Flashback: When ABC Tapped Hard-Core Clinton Partisan As Top Anchor

June 17th, 2023 8:56 AM

Tomorrow (June 18) marks 21 years since ABC News announced that ex-Clinton campaign spin doctor George Stephanopoulos would take the helm of their Sunday public affairs program, This Week (a show previously anchored by professional journalists David Brinkley, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts). The promotion came five years after Stephanopoulos resigned as a senior White House advisor and joined ABC News, initially as a liberal political analyst.

But the network steadily maneuvered Stephanopoulos into roles previously held by journalists, not partisan ex-politicians — chief Washington correspondent, then fill-in co-host on Good Morning America. Former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel — no conservative — deplored what the move said about ABC’s journalistic integrity:

The overnight transformation of George Stephanopoulos from partisan pitchman to television journalist highlights a disturbing phenomenon: the progressive collapse of the walls that traditionally separated news from propaganda. Self-respecting news organizations used to pride themselves on the sturdy barriers they maintained to guard against all kinds of partisan contamination.

Yet ABC’s top dogs testified that Stephanopoulos was a changed man. On July 24, 2001, Good Morning America co-anchor Diane Sawyer fawned: “Watching you and watching you cover the news over the past year....You’ve been completely non-partisan in covering the news.” (Eight years later, Stephanopoulos would replace Sawyer as permanent co-host of Good Morning America, after the latter moved to World News.)

In May 2002, World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings assured Fox News host Bill O’Reilly: “If there’s ever been a guy who’s come out of an administration, who has made a cleaner break and proved himself as a journalist than George Stephanopoulos, I don’t know who it is.”

Stephanopoulos also spun on his own behalf, insisting in 2002: “If I were biased, I don’t believe I would have gotten the job.”

If Stephanopoulos acted like a down-the-middle non-partisan host, that would be a good thing. But as we saw just this week, the ex-Clintonista has been a reliable mouthpiece for the Democratic spin of the day — using his perch as an analyst and correspondent to boost liberals, undermine conservatives and lobby for liberal policies.

So on the 21st anniversary of his appointment as host of This Week, here are 21 of the worst examples of Stephanopoulos’s reliably biased approach:


Sycophantic Raves for ex-Boss’s State of the Union

“Virtuoso, Peter. The address of a proud President, a tireless policy wonk and a very shrewd political strategist. He essentially handed Vice President Gore his campaign plan tonight. Lots of proposals that he suspects won’t pass — prescription drugs, gun control, Medicare reform – and he sets up Vice President Gore to run against a do-nothing Congress this fall, just like Harry Truman did in 1948.”
— Stephanopoulos to anchor Peter Jennings during ABC’s live coverage of Bill Clinton’s final State of the Union speech, January 27, 2000.


George Bush, “Kamikaze Conservative”

“Democrats are pretty happy right now....They had decided they would rather run against George W. Bush, especially because he’s had to move so far to the right. You know, he’s now the kamikaze conservative, with all the positions he’s had to take here in South Carolina — against choice, going to Bob Jones University, really locking himself in on that huge tax cut.”
— Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, February 20, 2000.


2000 Debate Scorecard: Gore Clobbered Bush

“Gore dominated the debate, Peter...It was even the way that he would interrupt Jim Lehrer and say, ‘Listen, I want one more word.’ He looked like he was dominating, and then again, the issues that the time was spent on: prescription drugs, education, Social Security, even the RU-486 and abortion issue. All of those favor Gore.”
— Stephanopoulos during ABC’s post-debate coverage, October 3, 2000.


George Stephanopoulos, Election Denier

“There is no question, or very little question, that Al Gore won the votes cast in the state of Florida. The question is: Will he win the votes counted?...If this race is counted fairly, Al Gore won more votes in Florida.”
— Stephanopoulos on This Week, November 12, 2000.


Rather’s Forgery Scandal a GOP Conspiracy?

“We’ve turned to a lot of experts, a lot of forgery experts and they point to a lot of clues which show that these documents may have been doctored, that they had to have been produced by a word processor, not a typewriter that was available at the time....A lot of Democrats suspect this was a set up, something set up by Republicans. So there’s a lot of suspicion going around on all sides.”
— Stephanopoulos talking about Dan Rather’s 60 Minutes story about Bush’s National Guard Service, September 10, 2004 Good Morning America.


2004 Debate Scorecard: Kerry Fixed Flip-Flopper Flaw

“I wonder if stylistically he [John Kerry] helped himself even more than substantively, if by appearing calm and confident, for the most part, during this debate. He answered the flip-flopper charge with his demeanor even more than with his words.”
— Stephanopoulos during live coverage immediately following the September 30, 2004 presidential debate.


Feel “Kinship” with Persecuted Clinton?

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “You use the phrase ‘politics of personal destruction,’ you say you’ve been scrutinized by Democrats and I know you probably don’t like this comparison, when I hear those phrases I think of President Clinton. [Do] you feel more of a kinship now with him given what you’ve been through?”
Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX): “Not at all. President Clinton broke the law, he lied to a grand jury. I have not done anything against the law.”
— Exchange on Good Morning America, April 5, 2006, after DeLay announced he was stepping down from his seat in Congress.


See George. See George Lobby for Higher Gas Taxes

“Isn’t it going to take real sacrifice, real cutbacks in consumption if we’re going to be energy independent?...Higher gas taxes?...But aren’t higher energy taxes the best way to get people to conserve?”
— Some of Stephanopoulos’s questions to former Clinton Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on This Week, January 21, 2007.


No Such Thing as Racist Democrats?

“I think that anyone who’s not going to vote for Barack Obama because he is black isn’t going to vote for a Democrat anyway.”
— Stephanopoulos on This Week, May 13, 2007.


Touting Obama’s “Honor” and “Honesty”

“As a speech, it was sophisticated, eloquent. Barack Obama is as fine a writer as you’ll find in a politician. The question is....how voters will respond, not only to the honesty that Barack Obama showed yesterday, not only the sophistication he showed in the speech, but also the honor that he showed. He did not renounce someone that he was under a great pressure to renounce, even though he disagreed with his comments. And I think a lot of voters, even if they’re uncomfortable with Reverend Wright, will respect Barack Obama for that act.”
— Stephanopoulos assessing Obama’s speech about radical preacher, Jeremiah Wright, Good Morning America, March 19, 2008.


2008 Debate Scorecard: “The Winner Is Barack Obama”

“Bottom line, the winner is Barack Obama. He comes into this race where the country wants change. His number one goal was to show that he belonged on that stage. He was a credible commander-in-chief, that he could hold his own on national security. He did that tonight. He gets the win.”
— ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Nightline, September 26, 2008, declaring Barack Obama the winner of his debate with John McCain earlier that night.


Admiring Democrats’ Star Power + Brain Power

Co-host Robin Roberts: “Some would say it’s a team of rivals, a la President Lincoln, or is a better comparison a team of geniuses as FDR did?”
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “Well, one Obama advisor told me what they like is a combination of team of rivals and The Best and the Brightest, which is the David Halberstam book about the incoming Kennedy administration.... We have not seen this kind of combination of star power and brain power and political muscle this early in a cabinet in our lifetimes.”
— Discussing Obama’s Cabinet picks on Good Morning America, November 24, 2008.


“A Start at Inspiring Hope”

“He began on hope. He ended on hope. Now, in between, there’s a lot of hard things to be done....But I think he made a start at inspiring hope out in the country.”
— Stephanopoulos rating President Obama’s first speech to Congress, Good Morning America, February 25, 2009.


A Valentine’s Smooch for Joe Biden

Co-host Robin Roberts: “Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. Real-life Valentines, 35 years and counting. How they keep the romance alive.”...
Co-host George Stephanopoulos: “They don’t often talk about it, but their decades-long marriage is a famous Washington love story.”
— ABC’s Good Morning America, February 12, 2010.


Pot, Meet Kettle

“Some of your critics say that you’re more of a political activist than a journalist.”
— Stephanopoulos to conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe on ABC’s Good Morning America, June 1, 2010.


Echoes of FDR’s Fireside Chats

“Tonight the President used martial language. He talked about a ‘siege,’ the ‘assault on our shores’ and his ‘battle plan’ to fix it. And he said we have to ‘rally together.’ And I think what the White House was reaching for tonight is the feel of Franklin Roosevelt during World War II and those fireside chats.”
— Stephanopoulos on ABC after President Obama’s June 15, 2010 address on the BP oil spill.


Ogling Obama’s “Remarkable” Presidency

“It’s hard to imagine — I’m trying to think in our lifetime if anybody has been dealt a tougher hand coming into the White House. And given that, I think he has done remarkably well....I think people respect him even more than they like him.”
— Stephanopoulos discussing Obama’s presidency on PBS’s Charlie Rose, July 12, 2011.


Don’t We Need Even Nastier Coverage of Trump?

“Is the Hillary Clinton team right when they complain about this double standard, they say, ‘Well, voters think she’s dishonest in part because the media hasn’t done its job calling out the dishonesty of Donald Trump’?”
— Stephanopoulos to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman on This Week, September 25, 2016.


Deploring Trump’s Debate “Disgrace”

“It was an absolute disgrace. It was a mockery of a presidential debate, an insult to our democracy. From the start, President Trump was determined to defy the rules, repeat falsehoods, attack Joe Biden, dominate the stage.”
— Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America, September 30, 2020, talking about the previous night’s debate.


Joe Biden’s “Echoes of Abe Lincoln”

“Most of us will remember where we were when we heard Joe Biden take the oath of office, give his inaugural address....Echoes of Abe Lincoln.”
— Stephanopoulos during live coverage of Biden’s inauguration, January 20, 2021.


How George Interrogates Democratic Presidents

“You probably walked into the Oval Office as President with about as much experience — if not more — than any other President has ever served: more than three decades in the Senate; eight years as Vice President. So what is it about the job that surprised you that even you didn’t know?...One final question. Is Major [Biden’s German shepherd] out of the doghouse?”
— Stephanopoulos to Biden on Good Morning America, March 17, 2021.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.