Stephanopoulos Conference Calls – Conflict of Interest?

Via Memeorandum, I see that MRC is hammering ABC on a story that I somehow missed:

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.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. raoul says:

    Does one really think that W’s administration and Brit Hume did not collaborate? Let’s be real here.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Does one really think that W’s administration and Brit Hume did not collaborate?

    There was an eight year overlap and I never heard about it. Obama’s been in office two weeks and I’ve heard about this.

  3. SoloD says:

    I’m pretty sure that this story is about the daily “telephone conference” that goes on between Rahm, George, James Carvile and Paul Begala. It is something that has been going on since the Clinton campaign in 92.

    The way the story makes it sound is that it just started. You may have a problem with the conference call, but it isn’t a new development since Obama became President.

  4. William d'Inger says:

    More and more, it is beginning to look like Obama is America’s Medvedev, i.e., a puppet figurehead for the “Slick Willie” mafia.

  5. raoul says:

    You are selling yourself short or perhaps one only listens to what wants to listen. Where do you think Brit Hume got all his false talking points about Rove and Plame, WMDs, and also breaking White House interviews. He could not have made those lies and stories by himself. The Village, as the press corps is so fondly known, continually converses with the sitting administrations, in some instances coordinating discussions like Pentagon propaganda. Like the story above on speaker fees, unless one develops a bright line, and who knows whether that’s even possible- there will always be fissures. I think it is good that we know about these things, so I am open for disclosure (and the press seems to resists)- but instead of getting hang up over procedure it is more important to report accurately on substance. Now, JJ, maybe you can do some investigative reporting and learn more about the connections between Fox news, including Hume, and Bush. A good place to start is Media Matters.

  6. Franklin says:

    Karl Rove was writing and appearing on news programs all the time during the election, pretending to be an observer, even though his fingerprints were all over the McCain campaign. While there was some evidence of direct contact, it was also his known proteges running the operation.

    That said, James’ concern over the nearly immediate transition for Stephanapolous from the White House to ABC should’ve made this a scandal then, not now. The fact that he is still friends with the same people is not even slightly surprising.

    It goes both ways, and it should be noted or stopped. And yet I am under no illusions that it will. Both sides are always screaming media bias and will grab any morsel to prove it’s true.

  7. Mark says:

    James, you should really read said Politico story. It’s four guys that that need more to do and talk everyday like high school girls. Hardly a “daily strategy session.”

  8. Triumph says:

    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.

    FYI: He’s never been considered a journalist. He does no original reporting. He is a pundit in the mold of Obama’s other dinner party buddies, Georgie Will and Billy Kristol.

  9. Dantheman says:

    William d’Inger,

    “More and more, it is beginning to look like Obama is America’s Medvedev, i.e., a puppet figurehead for the “Slick Willie” mafia.”

    While I recognize that this is ancient history, merely remembering last year’s Democratic primary would put an end to such nonsensical thoughts.

  10. James Joyner says:

    FYI: He’s never been considered a journalist. He does no original reporting. He is a pundit in the mold of Obama’s other dinner party buddies, Georgie Will and Billy Kristol.

    Not at all. He’s their chief Washington correspondent — i.e., heads up their political reporting — and is the moderator of their prestige Sunday show. George Will is a pundit. Stephy is presented as something much more.

  11. SKI says:

    Mark’s right, read the actual story. There are no “strategy sessions/conference calls”. There are 4 friends who talk to each other pretty much every day one to one, not as a group.

  12. Triumph says:

    Not at all. He’s their chief Washington correspondent — i.e., heads up their political reporting — and is the moderator of their prestige Sunday show. George Will is a pundit. Stephy is presented as something much more.

    My bad. I guess I don’t consider TV people journalists in the conventional sense–except for maybe someone like Bill Moyers.

    The Brits use a more proper term for TV hacks like Stephanopolis, “news presenter.”

    The only time I ever see this guy is when he is moderating “This Week With David Brinkley.”

    Does he really do reporting, though? What does he do as the “Chief Washington Correspondent”? He surely isn’t covering the Hill or White House!?!?!

  13. James Joyner says:

    What does he do as the “Chief Washington Correspondent”? He surely isn’t covering the Hill or White House!?!?!

    Well, according to ABC News:

    As Chief Washington Correspondent, Stephanopoulos oversees the network’s coverage of presidential and Congressional politics and reports on political and policy stories for all ABC News platforms, including “World News with Charles Gibson,” “Nightline,” “Good Morning America” and ABC News’ digital properties, including ABCNews.com and ABC News Now.

    During the 2008 primary election cycle, Stephanopoulos interviewed every major Republican and Democratic candidate, and conducted multiple interviews with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. In August 2007 Stephanopoulos moderated separate debates for the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in Des Moines, Ia., the only two Sunday morning debates of the primary cycle. Stephanopoulos also moderated a Democratic debate with ABC News’ Charles Gibson in Philadelphia in April 2008.

  14. Triumph says:

    J-Dawg,

    I guess I don’t think any of those things are exemplars of a working journalist.

    None of the interviews he does are “journalism” in the sense of covering a story. He is more like an MC, giving candidates a platform for promulgating prattle. Would we consider David Letterman or Jon Stewart journalists because they interview candidates?

    Similarly, moderating debates isn’t journalism, etiher.

    I think of journalism as an act of reporting facts about a particular issue. He really doesn’t do that at all. His predecessor, Sam Donaldson, for instance did actual journalism when he reported on Nam. But when he was hosting the Brinkley show, he wasn’t uncovering news.

  15. Really, it’s not a bad thing that ABC’s chief Washington correspondent is plugged into an active political network.

    Except for one thing, is he plugged in to any active Washington political networks that aren’t predominantly, if not exclusively, Democrat partisan hacks? I’m sure that Mr. S believes he sits neutrally in the center of America’s body politic. It’s just the he has a different idea of what the center means than I do.

  16. James Joyner says:

    I’m sure that Mr. S believes he sits neutrally in the center of America’s body politic.

    I don’t know that he thinks that and I’m guessing most of his viewers don’t, either. I suppose that, as time goes on, people are less cognizant of his previous association with the Clinton administration. That happened with Tim Russert and Chris Matthews, for example.

  17. Fair enough, but my point is that most people believe they are much closer to the center than they really are. The danger for Mr. S is that he spends too much time in his own echo chamber. Does he have weekly chats like this with anyone who didn’t vote for Obama? The risk for self slection is very, very high.