- - Monday, May 18, 2015

George Stephanopoulos of ABC News illustrates the reason why so many Americans don’t any longer trust what they read and hear from press and tube. In an earlier time he would have known better than to contribute money, and a substantial sum of it, to those he pretends to cover. “Fair and balanced” was more than a clever marketing slogan.

Television news is about entertainment, not journalism as it has been traditionally practiced, and Mr. Stephanopoulos never had to learn about a craft from a crusty old editor in green eyeshades who graded on a very steep curve. Television news puts the premium on a pretty face. He rose to prominence as an acolyte of Bill Clinton, and loyalty to friends is admirable, but so is loyalty to his viewers and separating the personal from the professional. He not only made substantial contributions to the Clinton Foundation, but became the chief on-the-air defender of Bill and Hillary’s foundation when Peter Schweizer called into question its collection of millions of dollars from suspicious donors in his book, “Clinton Cash.”

Mr. Stephanopoulos suggested the author couldn’t be trusted because he had been a speechwriter for four months for President George W. Bush. This was a classic case of “the pot calling the kettle black,” since Mr. Stephanopoulos had worked for the Clintons for a lot longer than four months. He not only rebutted the Schweizer claims, but his rebuttal was even incorporated into the Clinton Foundation’s own response to a growing chorus of critics.

ABC isn’t likely to cashier its star. “Good Morning America” and the network’s Sunday news program fare well in the ratings and are a chief source of the network’s revenues. His superiors at ABC defend him with the words he used in his sort-of apology to his fans and viewers.

Mr. Stephanopoulos has characterized his slips as innocent oversights, as if writing three $25,000 checks for his erstwhile mentors was the sort of thing that could easily slip his mind. Such sums won’t break the household budget of a highly paid network star, but the sums are not so small that he would forget to tell his employers about them before he stepped in front of the network’s cameras to defend the foundation.

Mr. Stephanopoulos and his bosses at ABC have adopted the strategy that Hillary uses to defend her suspicious financial and email practices, and how she treated the embarrassing questions about what happened at Benghazi when the telephone rang at 3 o’clock in the morning: Send out a statement full of meaningless argle-bargle, go to ground and count on the short public attention span to let the controversy die. Sleazy as the strategy is, it often works.

George Stephanopoulos proved that he is what his critics have said he is, a hack and a toady for the Clintons. The episode says a lot about the network and the way the media, which has never had more than a passing acquaintance with ethics, operates. Once upon a time, newspaper editors reminded their reporters that “credibility” was everything, and like a woman’s reputation for virtue, once lost is never regained. Poor George. He never got that lesson, and now he’s paying for it.

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