ABC News announced last month the moderators for Saturday's Democratic debate, and George Stephanopoulos is not one of them. That's right. The network's chief anchor, chief political correspondent, and co-anchor of Good Morning America will not be hosting one of the biggest nights of political television this month. That might sound surprising, but don't forget the controversy regarding his donations to Clinton Foundation.
Back in May, news broke that Stephanopoulos had donated $75,000 over three years to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, prompting Republicans to accuse him of forfeiting his impartiality and credibility in the 2016 race. Stephanopoulos apologized for the donations, claiming that he made them with good intentions in support of the group's work around the world on HIV prevention and deforestation.
As a part of his apology, in an interview with Politico's On Media blog in May, Stephanopoulos recused himself from moderating the GOP primary debate. "I won't moderate that debate," Stephanopoulos said. "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 viewers of a good debate."
ABC News stood by their chief anchor at the time, calling his lack of openness — he covered the Clinton Foundation in a news segment without disclosing his donations — an "honest mistake." Despite their loyalty, the move to go with World News Tonight anchor David Muir and ABC chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz for Saturday's debate makes sense.
In addition to the questions about impartiality that would swirl around Stephanopoulos moderating a Clinton-Sanders-O'Malley debate because of his prior donations, there is also his 2008 debate performance to consider. Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson co-moderated the Democratic primary face-off between Clinton and then-candidate Barack Obama. The two were criticized for lobbing the vast majority of negative questions at Obama.
At the time, Stephanopoulos defended the debate questions saying that Obama was the front-runner. "I think the questions were certainly pointed — tough at times, as they should be in a presidential debate — but not inappropriate or irrelevant at all," he said.
You've got to wonder whether he would have taken the same tactic with Clinton this time around. Stephanopoulos' ties to the Clintons stretch back to the 1992 election, when he worked on Bill Clinton's election campaign. He went on to the White House during the Clinton administration, working as Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy. He left the administration after the 1996 election and went on to write a memoir on his experience called All Too Human: A Political Education in 1999.
Despite his absence as moderator, Stephanopoulos will still cover the debate after the fact. His political affairs program This Week will air live from New Hampshire on Sunday morning. Maybe you can get an idea as to how he would treat Clinton then. I bet he'll be on his best behavior and more than fair. How could he not?