Shortly after a past $75,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation surfaced in May, ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos pulled himself out of moderating the network's GOP February debate. This recuse was done at the behest of many of his journalist contemporaries, who said that Stephanopoulos' close relationship with the Clintons disqualified him from moderating any debate in a fair, unbiased manner. Looks like the decision carried over to ABC News' Democratic debate on Sunday, as Stephanopoulos will be absent from the moderating desk and instead stand squarely on the sidelines running the network's "Your Voice, Your Vote" coverage and anchoring post-debate breakdowns the morning after.
Stephanopoulos' GOP debate dropout was heavily reported months ago, when it was revealed on the Clinton Foundation's website that the chief anchor had provided more than $75,000 in donations to the organization over several years. Within a day of his donations becoming public knowledge, the journalist bowed out of the February debate he was scheduled to moderate. Stephanopoulos regretted his decision on Good Morning America, though nevertheless asserted his ability to moderate fairly:
I now believe that directing personal donations to that foundation was a mistake. I won't moderate that debate. I think I've shown that I can moderate debates fairly. That said, I know there have been questions made about moderating debates this year. I want to be sure I don't deprive moderators or viewers of a good debate.
Though there had been calls for Stephanopoulos to do the same for the upcoming Democratic debate, it wasn't until this week that ABC formally cut their chief anchor from the event. Some of his contemporaries and ABC colleagues have said Stephanopoulos' donations violate his journalistic integrity.
In an article with the New York Post, columnist and Fox News contributor Michael Goodwin said of the Stephanopoulos' controversy: "Stephanopoulos has forfeited all trust as a newsman. Hillary Clinton's Democratic rivals ... are victimized by his conflicts."
Jeff Greenfield, a former colleague of Stephanopoulous' at ABC News, told CNN:
ABC has said now, Stephanopoulos can't moderate a Republican debate. Well, what else are they going to say he's not going to be able to do? ... You're going to cover a Democratic debate with Hillary Clinton? You're going to cover our conventions? You're going to analyze the debates given this situation? ... It simply is an indication that very smart people can sometimes be very foolish.
Though the journalist's choice to donate may have been a surprise to some, Stephanopoulos' relationship with the Clintons was definitely no secret. He served as one of President Bill Clinton's top aides during his 1992 presidential campaign and during his first term in the White House. Despite Stephanopoulos carving out a role as a journalist with ABC News since 1997, this objective path he had set himself on was apparently not enough to keep him away from the liberal family entirely.
Stephanopoulos' decision to donate to the Clinton Foundation and the subsequent backlash he has received for jeopardizing his objectivity serves as a reminder that moderators may be tied up with a candidate in one way or another. Though viewers trust them to present an unbiased line of questioning for the candidates, it's best to keep moderators in check, and realize that they, too, will have a vote in the upcoming election.