George Stephanopoulos Did More Than Just Give Money To The Clinton Foundation

Matt Vespa
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Posted: May 17, 2015 8:06 PM
George Stephanopoulos Did More Than Just Give Money To The Clinton Foundation

Earlier this week, Guy wrote about ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos giving $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, a fact he failed to disclose when reporting on the former First Family and their non-profit organization. He has since apologized for his lack of transparency (via Ed Morrissey):

I want to address some news you may have seen about me. Over the last several years, I’ve made substantial donations to dozens of charities, including the Clinton Global Foundation. Those donations were a matter of public record, but I should have made additional disclosures on air when we covered the foundation. And I now believe that directing personal donations to that foundation was a mistake. Even though I made them strictly to support work done to stop the spread of AIDS, help children, and protect the environment in poor countries, I should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. I apologize to all of you for failing to do that.

Yet, as Ed noted, Stephanopoulos’ donations were public insofar as they’re listed on the Clinton Foundation’s tax returns; returns that have transparency problems of its own. Regardless, this revelation makes it all the more delicious given that Stephanopoulos accused Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, of having a conflict of interest due to his political leanings when he interviewed him on This Week in April.

Well, Schweizer recently reported that Stephanopoulos hasn’t been fully forthcoming about his ties to the Clinton Foundation, which goes beyond paychecks. He’s been a featured attendee and a panel moderator at past annual meetings for the Clinton Global Initiative (via USA Today):

…his [Stephanopulos] on air apology for this ethical mess, Stephanopoulos did not disclose that in 2006 he was a featured attendee and panel moderator at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).

He did not disclose that in 2007, he was a featured attendee at the CGI annual meeting, a gathering also attended by several individuals I report on in Clinton Cash, including mega Clinton Foundation donors Lucas Lundin, Frank Giustra, Frank Holmes, and Carlos Slim — individuals whose involvement with the Clintons I assumed he had invited me on his program to discuss.

Stephanopoulos did not disclose that he was a 2008 panelist at the CGI annual meeting which, once again, featured individuals I report on in the book, such as billionaire Clinton Foundation foreign donor Denis O'Brien.

ABC's most visible news employee did not disclose that in 2009, he served as a panel moderator at CGI's annual meeting, nor did he disclose that in 2010 and 2011, he was an official CGI member.

Stephanopoulos did not disclose that in 2013 and 2014, he and Chelsea Clinton served as CGI contest judges for awards, in part, underwritten by Laureate International Universities — a for-profit education company I report on in the book. Bill Clinton was on its payroll until his recent resignation.

Schweizer wrote that ABC News virtually ignored his inquiries into why this information has yet to be made public to ABC viewers.  Instead, they told him, "Yes, George made us aware that he was moderating these panels and that is absolutely within our guidelines. We know that he would be listed as a member — as all moderators are. He is in good company of scores of other journalists that have moderated these panels."

Oh, and how ABC News handled the Stephanopoulos donation revelation is another story by itself. Apparently, the Washington Free Beacon discovered the donation, contacted ABC, who then went to Politico’s Dylan Byers–all after they promised to get back to them with a comment (via WaPo):

[Matthew] Continetti is the editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website that launched in February 2012. Stiles is the digital managing editor for the Washington Free Beacon. The Stephanopoulos story surfaced on Wednesday just before 3:30 p.m., when Stiles found his name on the Clinton Foundation’s donor lists. He e-mailed Continetti, who told him to move on the story and also directed a researcher to check whether Stephanopoulos had seeded any of his on-air work with disclosures about the donations.

The research turned up no evidence of Stephanopoulos having told viewers of his largesse to the Clinton Foundation, clinching the need for a story. “I think you have to write this one straight,” Continetti wrote to Stiles, who sometimes takes attitudinal approaches to the news. The editor-in-chief also cited the need for a comment from Stephanopoulos’s office. “I knew immediately that this was a news story,” says Continetti.

Despite Stiles’ best efforts, ABC News didn’t cough up a response on the spot. Heather Riley, a spokeswoman for ABC News, e-mailed Stiles just after 9 p.m., promising him “something.” “What time are you posting? Want to make sure I get it to you in time,” she wrote.

Hear this, knee-jerk detractors of modern web journalism: Absent a comment from ABC News, Continetti & Co. decided to let the matter sit overnight. They just waited.

When the Washington Free Beaconers put their heads together Thursday morning, there was still no comment from ABC News. “I say, ‘Let’s begin to move this story,'” recalls Continetti. The piece wasn’t complicated: A network news anchor had contributed to a charity run by the first family of the Democratic party and hadn’t told viewers when that charity emerged in news coverage. What was complicated was its landing. “Literally as we were about to hit ‘post,’ we are alerted to the Dylan Byers piece that just went up,” says Continetti, who moved to publish their piece without the ABC News statements. Those arrived later.

The Post’s Erik Wemple said it is possible that Byers found out about the donations at the same time, though we can only speculate since he told them he couldn’t comment on sourcing. Wemple wrote that ABC News has to explain the torpor that overcame them when responding to the Free Beacon’s request for a comment.

If indeed ABC News “ran” to Byers after getting an inquiry from the Washington Free Beacon, shame on them. PR shops, after all, exist to handle just the scenario that the Washington Free Beacon presented. It’s a very linear transaction: Reporter asks, PR responds. Should it turn out that ABC News betrayed this very simplicity, the network will have forfeited its expectation that journalists check with them before publishing their goods on ABC News. “I’m trying to instill the value of reporting to a new generation of conservative reporters,” says Continetti. “What lesson do they draw when they do their due diligence and some hack PR agent goes to another outlet in order to control the story?”

That’s such a good question that the Erik Wemple Blog just dropped it into an e-mail and passed it along to ABC News along with the other questions that they won’t answer.

Silence is unacceptable here. ABC News has to do one of two things: Either apologize to the Washington Free Beacon for whatever precisely it did or explain how its actions meet the commonly acknowledged standards of the industry.

While we wait for an answer, all I can say is nice work, Free Beacon.