George Stephanopoulos: ABC's In-House Spin Doctor
Table of Contents
Obama's One Man Spin Room | Applauding Obama's Fantastic Start | George's Debate Scorecard: Obama & Biden Go Four for Four | Nasty, Ugly Republicans | George's "Dream Ticket" | Touting Obama's "Act of Honor" | McCain Guilty, Even if Innocent | Racists Vote Republican Anyway | George on Taxes: Never Cut, Always Hike | "Untrue" Hits on Kerry, Dukakis? | Feel Bad About Hounding Clinton? | Katrina Response: Let's Blame Bush Racism | "Cowed" Media Too Soft on Bush | 2004 Debate Scorecard: Kerry Fixed Flip-Flopper Flaw | Rather's Forgery Scandal a GOP Conspiracy? | Slamming Republicans' Angry Convention | Thrilled by Kerry's "Blistering Attack" | Bush's the Most Vengeful White House Ever? | Bill Clinton, Integrity Expert | Seeking Terrorist Advice from Moammar Qaddafi | Bush's "Costly" Tax Cuts Might Imperil "Emergency" Spending | No Question Gore Won Florida | 2000 Debate Scorecard: Gore Clobbered Bush | The GOP's Kamikaze Conservatism | Sycophantic Raves for Clinton's State of the Union | Jesse Helms, Terrorist
George Stephanopoulos: ABC's In-House Spin Doctor
Updated December 2009
Updated December 2009
George Stephanopoulos became a political celebrity for his high profile slot as a spin doctor in Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, a role glamorized in the documentary The War Room. After the election, Stephanopoulos served four years as a top presidential aide, championing his own liberal views on issues such as affirmative action and the Supreme Court.
Leaving the White House at the end of 1996, Stephanopoulos joined ABC News as not just a liberal political analyst, but as someone who would soon begin to report the news as a supposedly unbiased reporter. According to the December 12, 1996 New York Times:
Mr. Stephanopoulos will contribute to various programs, but at the outset he will appear most often as a political analyst on This Week, the Sunday morning news program with Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson as co-hosts. Eventually Mr. Stephanopoulos is expected to do some reporting as a correspondent, the network said.
Former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel - no conservative - deplored what the move said about ABC's journalistic integrity in a January 19, 1997 column:
The overnight transformation of George Stephanopoulos from partisan pitchman to television journalist highlights a disturbing phenomenon: the progressive collapse of the walls that traditionally separated news from propaganda. Self-respecting news organizations used to pride themselves on the sturdy barriers they maintained to guard against all kinds of partisan contamination....[Stephanopoulos's] case shows how no one even bothers any longer to decontaminate a convert (like, say, Bill Moyers) by stretching out his passage from politics to reporting over a cleansing period of time.
In his 1997 memoir, All Too Human, Stephanopoulos candidly described his liberal ideology and how he was frustrated whenever President Clinton would choose a more moderate approach to social policy. While a majority of those who came of age in the Reagan era became Republicans, Stephanopoulos wrote that he became a Democrat because of his dislike of Ronald Reagan's economic policies:
Working against Reagan's budget [in 1981] made me a Democrat. I didn't think supply-side economics would work, and I didn't believe it was fair. Perhaps it wouldn't have happened had I had a different summer job, but unlike the millions of Democrats whom Reagan inspired to vote Republican, I was a Republican he pushed the other way.
But over the past 12 years - as ABC has maneuvered Stephanopulos from liberal pundit to political analyst for Good Morning America to chief Washington correspondent, host of This Week on Sunday mornings and occasional fill-in anchor of World News - the corporate line has been that the onetime Clintonista has been scrubbed free of the liberal ideology that originally drew him to politics. On the July 24, 2001 Good Morning America, co-anchor Diane Sawyer fawned over Stephanopoulos: "Watching you and watching you cover the news over the past year, you are so much about passion for politics, and it doesn't matter to you, I mean - I really mean this....You've been completely non-partisan in covering the news."
In 2003, ABC executive producer Tom Bettag enthused about Stephanopulos: "If you can help him get a dominant position on Sunday morning, he is in a position to be a journalistic leader for the next 30 years." And when he was officially tapped to take over as the sole host of ABC's This Week, replacing the team of Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, Stephanopoulos spun on his own behalf to the Newsday's TV writer: "If I were biased, I don't believe I would have gotten the job."
But in his on-air role at ABC, Stephanopoulos has been a reliable mouthpiece for the Democratic spin of the day - using his perch as an analyst and correspondent to add an extra boost to liberals, undermine conservatives and push a liberal policy agenda. Key examples:
"This might have been the most emotional speech I've seen President Obama give. He was right on the edge of anger, it seemed at times, especially when he was rebutting some of the charges made about his plan. And I don't think I've ever seen him get caught up emotionally in the way he did in those final couple of paragraphs, where there was even a catch in his voice - not even in his Inaugural Address back in January. This is very close to President Obama's heart."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos following Obama's health care speech, September 9, 2009.
"You would have to say his number one accomplishment has been to inspire a sense of confidence in the country....That confidence, that optimism, not only gives President Obama a political cushion, but it could have a real world economic impact."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos talking about Obama's first 100 days on World News, April 29, 2009.
"[President Obama] came right out of the box and said, 'make no mistake about it, we are going to recover.' That's the most important thing he wanted the country to hear last night. He began on hope. He ended on hope. Now, in between, there's a lot of hard things to be done....But I think he made a start at inspiring hope out in the country."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos rating President Obama's first speech to Congress, Good Morning America, February 25, 2009.
Fill-in anchor Diane Sawyer: "Today they [the White House] released some photos, a kind of scrapbook, if you will, of the President's journey on the road to the stimulus package. I want to show everybody at home, because there is the President, it's Super Bowl night, and he's serving cookies to congressional leadership in the White House screening room, George?"
George Stephanopoulos: "These are just remarkable, Diane. We've never really seen anything like this before in real time."
- ABC's World News, February 16, 2009.
"He got an A on this, Terry....He had the long answers, five-minute mini-essays or speeches all about the economy, able to explain from his perspective how bad the situation is, how we got into this mess and how his stimulus package will fix it."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos critiquing Obama's first press conference, February 9, 2009 Nightline.
George Stephanopoulos: "This first week was disciplined and strategic like that campaign, all designed to show that the President is moving on all fronts to bring change....Signs those executive orders for sweeping change to open government.... Sweeping change in foreign policy....Working on the economy, but also with bipartisan congressional leadership, the President showing that he wants to change the tone in Washington."
Fill-in anchor Diane Sawyer: "Change the tone and change it at warp speed."
- ABC's World News, January 23, 2009.
Co-host Diane Sawyer: "Speaking of the President-elect, kind of an anniversary today, 30 days since he was elected. So, it's time to launch the first annual, ever, 30-day George Stephanopoulos presidential election awards....What are the headlines to you?
George Stephanopoulos: "Well, he's managed the transition with the same kind of precision and discipline that he managed to show during the campaign....It's hard to imagine this first month going much better for the President-elect."
- ABC's Good Morning America, December 4, 2008.
Co-host Robin Roberts: "Some would say it's a team of rivals, a la President Lincoln, or is a better comparison a team of geniuses as FDR did?"
ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "Well, one Obama advisor told me what they like is a combination of team of rivals and The Best and the Brightest, which is the David Halberstam book about the incoming Kennedy administration.... We have not seen this kind of combination of star power and brain power and political muscle this early in a cabinet in our lifetimes."
- ABC's Good Morning America, November 24, 2008.
"Bottom line, the winner is Barack Obama. He comes into this race where the country wants change. His number one goal was to show that he belonged on that stage. He was a credible commander-in-chief, that he could hold his own on national security. He did that tonight. He gets the win."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Nightline, September 26, 2008, declaring Barack Obama the winner of his debate with John McCain earlier that night.
Co-host Terry Moran: "But the bottom line here, who's the winner, George?"
George Stephanopoulos: "Joe Biden, but boy, was this close. I think that Governor Palin did an awful lot to help herself tonight. There is no question that she beat expectations, that she was fluent, that she showed she could stand up there on the stage. She laid a couple of attacks there against Barack Obama, but going back to my first point on overall strategy, right now, this is a race where if John McCain cannot convince the country that he's going to take it in a different direction from President Bush, he simply cannot win."
- ABC's Nightline following the vice presidential debate, October 3, 2008.
"Obama is two for two....He definitely won tonight. I think, again, he showed over the course of this debate, over the course of the two debates, he is answering the number one question Americans have about him: Does he have the experience it takes to serve effectively as President? Over the course now of three hours of debates, he is answering that question minute by minute."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos grading the presidential debate on Nightline, October 7, 2008.
"He won tonight by staying cool under pressure. He won tonight by parrying the attacks of John McCain. The only thing that John McCain could have really done tonight to change the tenor of this campaign was to get under Obama's skin, to force him into an error. That did not happen tonight. Another win for Barack Obama."
- Stephanopoulos on ABC's Nightline after the final debate, October 15, 2008.
"[It was] the toughest of the last two weeks. Far and away the toughest speech we've seen so far....What I wonder about is how it came across on television. A little too nasty? A little too ugly? I don't know."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos moments after Rudy Giuliani's speech to the Republican convention, September 3, 2008.
George Stephanopoulos: "You've taken heat this week with your comments saying that Senator Obama would rather lose a war than win a political campaign. I can't believe you believe that."
John McCain: "Well, I'm not questioning his patriotism. I'm questioning his actions. I'm questioning his lack, total lack of understanding."
Stephanopoulos: "But that is questioning his patriotism. When you say someone would rather lose a war...that's questioning his honor, his decency, his character."
- Exchange on the July 27, 2008 edition of ABC's This Week.
Co-host Diane Sawyer: "And the moment where it was a question about would there be a Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton ticket, or Clinton/Obama ticket."
George Stephanopoulos: "The dream ticket."
- ABC's Good Morning America, February 1, 2008.
"And this is still on the table, the dream ticket. I mean, and I think one of the things they're going to be talking about today is how hard does she [Hillary Clinton] push with her 17 million votes for that place on the ticket?...I think it's the best ticket for the Democrats. I think if Barack Obama picks her, they have the best chance of winning."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos, a top official in Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign and first administration, on Good Morning America, June 3, 2008.
"By refusing to renounce Reverend Wright, that was in many ways an act of honor for Senator Obama."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos discussing Obama's speech on race relations, March 18, 2008 World News.
"As a speech, it was sophisticated, eloquent. Barack Obama is as fine a writer as you'll find in a politician. The question is....how voters will respond, not only to the honesty that Barack Obama showed yesterday, not only the sophistication he showed in the speech, but also the honor that he showed. He did not renounce someone that he was under a great pressure to renounce, even though he disagreed with his comments. And I think a lot of voters, even if they're uncomfortable with Reverend Wright, will respect Barack Obama for that act."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos assessing Obama's speech on race relations, Good Morning America, March 19, 2008.
Co-host Diane Sawyer: "So, George, on the scandal Richter scale, one to ten, what does - where does this rank?"
ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "Somewhere between a six and seven, Diane. I think it's a damaging story, there's no question about that."
- ABC's Good Morning America, February 21, 2008, a few hours after a front-page New York Times story suggested McCain had a "romantic" relationship with a female lobbyist but presented no evidp the charge.
ABC's Sam Donaldson: "[Senator Barack Obama is] an African-American. Is the country ready? Well, I think it is. And he said he thinks it is. He said he thinks he'll lose some votes because of that, and so the question is, what does the word 'some' mean?...."
Moderator George Stephanopoulos: "Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm naive, but Sam, I guess I think that anyone who's not going to vote for Barack Obama because he is black isn't going to vote for a Democrat anyway."
- ABC's This Week, May 13, 2007.
"The Tax Policy Institute [actually, Center] has crunched the numbers on John McCain's tax plan. I want to put some of them up there right now. It shows that if you're making under $60,000 a year about, the bottom 60 percent will get about $150. The top one percent of people, making about $600,000 a year, get $45,000. The top 0.1 percent - that's approaching $3 million a year - get almost $270,000. How do you sell that as a plan that targets Sam's Club more than the country club?"
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos to Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) on This Week, June 29, 2008. Stephanopulos did not identify the Tax Policy Center as a joint project of two liberal think tanks, the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.
"There was a statistic that came out this week from the Congressional Budget Office which was just stunning to me. It said that in the last two years - from 2003 to 2005 - the increase in income for the top one percent exceeded the total income of the bottom 20 percent. Given that, what would be wrong with letting the tax cuts for the top one percent expire and plowing that money into education?"
- Host George Stephanopoulos to former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on ABC's This Week, December 16, 2007.
Host George Stephanopoulos: "You were Secretary of Energy. Energy independence, as you say, is going to be one of the number one issues in the campaign. And you've talked about alternative energy. But isn't it going to take real sacrifice, real cutbacks in consumption if we're going to be energy independent?...Higher gas taxes?"
Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM): "It's going to be a collaborative effort. No, you don't have to do it with taxes...."
Stephanopoulos: "But aren't higher energy taxes the best way to get people to conserve?"
- ABC's This Week, January 21, 2007.
"You also have said that we have to have bold ideas for energy independence, and your theme is 'courage to change.' Just about every expert on energy says the best way to become energy independent is to raise the price of oil and gas, to have a serious energy tax. Why not call for it?...Couldn't we become independent much more quickly if we had the kind of energy tax you see in Europe?"
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos to Democratic presidential candidate Tom Vilsack on This Week, December 3, 2006.
"I mean, if the deficit continued to grow, it's not responsible to say you're never going to raise taxes....Ronald Reagan also increased taxes....So it's, 'Read my lips,' you're never going to vote to raise taxes?"
- George Stephanopoulos to conservative Stephen Laffey, who was challenging liberal Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island's GOP Senate primary, ABC's This Week, September 3, 2006.
George Stephanopoulos: "You say roll back the tax cuts for the wealthy. He [President Bush] says no tax increase of any kind. We're spending $5 billion a month in Iraq, probably $200 billion on Katrina. Something's got to give."
Former President Bill Clinton: "Well, that's what I think."
- ABC's This Week, September 18, 2005.
"So what would you do about those deficits if you were Treasury Secretary today? What taxes would you raise?"
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin on This Week, November 16, 2003.
"The important point the Obama campaign wants to make is that whenever an unfair charge or an untrue charge is leveled, they're going to respond. They're going to hit back hard. They're colored by the experience of the Michael Dukakis Democratic campaign in 1988, of John Kerry's campaign in 2004. In both those cases, the Democratic candidates were attacked by unfair and untrue charges but failed to respond and lost the election."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America, June 13, 2008.
ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "You use the phrase 'politics of personal destruction,' you say you've been scrutinized by Democrats and I know you probably don't like this comparison, when I hear those phrases I think of President Clinton. [Do] you feel more of a kinship now with him given what you've been through?"
Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX): "Not at all. President Clinton broke the law, he lied to a grand jury. I have not done anything against the law."
- ABC's Good Morning America, April 5, 2006.
George Stephanopoulos: "Did government neglect turn a natural disaster into a human catastrophe? And was it rooted in racism?"
Rapper Kanye West on NBC's Concert for Hurricane Relief: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Stephanopoulos: "We'll ask the only African-American in the Senate, Barack Obama, in an exclusive interview."
- Stephanopoulos beginning ABC's This Week, Sept. 11, 2005.
Host George Stephanopoulos: "There have been many who have said that the entire media was cowed in the aftermath of 9/11 and didn't go hard enough, for example, at the story of weapons of mass destruction and there was a story to be gotten in the media didn't do their job."
Ex-Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee: "Well, I think there's some merit to that."
- ABC's This Week, June 5, 2005.
"I wonder if stylistically he [John Kerry] helped himself even more than substantively, if by appearing calm and confident, for the most part, during this debate. He answered the flip-flopper charge with his demeanor even more than with his words."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos during live coverage immediately following the September 30, 2004 debate.
"We've turned to a lot of experts, a lot of forgery experts and they point to a lot of clues which show that these documents may have been doctored, that they had to have been produced by a word processor, not a typewriter that was available at the time....A lot of Democrats suspect this was a set up, something set up by Republicans. So there's a lot of suspicion going around on all sides."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos talking about the 60 Minutes story about Bush's National Guard Service, September 10, 2004 Good Morning America.
"The Vice President was very, very tough, but Zell Miller was on a tirade. I mean, he was red faced, red meat for the red states."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America September 2, 2004 recounting the Republican convention speeches from the night before.
"As he [Zell Miller] was talking, I was getting e-mails saying, you know, this reminds me of Houston, 1992 - Pat Buchanan. Now, Zell Miller is no Pat Buchanan, but it was a very, very hot speech, not likely to convince, as I said before, many of the unconvinced."
- George Stephanopoulos during ABC's live coverage, September 1, 2004.
"He delivered a blistering attack on President Bush on Iraq. He said that we were 'misled into war,' that we went into war 'because we wanted to, not because we had to,' and 'we went into war without a plan to win the peace.' That was a very, very tough attack. And he says that he will wage the war with the lessons he learned in war. That's going to be tough for the Republicans to respond to."
- ABC's George Stephanopoulos during live coverage right after John Kerry's speech to the Democratic convention, July 29, 2004.
Charles Gibson: "If you're a Republican operative, a close advisor to President Bush, you're hoping John Kerry last night lays an egg."
George Stephanopoulos: "And he doesn't."
Gibson: "Boy, he did not."
Stephanopoulos: "Not at all. I mean, John Kerry went out there and he went right into the teeth of Republican issues. I mean, it was the political equivalent of turning toward enemy fire and charging the hill."
- Exchange on Good Morning America, July 30, 2004.
Charles Gibson: "George, have you ever seen an administration put on a sort of full-court press against one individual as they did yesterday?"
George Stephanopoulos: "On a book? No, never, it's never happened before. You would have thought yesterday that [former counterterrorism official] Richard Clarke was John Kerry."
- ABC's Good Morning America, March 23, 2004.
"Someone should have to pass a bare threshold of credibility before they're put on the air to millions of viewers. You know, his [Gary Aldrich's] story couldn't get past the fact-checker at the National Enquirer....A 30-year record in the FBI in and of itself is no proof of credibility."
- Then-Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week on June 30, 1996, attacking FBI agent Gary Aldrich for writing a book critical of the White House.
George Stephanopoulos: "And for his crowning moment [testifying at Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial], General Clark calls on a big gun as a character witness."
General Wesley Clark: "This is a statement from former President Bill Clinton: 'Contrary to Mr. Milosevic, General Wesley Clark carried out the policy of the NATO alliance, to stop massive ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, with great skill, integrity and determination.' And I ask that this be submitted as an item for the record."
- ABC's This Week, December 21, 2003.
"What would you advise the United States to do today to fight al-Qaeda?...What would be the wise course for the United States to follow now in Iraq?"
- George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, Aug. 3, 2003, interviewing Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, sponsor of several anti-American terrorist attacks in the 1980s.
"Take a look at the cost of some of those [tax cut] proposals. I have a package here: Doubling the loss deduction costs about a billion dollars a year; increasing IRA limits, about $1.5 billion a year; and ending the double taxation of dividends, according to a 1992 Treasury study, at least $13 billion a year - some people think it would be far more. Now compare that to the cost of the emergency spending proposal, which the President rejected this week. It was $5 billion. It included firefighting grants, nuclear plant security, cargo inspection and the emergency funds for New York City. Is the President saying, if he proposes a new tax plan, that these tax proposals are more important, are a higher priority for the United States than those spending proposals?"
- George Stephanopoulos to White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett on ABC's This Week, August 18, 2002. The items Stephanopoulos cited totaled $523 million, or just one-tenth of the total spending package.
"There is no question, or very little question, that Al Gore won the votes cast in the state of Florida. The question is: Will he win the votes counted? Look at the statistics. In the rest of the state of Palm Beach County [sic], Buchanan was strongest in the precincts where Bush was strongest. In Palm Beach he was strongest where Gore was strongest because they were right next to each other on the ballot. Even more important, in the rest of the state Buchanan got the same percentage of votes on the ballots as he did in absentees. In Palm Beach County he got four times more votes on this butterfly ballot than he did on absentees. Listen, if this race is counted fairly, Al Gore won more votes in Florida."
- George Stephanopoulos on This Week, November 12, 2000.
"Gore dominated the debate, Peter...It was even the way that he would interrupt Jim Lehrer and say, 'Listen, I want one more word.' He looked like he was dominating, and then again, the issues that the time was spent on: prescription drugs, education, Social Security, even the RU-486 and abortion issue. All of those favor Gore."
- ABC political analyst George Stephanopoulos, October 3, 2000 post-debate coverage.
"There wasn't a single issue, with perhaps the exception of the energy question, where Gore lost on points over the course of the 90 minutes. He was strong, he was detailed, he was specific and he posed questions to Bush that Bush left on the table. My guess is also on the issue of foreign policy, Bush was quite shaky, particularly when he was talking about military readiness, when he was talking about the situation in Serbia right now. Gore actually corrected him. Yes, Gore was too much of a know-it-all, a little too arrogant, but I think that people in the end were looking at the substance and the specifics, and on that, Gore won."
- Stephanopoulos on Nightline, same night.
"Democrats are pretty happy right now. They would have liked if John McCain did a little bit better yesterday, but they had decided they would rather run against George W. Bush, especially because he's had to move so far to the right. You know, he's now the kamikaze conservative, with all the positions he's had to take here in South Carolina - against choice, going to Bob Jones University, really locking himself in on that huge tax cut."
- ABC analyst George Stephanopoulos, February 20, 2000 This Week.
"Virtuoso, Peter. The address of a proud President, a tireless policy wonk and a very shrewd political strategist. He essentially handed Vice President Gore his campaign plan tonight. Lots of proposals that he suspects won't pass - prescription drugs, gun control, Medicare reform - and he sets up Vice President Gore to run against a do-nothing Congress this fall, just like Harry Truman did in 1948."
- ABC political analyst George Stephanopoulos minutes after the State of the Union speech, January 27, 2000.
Sam Donaldson: "I think Governor Weld has done this country a service in a sense, even though I think that he's been shot down in the ocean now, and that is by allowing the country to see Senator Helms in action. Over the years I've run into him two or three times at receptions here and he's the most gentlemanly, courtly, friendly, pleasant individual you would ever hope to meet. But, when you see him in action, you see beneath that courtliness beats the heart of a dictator and I think the country is appalled."
George Stephanopoulos: "Or a terrorist. The President is really, I think made a mistake because he's been negotiating with a terrorist here."
- Exchange on ABC's This Week, September 14, 1997.