Op-Ed

Stephanopoulos contribution to Clinton Foundation was a mistake

APOLOGY: ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos apologized on the air last week for not notifying his employer and viewers about two contributions he made to the Clinton Foundation.
APOLOGY: ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos apologized on the air last week for not notifying his employer and viewers about two contributions he made to the Clinton Foundation. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

George Stephanopoulos’ substantial contribution to the Clinton Foundation has ignited a rabid debate.

Should a major TV news star do this? Contribute money to an organization created by his former boss, one of the most political human beings on Earth whose wife is running for president?

He’s not just your garden-variety network talking head. He is very close to the Clintons, the former president’s senior adviser for policy and strategy. He has great access to them as ABC News’ chief anchor, anchor of Good Morning America and anchor of This Week with George Stephanopoulos. ABC boasts, “He leads the network’s coverage on all major live events and breaking news around the world.”

Pesky journalists question his motives for making a $75,000 donation. Was it a sincere gesture or did he do this to curry favor with Hillary to get privileged access during her run for the Oval Office?

To make matters worse, Stephanopoulos did not tell his ABC bosses what he did. Even if he had done so, it would not have stopped the embarrassing revelations in the media. But at least he would have a smidgen of defense and support.

Instead, after the story broke, he was forced to make a humiliating mea culpa on live TV: “I now believe that direct and personal donations to that foundation was a mistake.” Worse, ABC may prevent its main man from all coverage in the upcoming presidential race.

In the “good old days” of network TV news, this would have never happened.

For decades at the network news divisions, it was forbidden for anchors, reporters, producers, anyone to discuss their political beliefs or support politicians in any way, shape or form, whether they were in or out of office, ran charitable organizations or established pet shelters. It just was not done.

When I was an NBC News correspondent, I had no clue about the political leanings of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw and others. And didn’t care. It was not important. Only the news mattered.

Today, that has changed. Apparently if you are a network reporter, anchor, producer, whatever, it is a badge of honor to make sure everyone knows that you are either left or right, Democrat or Republican, even while making a joking attempt to report the news “objectively.”

Apologists defend Stephanopoulos claiming “no harm no foul,” “it is his business,” “it’s just a charitable contribution.”

Well, it is not. It is political to the core.

After Clinton was elected in 1992, I ran the NBC News Little Rock bureau during the transition phase. Talked to and saw Stephanopoulos most days. Very nice, competent man. But he would have never been hired to be a major TV network news star back in the day when real journalism was the rule. Only those who’d paid their dues in the trenches need apply.

And worse, he’s not just on TV news, he is a major star, hired with no significant journalism credentials. None. Zip. He’s an entertainer and a former Clinton operative and current loyalist. Nothing more.

Am I biased? Absolutely. But not in the way you might think. After covering politics at all levels for 40 years, I’m apolitical. No affiliations. In fact, politics disgusts me. I just don’t like people being given forums as news anchors or reporters on national TV who are not real journalists and don’t have a problem with being cozy with politicians, let alone having worked for them.

I’m not alone. In a recent article about Stephanopoulos’ donation, the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley opined, “There is a fundamental incongruity between being a celebrity and a trusted news anchor. Avoiding the appearance of a Clinton conflict should have been his first step.”

And, please, don’t even get me started about Brian Williams.

Ike Seamans is a former NBC News correspondent and former Miami Herald Other Views columnist.

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