“Winning is having a life that includes a lot of love. Valuable relationships. Worthy work. And some broader and deeper sense of purpose. It’s not defined by where you end up, but how you go about trying to achieve all those goals on any given day, in any given moment.”
~George Stephanopoulos, ABC News anchor, in “Hangin’ with Winners”
George Robert Stephanopoulos is one of the hardest working people in network television. His weekdays start early as he joins Robin Roberts and Michael Strahan to co-anchor Good Morning America each morning. He also serves as host of This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sundays. And he has a production company that produces primetime specials for the broadcast network and other projects for Disney’s various streaming platforms. George’s day is always full.
George and I first met in February 2007 at a breakfast meeting arranged by David Westin, then-president of ABC News. He had just finished delivering an early morning keynote address to the National Association of Broadcasters annual State Leadership Conference. The purpose of the meeting was all about our collaboration on presidential debates that would be held on the Drake University campus in Des Moines at the start of the 2008 political cycle. But it spurred a special relationship and friendship that continues to this day.
The result of our DC breakfast meeting? The presentation of two debates in August 2007 with the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates produced as 90-minute, special editions of This Week. The dual broadcasts marked the first time that a full-scale, multi-candidate presidential debate had ever been presented by a Sunday morning news program. With a production team under the direction of Emmy Award-winning Roger Goodman, these “Iowa Debates” were a ratings and critical success. It was my privilege to serve as the on-site host for both broadcasts which involved greeting the crowd, sharing the ground rules, and officially welcoming both the moderators and candidates to the stage. Along the way, I even convinced George to throw out the ‘first pitch’ prior to an Iowa Cubs baseball game mere days before the first debate. George would later tell the Sioux City Journal that he “felt he spent his summer vacation in Iowa.”
With the “Iowa Debates” behind us, I coaxed George into making another trip to Iowa. This time it was for him to serve as the keynote speaker at the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner in Sioux City. It was my honor to act as the master of ceremonies and introduce George to a crowd of about 1,400 people. He provided great insight into the 2008 presidential race, with many references to the prior month’s debates in Des Moines. I have always found George to be extremely generous. On this occasion, he waived any speaker’s fee, and asked instead that $15,000 be donated to the local Girls Inc capital campaign that was underway at the time and $5,000 be donated to the Broadcasters Foundation of America to assist colleagues in need such as those who had just recently lost homes and possessions at the hands of Hurricane Katrina.
The pressure to keep Iowa’s Caucuses as the “first in the nation” presidential contest has pushed up and otherwise compressed the calendar in recent years. In 2008, they were held on January 3 which prompted many reporters to spend the New Year’s holiday in Iowa. But it was worth it, as the bitterly cold night yielded compelling stories about Mike Huckabee’s win among Republicans with 34.4% of the vote. John McCain, who finished a distant fourth with only 13.1% of the Iowa Caucus vote, would go on to win the Republican nomination. But more remarkable was the strong first place finish among Democrats by Barack Obama with 37.6% of the vote. Hillary Clinton, who had at one time enjoyed a large lead in many national polls, finished third behind John Edwards with 29.5% of the vote. I had the unique opportunity to watch a live feed from Veterans Auditorium of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech with Charles Gibson, anchor of World News, and George. There was a sense that we were watching history in the making with an African American winning a predominantly white (90+%) Iowa.
No matter your politics, it’s difficult to dismiss just how captivating Obama’s speech was that night. Numerous sound bites from the speech were quickly packaged up and effectively used by the Obama campaign in television ads in other early primary states. And while Hillary Clinton bounced back to win New Hampshire just 5 days later, there is little doubt that Obama’s win in Iowa helped propell him to the Democratic nomination. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama would go on to win the general election by a wide margin in both the popular and electoral vote over John McCain to become the nation’s 44th President.
Our debate efforts were ramped up again four years later during the 2012 political cycle. On December 10, 2011, we teamed up with ABC News to produce a Republican presidential debate. Diane Sawyer, anchor of World News, would join George as co-moderator for this debate. Like the 2007 debates, this one also originated from Sheslow Auditorium on the Drake University campus in Des Moines. It was broadcast live across the entire ABC Television Network from 9:00-11:00pm (ET). The candidates seeking the Republican nomination, and the opportunity to challenge incumbent Barack Obama, were Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. It would end up being among the highest-rated debates in the 2012 political cycle.
George has always been haunted to some degree by the political work he did early in his career for Democrats and, especially, his past association with the Clinton’s. It’s ironic that his number-one bestseller book All Too Human: A Political Education (1999) was, in point of fact, quite critical of the Clinton’s. George described President Clinton as a “complicated man responding to the pressures and pleasures of public life in ways I found both awesome and appalling.”
When George first became a political analyst and correspondent for ABC News, many viewers and even some affiliates were skeptical of the bias he might bring to his role. It’s to his great credit that, in large part, he has overcome any such perception. It is noteworthy that after the August 2007 debate in which he had just participated, Mayor Rudy Giuliani sought me out to say what an outstanding job George had done as moderator; Newt Gingrich did much the same after the debate in December 2011.
“You have to know why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve from it,” George once told me in regard to his life in politics and journalism. “And none of it is perfect. I have stumbled along the way, but what I’ve learned and taken away most of all from trying to navigate the world of politics and media is that it’s such an unpredictable, chaotic and in some ways confrontational world. You’re forming and reforming alliances, working with people over a long period of time, having tough conversations, but also (knowing) that in all those relationships you must try to be as direct and honest and candid as you can possibly be.”
George Stephanopoulos is an incredibly kind and generous man. It was my privilege and pleasure to serve with him on the board of the Broadcasters Foundation of America where he continually made vital contributions in both time and treasure to benefit fellow broadcasters in need. He fully grasps what a meaningful career and balanced life are all about. Moreover, George is a WINNER who I’m proud to call a longtime network colleague and close friend.
All Too Human: A Political Education by George Stephanopoulos (Little, Brown & Company 1999)
Linck, Michele (September 26, 2007) “Stephanopoulos gives his take on campaign” Sioux City Journal
“George Stephanopoulos’ biography” Retrieved from www.abcnews.go.com
(January 31, 2007). “Stephanopoulos To Address NAB State Leadership Conference.” Retrieved from www.allaccess.com
Dreeszen, Dave (July 11, 2007). “Stephanopoulos will keynote Chamber dinner” Retrieved from www.siouxcityjournal.com
(September 26, 2007). “Speaker donates to Girl’s Inc.” Retrieved from www.siouxcityjournal.com
(November 16, 2011). “Des Moines Register to partner with ABC, others to host Dec. 10 debate” Retrieved from www.desmoinesregister.com
Last Updated: October 30, 2022