Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos
Revelations that ABC’s George Stephanopoulos conducts a teleconference each morning with Democratic strategists have erupted in charges that the journalist is colluding with the Obama administration to manipulate public opinion.
The charges follow a Politico report last week that Stephanopoulos has been speaking with Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, CNN commentator Paul Begala and Bill Clinton strategist and pundit James Carville every morning for the past 17 years, ever since Stephanopoulos served in President Clinton’s campaign and staff.
One paragraph of the report in particular caught the attention of Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, a media watchdog group that seeks to expose liberal bias in reporting.
The Politico report reads, “Still, the line between journalism and politics is not always bright. Begala said he often can’t remember the originator of any particular insight: ‘We talk so much – was this my idea that James changed, or was this George’s observation that Rahm tweaked?’”
Bozell challenged Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s Sunday morning news show This Week, to explain how he can strategize daily with Emanuel and then pass himself off as an unbiased journalist.
“What’s worse than the liberal media’s sycophantic coverage of President Barack Obama?” Bozell asks on the MRC website. “ABC’s George Stephanopoulos actively helping design and deliver the administration’s strategy and message – which he is then charged with reporting.
“Will Stephanopoulos be critical of the White House’s plans when he spends every morning helping to craft them? Not likely,” Bozell continues. “He must from this point forward recuse himself from any reporting involving the Obama administration.”
Bozell further charged, “For Stephanopoulos, the line between journalist and liberal strategist would be completely obliterated were it not for the fact that it apparently never existed at all. He didn’t fail in his attempt at transformation from liberal operative to journalist – he never made the effort.”
And while Stephanopoulos hasn’t responded publicly to the charges, both ABC and Politico have.
John Harris, author of the original Politico report, told fellow columnist Ben Smith that he didn’t mean to imply that Stephanopoulos is working with Democrat strategists to manipulate the news.
“The calls are certainly a fascinating Washington ritual, but by no means do I think George Stephanopoulos is participating in strategy sessions,” Harris reportedly told Smith. “To my mind, he established his journalistic bona fides more than a decade ago, even as the Clinton administration was still under way, when he showed his willingness to report aggressively on Democrats as well as Republicans.”
Harris also reports that ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider told him, “George speaks to Rahm, but he speaks to plenty of conservatives and Republicans every single day – that’s part of his job. The idea that there is some daily conference call that he hops on is just nonsense and not true.”
The MRC’s Bozell, however, called on ABC News President David West to publicly address the issue that Bozell labeled “what appears to be a clear violation of journalistic ethics” by Stephanopoulos.
Kerry Smith, senior vice president of editorial quality at ABC News, responded to Bozell yesterday.
“To be crystal clear,” Smith writes in a publicized letter, “George Stephanopoulos does not advise Rahm Emanuel nor anyone else in the Obama Administration. He reports on the Obama Administration. He speaks to Mr. Emanuel, a friend he has know for nearly two decades, as a source, just as he speaks to countless sources across the political spectrum each and every day. That is his job as an anchor and reporter and one that he does according to the highest standards.”
Smith also publicly accused Bozell of distorting the Politico account.
“Your assertions regarding Mr. Stephanopoulos and ABC News,” Smith writes, “are false and based on a willful and knowing distortion of John Harris’ original story.”
Bozell, however, quoted the Politico article in explaining to WND why it takes no distortion to interpret Stephanopoulos’ meetings as “strategy sessions”:
“It’s the original Politico story that reported, ‘In any given news cycle, it is quite likely that Washington’s prevailing political and media interpretation – at least on the Democratic side – is being hatched on these calls.’ That is not my willful and knowing distortion; it’s the Politico’s reporting,” Bozell said. “ABC has a fight with Politico, not me.”
Bozell continued, “George, Paul, Rahm and Carville ran the 1992 Clinton campaign and labored together as Democratic strategists and message makers both before and after Clinton’s election. To not even address this fact, and how there just might be even an appearance of impropriety suggests ABC News’ institutional memory only goes back to the day George came aboard.
“They are saying with a straight face that since that day, George became a born-again journalist, his old self had been washed away,” Bozell said. “Yet, here he is on a daily early morning conference call with the same ol’ gang as the new administration begins its service.”