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Curious George

When George Stephanopoulos first helped Bill Clinton to victory in 1992, he became an instant celebrity. As the first press spokesman of the first Democratic President in 12 years, the media embraced him with excessive warmth. Time's Margaret Carlson cooed, "His power whisper makes people lean in to him, like plants reaching toward the sun."

After George helped carry Clinton to victory again in 1996, he announced his plans to join the private sector. Again, the media reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with ABC, CBS, and CNN fighting for his services. ABC got him for a reported six-figure sum. Newsweek grabbed him as a contributor. Time Warner's publishing offshoot Little, Brown ponied up almost $3 million for the rights to his memoirs.

The book was targeted for release in early 1998, with George expected to write how Clinton learned the lessons from a stormy first term and now in his second term would be a dream for all Americans. But then Monica Lewinsky happened, the book was postponed almost a year, and all that bluster about a dreamy second term went out the window, so Stephanopoulos had to try to explain his way out of this mess of a presidency, since it was he who had helped foist this messy President on America.

This time, the media would not be so congratulatory.

What a delicious sight. When Gary Aldrich tried to plug his anti-Clinton book "Unlimited Access" in 1996, it was George Stephanopoulos who called to intimidate the networks out of their booking commitments, arguing Aldrich failed to meet a "bare threshhold of credibility," but when Stephanopoulos came forward to admit he had forwarded an avalanche of lies, no one canceled him as they had Aldrich. Still, he got his just desserts, finding himself under a furious attack. In the greatest of ironies, Stephanopoulos was greeted with the same opprobrium as had befallen all those so-called Clinton haters he had so unmercifully trashed throughout his career.

Unlike the salivating celebration of negative dish the media gave anti-Reagan books from David Stockman's to Don Regan's, the media ignored the dish and attacked George for daring to be disloyal to the man who made possible that three-million-dollar advance. On his own network, ABC's Diane Sawyer wondered, "It made you the poster boy for betrayal...People have said, this guy gave him his career, and when the chips are down, instead of saying 'I can't talk about this,' he joins the enemy...What about silence out of respect for what you were to him and what he was to you?"

On CBS, Mark McEwen scolded, "You know, George, a lot of people call you an ingrate, backstabber, they say no Bill Clinton, no George Stephanopoulos. A tell-all book about the man who made you, as it were. James Carville, one of your buddies, said you said some things that he wouldn't have said. Paul Begala said, 'I think this book is a mistake.' Are you an ingrate, is this book a mistake?"

On NBC, Katie Couric used the ultimate Clinton insult: "A lot of people, George, think that this is just kinda creepy that you've done this. They see you as a turncoat, a Linda Tripp type, if you will, who sort of ingratiated himself with the people inside the White House. They made you who you became and now all of a sudden, you're telling, you're airing all the dirty laundry and some people just think that's sorta gross."

The entire interviews weren't nasty. Both McEwen and Couric asked why Stephanopoulos didn't resign when, as he tells in his book, he grew incredibly angry learning Clinton had been talking to Gennifer Flowers and she had taped the conversations. The answer is easy: he wanted to win and become a powerful man.

That ambition, and that willingness to forward any untruth and ruin any reputation on the path to power, did not cause him the slightest problem getting a job with the national media, that supposed champion of accuracy and honesty. It was only when he had a $3 million public fit of conscience that the media suddenly found him "creepy," "gross," and "disloyal." The media had reacted in lockstep with their fellow Clintonites. They all walked Clinton's path to power together, and will continue to turn on anyone who declares that the emperor has no clothes.