When it emerged that George Stephanopoulos had failed to disclose $75,000 in donations to the Clinton Foundation to either the network or viewers while repeatedly covering the organization, ABC News declared that it would stand by its “chief news anchor.” The New York Post’s Emily Smith explains that they have one hundred and five million reasons to ignore their own declared standards and practices. ABC renewed Stephanopoulos’ contract last year for more than double what NBC paid Brian Williams … and it’s working out just as well:
The “Good Morning America” and “This Week” anchor renewed his contract last year for $105 million, TV-industry sources told The Post Monday.
The seven-year deal — which dwarfs the five-year, $50 million contract scored by since-suspended NBC rival Brian Williams — was supposed to keep Stephanopoulos in front of ABC’s cameras through 2021.
Stephanopoulos’ contract even made the Post’s front page, in a relatively subdued manner. The headline says it best — “How George Pays the Bill”:
— New York Post (@nypost) May 19, 2015
Here’s a thought: perhaps the networks should pay less for news readers and more for, y’know, actual reporters. Smith writes that ABC execs got “blindsided” by the scandal, but that’s just a case of willful blindness. The network hired Stephanopoulos straight out of the Clinton administration, where he’d played the role of attack dog for the Clintons for years, and within just a few years recast him as a straight-up newsman.
Interestingly, with their rejection of their own standards on disclosure for Stephanopoulos, ABC now seems to be signaling that people shouldn’t consider him a journalist at all. A couple of his former colleagues seem to agree, as I note in my column for The Week:
Jeff Greenfield told Brian Stelter on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday that the network should really consider recusing Stephanopoulos from any coverage of the upcoming presidential election. “[Y]ou wonder to what extent Stephanopoulos was trying to repair relations with the Clintons because the book he wrote in 1999, All Too Human, really put him on the outs with the Clintons,” Greenfield said. “It simply is an indication that very smart people can sometimes be very foolish.”
Carole Simpson, the former anchor of ABC News’ weekend edition who retired almost a decade ago to teach journalism at Emerson College, expressed her disgust “that, again, the public’s trust in the media is being challenged and frayed because of the actions of some of the top people in the business.” The problem was more fundamental in the case of Stephanopoulos. “While he did try to separate himself from his political background to become a journalist,” Simpson flatly stated, “he really isn’t a journalist.”
Oddly enough, both ABC News and George Stephanopoulos seem to agree on this point. The latter’s weak apology claimed that full disclosure of financial connections to the subject of a story somehow qualifies as going the extra mile, when most journalists consider it the first step, short of outright recusal. ABC News, meanwhile, refuses to hold Stephanopoulos to the standard it applies to actual journalists, which makes it clear that the news division sees Stephanopoulos as some other kind of entity altogether.
So let’s be honest. George Stephanopoulos is not a journalist. He just plays one on TV.
Now ABC is shocked, shocked to find hackery in the newsroom after spending years and a fortune grooming a political hack to call their “chief news anchor.” ABC News, this Captain Louis Renault award is all yours:
Update: A fair question from the comments — “What difference does the amount of money he gets paid make?” — deserves to be addressed. The most direct answer is that, like athletes, newscasters should get paid what they can make in the free market. But it does explain why ABC News suddenly seems so shy about applying their “standards” to their top dog, which is the point of the NY Post article. It’s also a rather eye-popping amount for someone who just transitioned to “journalist” at one network 13 years ago.