Morning Joe: ‘No Modern Parallel’ for Stephanopoulos’s Donations; ‘What Was Going Through His Mind?’

After having stayed silent on the George Stephanopoulos scandal on Thursday, MSNBC finally covered the story with multiple segments on Friday’s Morning Joe devoted to Stephanopoulos’s previously undisclosed donations to the Clinton Foundation. Surprisingly, the main theme that was derived from segments of banter was how the panelists were struck by the ABC News chief anchor’s inability to disclose the $75,000. 

In the show’s first segment on the topic, Jeremy Peters of The New York Times remarked that “I do not think there is a modern parallel for this, for the person who is the face of the most watched news network in the country to have given $75,000 to an entity that bears the name of a person who is running for president.” 

Speaking of his employer, Peters admitted that what Stephanopoulos did “is something that my bosses certainly would not tolerate.”

Continuing to express astonishment at the story, liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson admitted he now understands why conservative guests have questioned Stephanopoulos’s behavior for years. Later on, he joked that: “[T]here are no $75,000 donations that have slipped my mind, right? That I have just of – slipped my mind when I'm talking about the subject on television.”

In one of the few instances in which a panelist tried to defend Stephanopoulos, the BBC’s Katty Kay submitted that “I don't think you can look at George over the last few years and say there was a partisan bent to his interviewing or to his anchoring or to his reporting.”

Kay was quickly shut down by co-host Joe Scarborough, who pointed out Stephanopoulos’s hard questioning of Barack Obama in a 2008 Democratic presidential debate that irked the Obama campaign (and to the benefit of Clinton):

Don't say that, though, Katty, to Barack Obama's campaign in 2008. Back in 2008. I mean, during the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Stephanopoulos faced strong criticism and had a lot of questions asked about – questions he asked about then candidate Barack Obama in a debate moderated by ABC News. 

Appearing on the show’s second segment was The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, who also had some strong words for Stephanopoulos: 

The point is that even making this minor sort of retreat, I think, creates a problem of appearance for him on top of another problem of appearance on top of another problem of substance. So, I don't know. I think he's in a real vice right now. 

During the program’s 7:00 a.m. hour, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward joined the show and, after briefly defending Stephanopoulos, slammed him for not being able to have foreseen this problem to begin with: 

[B]ut in fairness to George Stephanopoulos, he can be tough on the Clintons and he was in his own book and memoir at the time. The question for Stephanopoulos is, what was going through your mind when you made this donation? Or is there so much money that he's being paid that it's kind of on automatic pilot? But I want to know what he was thinking because this is ethics 101.

The relevant portions of the transcript from MSNBC’s Morning Joe on May 15 can be found below.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe
May 15, 2015
6:05 a.m. Eastern

NEW YORK TIMES’s JEREMY PETERS Well, I think there are reasonable limits to going into a journalist's background when they have had prior lives in politics. We're not going after Diane Sawyer for working for Richard Nixon, we're not going after Tim Russert for working for Mario Cuomo. However, I do not think there is a modern parallel for this, for the person who is the face of the most watched news network in the country to have given $75,000 to an entity that bears the name of a person who is running for president...

(....)

PETERS: The appearance is that he was trying to buy access, he was trying to buy an interview and if you are a face – the public face of a news network, that is something that – my bosses certainly would not tolerate.

(....)

THE WASHINGTON POST’s EUGENE ROBINSON: Look, you can't do – I mean, there are no $75,000 donations that have slipped my mind, right? That I have just of – slipped my mind when I'm talking about the subject on television. 

(....)

KATTY KAY: And I don't think you can look at George over the last few years and say there was a partisan bent to his interviewing or to his anchoring or to his reporting.

[CROSSTALK]

SCARBOROUGH: Don't say that, though, Katty, to Barack Obama's campaign in 2008. Back in 2008. I mean, during the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Stephanopoulos faced strong criticism and had a lot of questions asked about – questions he asked about then candidate Barack Obama in a debate moderated by ABC News. 

(....)

ROBINSON: One understands why conservatives ask that question, as I said earlier, he worked very hard to demonstrate over the years that, no, no, no, I'm a straight news man, I can be a straight news man, but here's the thing. In his statement, he said in hindsight I should have disclosed. Everyone will now look, in hindsight, at his work over that period of time and look at interviews like that one and debates like that and say, you know, ah-ha.

(....)

THE WASHINGTON POST’s ERIK WEMPLE: The point is that even making this minor sort of retreat, I think, creates a problem of appearance for him on top of another problem of appearance on top of another problem of substance. So, I don't know. I think he's in a real vice right now. 

SCARBOROUGH: This is such a small boat that we all live in. A lot of people don't want to say it publicly because we all have a lot of friends over at ABC. Love a lot of people that run ABC over there, but the question that nobody would say on air is they were stunned and so of course I'll say it, I’ll be the skunk at the garden party, they were stunned how quickly ABC came out and immediately said we stand behind George. A big difference than what NBC, who was obviously a competitor with ABC, put that up there right now, big difference from how NBC treated the Brian Williams situation. 

(....)

WEMPLE: I doubt that they have had a chance to do any degree of inquiry. Perhaps they asked George did you do anything else, what other donations you have, look at your tax records, and many he just told them, no, this is it, but then that's troublesome because at first he said I've only done $50,000, now I’ve done $75,000. The story changed throughout the day. They had to amend their disclosure, which was embarrassing, too because, at first, it looked as though he had only given disclosures in 2013 and 2014 which is between the time that Hillary Clinton resigned from Secretary of State and the time she declared her candidacy for president. They gave him a little sliver, like oh, she’s out of politics. It was a lousy argument to begin with. But still now that you go back to 2012, it's even worse. 

SCARBOROUGH: Jeremy, in your reporting for the front page Times story today, did you get any comment from ABC News on why they moved so quickly? 

PETERS: Yeah, my colleague John Koblin actually spoke to George yesterday and spoke to ABC News and we both came away from the experience pretty startled at how quickly they said, nope, he didn't do anything wrong, he's apologized, end of discussion. Going back to what Eric was saying, this is really a corporate branding protection exercise. George Stephanopoulos is ABC News, right? He is the public face of their network. He is their Matt Lauer, their Chuck Todd, their Brian Williams all wrapped into one and this was a conscious decision on their part to take, at that time, kind of a gravitas all away from the evening news anchor and put in this one person, invest all of this George and they can't afford, from a corporate branding standpoint, to leave him twisting in the wind. 

(....)

WOODARD: It sure is aggressive, but in fairness to George Stephanopoulos, he can be tough on the Clintons and he was in his own book and memoir at the time. The question for Stephanopoulos is, what was going through your mind when you made this donation? Or is there so much money that he's being paid that it's kind of on automatic pilot? But I want to know what he was thinking because this is ethics 101.

NB Daily Campaigns & Elections 2016 Presidential Media Bias Debate Liberals & Democrats Political Scandals MSNBC Morning Joe Video Bob Woodward Jeremy Peters Joe Scarborough Katty Kay Eugene Robinson Erik Wemple
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