ABC's Roberts Fawns Over Heart-Warming Clinton Charity

"Good Morning America" co-host Robin Roberts interviewed Bill Clinton for nine minutes over two segments on Monday and somehow managed to avoid discussing the disgraced Eliot Spitzer and controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Instead, GMA again featured another positive look at the Clinton Global initiative and its plan to fight poverty and get young people involved. Roberts gushed, "It's got to warm your heart 'cause this is something that's very-- has always been very dear to you about getting them involved."

Roberts found no time to ask the ex-president, who was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice in relation to a sex scandal, for his thoughts on former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's entanglement with a prostitution ring and his eventual resignation. The segment, which was highly edited, featured the ABC journalist making only a glancing reference to Wright, Senator Barack Obama's incendiary former preacher and the man responsible for racially charged statements. She mildly added, "...Geraldine Ferraro, Reverend Wright. I mean, both sides-- things that are being said by surrogates." Roberts then shifted the conversation back to a much older topic, Clinton's South Carolina comments linking Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama.

Now, in the first segment, which aired in the 7am hour, Roberts did occasionally press Clinton on whether the battle between his wife and Obama could harm the Democratic Party. And GMA co-host Diane Sawyer did highlight the Spitzer scandal in the 7:30 hour. But, it's odd that Roberts glossed over the Wright controversy and skipped any questions about the former New York governor.  

GMA has repeatedly raved over Bill Clinton's charity work. On July 20, 2007, Diane Sawyer touted the ex-president's AIDS initiative as "his work to save a continent." Four days later, on July 24, reporter Kate Snow appeared equally enthused. She rhapsodized, "In Africa, they seem to be on a first-name basis with the former president, shouting ‘Bill! Bill!’" Now, of course the organization's work should be applauded. But there are many fine charities and high profile individuals behind them that don't receive anywhere near as much coverage.

A transcript of the second segment, which aired at 8:17am on March 17, follows:

ROBIN ROBERTS: And now the race for '08 and more of my conversation that I had with-- in New Orleans this weekend with former President Bill Clinton about his Global Initiative. It began in 2005, bringing together 1,000 world leaders to tackle the world's most pressing challenges and now President Clinton is trying to mobilize the youth of the world to do the same. Football games, finals and frat parties. For many, it's the image of college life these days, but that could be about to change if President Clinton gets his wish. Today he's inviting students from around the globe to join him in a bold, new effort. President Clinton, looking at the young people, all look different, sizes, shapes, colors, ages.


ROBERTS: It's got to warm your heart 'cause this is something that's very-- has always been very dear to you about getting them involved.

CLINTON: We have to keep looking for ways to do big things together. And that's what these kids are doing. They're so excited.

ROBERTS: In 2005, he launched the Clinton Global Initiative to bring world leaders together with nonprofit organizations and businesses all to address global issues. But now he's taking it a step further, reaching out to those who bear a great responsibility in the years to come, students and universities.

CLINTON: I'm trying in a general sense to get more college students involved in the kind of work that we do at the Global Initiative every year, to get more campuses to brand themselves by the service they give as well as by their athletic teams and academic programs.

ROBERTS: It's called the Clinton Global Initiative University and it begins in New Orleans, two years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city, leaving nearly a million Americans homeless.

CLINTON: By coming to New Orleans, I wanted to highlight how much the students here in these colleges have done and are doing to try to rebuild the city and how much still needs to be done and to emphasize that people from outside New Orleans can make a contribution to this.

ROBERTS: He is bringing together students already serving in the Global Initiative together with movers and shakers like Brad Pitt to brainstorm.

CLINTON: There are two students here from Sudan working in New Orleans, and they like it. They're glad to be part of this and, of course, all these kids from all over America, enormous number of them asked me to do this again next year and do it here. They said they want to see the houses come up. They want to work.


CLINTON: It's really fascinating.

ROBERTS: For Samuel Anai and Benjamin Ako, two students President Clinton brought to the U.S. from Sudan, it's been an opportunity to learn and give back.

SAMUEL ANAI (Sudanese student): What is affecting America will affect us too so it's good that for that us to come and share whatever kind of situation that there are people in New Orleans are in.

BENJAMIN AKO: The big part of our life was to help with America and now it teaches that we have to find a way to help others as a payback.

ROBERTS: And for these two students a call for service offers hope for progress locally and globally.

BOB ACKFIROOZBAKHT (student volunteer): We're setting a precedent for the rest of the world when we have natural disasters like this we can go on and, you know, the past is past.

REBECCA OTTEN: (student, Tulane University): You know it's slow going but as long as people keep putting attention on it and keep coming down here and helping out and working on it, we can, we can make it work.

ROBERTS: A simple notion that appears to be contagious.

CLINTON: Well, I think we're poised to make a lot of progress in a hurry now, so I think if we come back in a year from now, you'll see big physical changes.

ROBERTS: And the students really want to come back a year from now and see some changes 'cause a lot of locals were coming up during this and saying it's great the attention that it's receiving but still wanting to see the fruits of that and seeing housing. Make It Right, that's Brad Pitt's campaign and so they've brought the two together and they were out there working very hard yesterday. But I thought it was interesting what president Clinton was saying in how universities, could you imagine how they're known for their academic excellence and their football teams and athletic teams. What if a university is known for their community service, the college students that do the work, branding them that way?

SAWYER: Right. Put it on the cover of some magazines. The best universities in community service. Not a bad accolade.

ROBERTS: That's the goal. Nope, not at all.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's site.