ABC News commentator George Stephanopoulos has a previously undisclosed connection to President Obama: The two were part of a small group at Harvard University that met for a period of three years purportedly to promote involvement with U.S. community institutions.
Participants at the research project, which took place between 1997 and 2000, include scores of individuals with ties to Obama, including several activists who were later appointed to Obama administration positions. Other participants were instrumental in promoting Obama’s political career.
Just yesterday, Stephanopoulos was the subject of conservative criticism for pointed questions he asked Republican presidential candidates while hosting Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate.
Stephanopoulos is best known as the chief political correspondent for ABC News and the co-anchor of ABC morning news program, “Good Morning America.” He also returned last month as host of the Sunday morning news program, “This Week.”
Prior to joining ABC News, he was a senior political adviser to the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and later served as Clinton’s White House communications director for two years.
However, an overlooked detail of Stephanopoulos’ work history is his participation alongside Obama in Harvard’s Saguaro Seminars, a long-term research project aimed at significantly increasing Americans’ connectedness to one another and to community institutions.
The project and its relationship with Obama was exposed in the recently released book, “Red Army: The Radical Network that must be defeated to save America,” by reporters Aaron Klein and Brenda J. Elliott.
Saguaro’s signature effort was the 1997-2000 dialogue “on how we can increasingly build bonds of civic trust among Americans and their communities.” The dialogue resulted in a study being published in 2000 recommending Americans participate more with community groups.
In “Red Army,” Klein and Elliott detail how the idea for the Saguaro Seminars begins with author Robert D. Putnam, who is attributed with charting the “decline of civil engagement in the USA over the last 30 years or so.”
In a January 2001 review of “Bowling Alone,” David Moberg explains at In These Times, a socialist-style magazine, that Putnam defines social capital as connections among individuals and “‘community’ adapted to a large-scale capitalist society.”
Social capital, Moberg explains, is “more abundant in small communities than in big cities, but networks that constitute social capital develop in churches, unions, PTAs, neighborhood clubs, fraternal organizations and even bowling leagues (which have declined in the United States, thus ‘Bowling Alone’).”
“[At Saguaro Seminars] we find a number of people who have either been instrumental in promoting Obama’s agenda or have used their positions of influence on his behalf,” write Klein and Elliott.
In 1992 Obama served on the founding board of Public Allies, an organization dedicated to training a cadre of community organizers. Public Allies cofounders Vanessa Kirsch and Katrina Browne, at Obama’s suggestion, interviewed his wife, Michelle Obama, to head a new Chicago office. Michelle Obama served as executive director from spring 1993 until fall 1996.
Obama left the Public Allies board when Michelle was hired, although he served on the Public Allies national board in 1997, when both he and Vanessa Kirsch participated in the Saguaro Seminars.
A second Saguaro Seminar member close to Obama is Reverend Bliss W. Browne. In December 1995, Browne’s United Imagination Network, also called Imagine Chicago, a collective of five elementary schools and one high school, was one of the first 35 school networks and their partners to receive school improvement funds from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, or CAC.
The CAC was founded by Weatherman domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, who served as the group’s director. With Ayers, Obama served as president of the CAC board of directors from 1995 to 1999. He continued as a member of the board until 2002.