Friday, May 15, 2015

MRC All In A Tizzy Over George Stephanopoulous [UPDATED BELOW]

MRC Watch Dept. - Thursday, Politico reported that George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC's This Week and Good Morning America, "has given $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation in recent years, charitable contributions that he did not publicly disclose while reporting on the Clintons or their nonprofit organization, the On Media blog has learned."

Contrary to the breathless tone and dark insinuation, there wasn't much to "learn" about this -- Stephanopoulous, who is a big contributor to various charities, didn't disclose his donations on the air but he's listed as a donor on the Clinton Foundation's website. Stephanopoulous gave a statement to Politico:
"'I made charitable donations to the Foundation in support of the work they’re doing on global AIDS prevention and deforestation, causes I care about deeply,' he said. 'I thought that my contributions were 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.'"
ABC issued a statement echoing this and standing by their man. Nevertheless, this non-revelation has set off  an absolute feeding frenzy at the Media Research Center, with new articles slamming Stephanopoulous seeming to turn up every few minutes. In April, Stephanopoulous had questioned Peter Schweizer, the ethically challenged author of "Clinton Cash," about his partisan connections; the MRC writers have insisted the newsman's failure to disclose his charitable donations at that time constitutes some dire and and unforgivable conflict of interest. In a September interview with Bill Clinton, his former boss, Stephanopoulous had touted the work of the Foundation -- this was resurrected and treated as if it was some sort of revelation. The fact that the network evening newscasts ignored the story was scandalized. Brent Bozell, the perpetually unhinged head of the MRC, demanded that ABC remove Stephanopoulous from any coverage of the coming presidential election.[1][ By the time Kyle Drennen highlighted Peter Schweizer's charge that Stephanopoulous was guilt of a "massive breach of ethical standards," it was clear the matter had gone deep into Bizarro World.

It was left to Joanthan Chait, writing in New York magazine, to ask the most obvious question: so what? To the accusations of conflict of interest, he writes "donating money to a charitable foundation is not an interest." Chait has been critical of the Clintons' handling of apparent conflicts of interest regarding the Foundation "but none of those problems reflects poorly on Stephanopoulous":
"In the absence of a material conflict, is there some symbolic conflict? It is hard to imagine what. The Clinton Foundation has taken on nefarious connotations owing to conflict-of-interest problems that don’t implicate Stephanopoulos. But it is, after all, a charity. It used to have non-partisan overtones.In the heat of the 2012 election, Mitt Romney spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative. News Corporation Foundation and Donald Trump, for goodness sake, donated to it.
"Stephanopoulos’s defense — that he just wanted to donate to the Foundation’s work on AIDS prevention and deforestation — seems 100 percent persuasive... what his critics have yet to produce is a coherent case against him."
This morning, the MRC's Tom Johnson, who didn't even try to counter Chait's reasoning, tried to scandalize his comments.

All this self-righteous fuming by the MRC writers against conflicts of interest can't help but bring to mind some of the MRC's own, such as the fact that they've spent years pimping Big Oil propaganda on everything from increased drilling to climate change to, most recently, complaining that oil barons are portrayed in an unflattering way by the media without ever once disclosing in their articles that they are, in part, financed by Big Oil. The MRC writers are of one voice in insisting Stephanopoulous should face sanction for failing to disclose his Clinton Foundation donations when interviewing Peter Schweizer, but Scott Whitlock once (falsely) complained that ABC News had failed to disclose the identify an environmental activist who works on climate change issues while -- like every other MRC writer -- never disclosing Big Oil's support for his employer. These are much more serious than anything even hinted against Stephanopoulous and unlike Stephanopoulous, the MRC has never addressed these matters or even acknowledged them.



[1] One of the more hilarious aspects of that demand is that ABC's This Week, under Stephanopoulous, has been a national showcase for conservatives and Republican guests. Back in 2006, Media Matters conducted a comprehensive survey of the guest-lists of the major networks' Sunday news shows for an eight-year period. For the last three of those years -- 2002-2005 -- Stephanopoulous had been the host of This Week and in all three, Republican/conservative guests outnumbered liberal/Democratic guests. Averaging about a 60/40 split each year, it wasn't even close. This Week had been dominated by the right well before Stephanopoulous but under his stewardship, this domination increased to its highest point. In 2007, Media Matters followed up, examining the guest-lists for 2006. Once again, Republicans/conservative guests dominated, not only for the overall year on This Week but for 9 of its 12 months. In 2012, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting went through the guest-lists of the Sunday shows for an 8-month period; the same results.

It would seem, at first blush, that the MRC, so relentlessly attacking Stephanopoulous, may be trying to kill what is, for them, a goose that lays golden eggs. But as that first Media Matters survey made clear, conservatives and Republicans had been the predominant voices on the Sunday shows, including This Week, for years before Stephanopoulous came along. This is a longstanding pattern that is likely to continue even if he was to leave, which is very unlikely anyway.

UPDATE (15 May) - Geoffrey Dickens has just highlighted Geraldo Rivera's comments on today's Fox & Friends that, as Dickens' headline puts it, "ABC Fired Me for Just a $200 Political Donation Back in ‘85." Someone -- perhaps a smarter liberal friend -- will have to explain to Dickens that political contributions, which big media companies typically bar their employees from making, aren't the same as charitable donations.

[This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog devoted to a critique of tizzies by the Media Research Center.]

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