, like Mediaite’s Joe Concha, are pointing to Keith Olbermann‘s 2010 suspension from MSNBC for making far smaller donations to Democratic congressional campaigns as precedent for punishment in this case. But there is a big difference between political donations and charitable ones, even if the charity in question as the name Clinton attached to it.

It seems abundantly clear that had Stephanopoulos been donating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign while serving as ABC’s chief anchor, that would have been highly inappropriate. But, as various commentators from all side of the political spectrum have been asking this morning, what is so wrong with giving money to an organization that does an immense amount of good around the world in areas like climate change and global health?

Yes, as Stephanopoulos readily admitted, he made a mistake by not disclosing the donations. But, despite the anchor’s newfound regrets, everyone should be able to agree that it was that lack of overt transparency — and not the donations themselves — that constituted the mistake. Now that everything is out in the open, it should not prevent him from doing his job, which includes providing coverage of Hillary Clinton and the 2016 presidential race.

Ultimately, Stephanopoulos’ donations are not a “scandal” in the same way the entire premise of Schweitzer’s Clinton Cash is not a “scandal.” One can argue that certain people have given money to the Clinton Foundation with the expectation that they will receive something of political value from the Clintons in return. And, in fact, Stephanopoulos himself argued that is something “you have to be careful of” in an interview with Jon Stewart last month. But there has been no evidence to prove that is true, as, ironically, Stephanopoulos got Schweitzer to admit on air.

Similarly, you can expect to hear a lot of arguments from conservatives that because Stephanopoulos gave money to the Clinton Foundation, he cannot possibly be an impartial figure in the 2016 race. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), for instance, was the first to say he doesn’t want the ABC anchor moderating any GOP debates. But frankly, because of his existing history with the Clintons, wouldn’t you expect him and others to say that anyway? There is no reason why giving money to help the global effort to fight AIDS should change anything now.

By the way, you know who else donated at least $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation in recent years? The News Corporation Foundation. And if you think Fox News is going to start disclosing that fact about their former parent company (until 2013) on a regular basis (as Howard Kurtz did earlier this year), let alone stop reporting about Hillary Clinton, don’t hold your breath.

[Disclosure: Dan Abrams, the founder and publisher of this website, is chief legal analyst at ABC News.]

[Photo via ABC]

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