Stephanopoulos Conference Calls – Conflict of Interest?
Media Research Center MRC President L. Brent Bozell, III has written a letter to ABC News President David Westin calling on him to publicly address and resolve what appears to be a clear violation of journalistic ethics by ABC’s Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos. Last week a Politico story broke the news that Stephanopoulos has participated in daily phone strategy sessions with now White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel throughout his tenure at ABC.
Mr. Bozell on Thursday issued a statement demanding an explanation, and calling for Stephanopoulos to recuse himself from reporting on an Obama Administration whose plans and messaging he spends every morning helping to craft. Stephanopoulos has remained silent.
I was always dubious of ABC’s giving such a position to Stephanopoulos, who came to “journalism” immediately from being a senior operative at the Clinton White House. Still, in the only venue where I’ve seen him operate — the Sunday morning “This Week” program — he does a solid job, playing the moderator’s role with fairness. Further, it has been the norm for a quarter century or more for “objective journalists” to go on TV roundtable shows and put on their opinionated talking head hat. Brit Hume, recently retired from the same role at Fox News, did that quite well.
But there’s a difference between simply being opinionated and actually taking part in the policial process. If [Bozell's characterization of] the Politico story is true, then Stephanopoulos should certainly step down from his managerial and reporting assignments. There’s no reason he can’t keep hosting “This Week,” though, so long as he makes it clear when appropriate that he has a dual role.
UPDATE: A friend of mine who’s a former Democratic Senate staffer objects, correctly I think, to Bozell’s characterization of the daily phone call. Looking at the original Politico piece, I see why it didn’t make my radar screen previously. The feature, titled “Power, politics, gossip on daily call,” is about “Washington’s longest-running conversation — a street-corner bull session between four old friends who suddenly find themselves standing once more at the busiest intersection of politics and media in Washington.” Even Mary Matalin, a Republican operative from way back, sees nothing sinister here:
Mary Matalin, who as Carville’s wife has overheard probably thousands of the group’s calls, describes the conversation as more profane, more sports-centric versions of a knitting club. “They talk like they are girls,” she said. “The conversations start in the middle and they end in the middle, and if they talk at night, they’ll start in the morning with no break in the flow.” “To me, the first purpose is friendship,” said Matalin, “and the second purpose is information-sharing.”
Here’s how Politico editor-in-chief John Harris, the feature’s author, describes it:
Everyone likes to deride the “conventional wisdom.” In fairness, though, the wisdom is not yet conventional at the moment it is hatched. And in any given news cycle, it is quite likely that Washington’s prevailing political and media interpretation — at least on the Democratic side — is being hatched on these calls. The process happens not by design but as the byproduct of pre-dawn badinage — a smart-set take on the world that gets amplified by the prominent platforms all of them hold and by the dozens of later calls and lunches and rants that they will carry on with others throughout the day.
In that sense, the morning calls — no single one of which usually lasts more than a few minutes — among this gang of four is the headwaters of at least one major tributary of Washington politics.
Really, it’s not a bad thing that ABC’s chief Washington correspondent is plugged into an active political network.
Post title changed from “Stephanoupolos Advises Obama – Conflict of Interest?” for the sake of accuracy.