George was named Chief Anchor of ABC News in August, 2014. His responsibilities include serving as co-anchor of Good Morning America and host of This Week.
We first met on February 27, 2007 at a breakfast meeting set up by George’s boss at the time, David Westin, President of ABC News. George had just finished delivering an early morning keynote address to the National Association of Broadcasters annual State Leadership Conference. At the time, he was serving as host of This Week and ABC News’ Chief Washington Correspondent. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how our Iowa affiliates might better work with ABC News in the run-up to the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. The result: two debates in August of that year with both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates that were produced as 90-minute, special editions of This Week with George Stephanopoulos. The dual broadcasts marked the first time that a full-scale, multi-candidate presidential debate had ever been presented on a Sunday morning news program. Weeks earlier, it had been my suggestion that we approach David Yepsen, longtime reporter, editor and columnist of The Des Moines Register, to join George as co-moderator of the debates. David was, as theWashington Post once wrote, “the king of the Iowa caucuses.” On behalf of ABC News, I extended the invitation to David over lunch and both he and The Des Moines Register said yes. With executive producer Katherine O’Hearn on point and a production team under the direction of the Emmy Award-winning Roger Goodman, the first “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 prior to air. Along the way, George and I enjoyed some some good times and great Iowa steak dinners. I even sold George on the idea of throwing out the ‘first pitch’ prior to an Iowa Cubs – the Triple A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs – baseball game on August 3, 2007. George would later tell the Sioux City Journal that he “felt he spent his summer vacation in Iowa.”
Barely a month after the last of the two ’07 debates, I was able to coax George back to Iowa again. This time it was in order for him to be the keynote speaker for the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner in Sioux City, Iowa. It was my honor to serve as the master of ceremonies and introduce George to a crowd of about 1,400 people. He provided great insight into the 2008 race for the two parties’ nominations, with many references to the prior month’s debates in Des Moines. I have found George to be extremely generous in the time it has been my pleasure to know him. On this occasion, he waived any speaker’s fee for his address. Instead, he asked that $15,000 be donated to the local Girls Inc capital campaign that was underway in Sioux City at the time, along with a $5,000 donation to the Broadcasters Foundation of America to assist colleagues in need such as those who had 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 seemingly pushed up the date earlier and earlier every four 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 that bitter cold night produced 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 still go on to win the Republican nomination. Perhaps 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 large leads in various national polls, finished third behind John Edwards with 29.5% of the vote. ABC News’ broadcast location for its special Caucus coverage that night was near the State Capitol building on Grand Avenue. It was from a large, warm RV that I had the unique opportunity to watch a live feed from Veterans Auditorium of Barack Obama’s acceptance along with Charles Gibson, anchor of World News with Charles Gibson, and George. There was a sense that we were potentially watching history in the making with an African American winning a predominantly white (90+%) Iowa. I made an off-hand remark that Iowa had more Hispanics (5+%) that it did Blacks (3+%), which I quickly confirmed was true after George repeated that fact later on the air! 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 no doubt in my mind that Obama’s win in Iowa is what propelled 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.
We would significantly ramp up our debate efforts just four years later in the 2012 election cycle. On December 10, 2011, our Des Moines television station once again teamed up with ABC News to produce a Republican presidential debate. Other sponsors this time around included Yahoo! News, The Des Moines Register, and the Iowa Republican Party. Diane Sawyer, anchor of World News with Diane Sawyer, 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 an opportunity to take on the 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 debate broadcasts in the 2012 political cycle.
It is always a pleasure to occasionally see George or engage him in a quick email exchange. He is, without question, one of the hardest-working people in network television. But more than that, George is warm, genuine, brilliant and always fun to be with. But by his own admission, he erred when making donations to the Clinton Foundation in recent years without properly disclosing them. In particular, George had an affirmative obligation to tell viewers about those contributions when interviewing author Peter Schweizer about his book Clinton Cash, which alleges that donations to the foundation may have influenced some of Hillary Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State. There is a good reason that Good Morning America put up a lower-third super around the same time making clear ABC News’ relationship to Disney and the producers of the movie Tomorrowland when actor George Clooney appeared on the show: potential conflicts should always be disclosed. George would later apologize and make it clear that he should have disclosed the donations to ABC News and to his audience: “I made charitable donations to the Foundation in support of the work they’re doing on global AIDS prevention and deforestation, causes I care about deeply. I thought that my contributions were a matter of public record. However, in hindsight, I should have taken the extra step of personally disclosing my donations to my employer and to the viewers on air during the recent news stories about the Foundation. I apologize.” In its own statement, ABC News stood behind George while acknowledging the lapse in judgement: “As George has said, he made charitable donations to the Foundation to support a cause he cares about deeply and believed his contributions were a matter of public record. He should have taken the extra step to notify us and our viewers during the recent news reports about the Foundation. He’s admitted to an honest mistake and apologized for that omission. We stand behind him.” It was announced that George would necessarily recuse himself from serving as a moderator of any debates in the 2016 election cycle. Anyone who knows George understands what a heavy penance that is for any journalistic sin he may have been guilty of.
George has always been haunted to a 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 affiliates and even some viewers were skeptical of the bias he might bring to his role. It’s to his great credit that, in large part, he overcame that. I found it interesting that after the August 5, 2007 debate in which he had just participated, Rudy Giuliani sought me out to say what a great job George had done as moderator; Newt Gingrich did much the same after our debate on December 10, 2011. George was, however, the target of criticism following another debate on ABC in New Hampshire on January 7, 2012. During that debate, he asked Mitt Romney about his position on whether the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a 1965 ruling that dealt with the right of states to ban contraception. Romney said it was a preposterous question. George went back and doubled down on the question, and I’m certain that in retrospect he would likely concede that the line of questioning was over the top. But was there any bias or some hidden agenda at work? No way, not from my personal experiences with George. Interestingly enough, the loudest cry of “foul” I can recall followed a Democratic debate produced by ABC News in Philadelphia on April 16, 2008. Charles Gibson and George were the moderators, and their questioning of leading candidates Obama and Clinton was fast and furious. The candidates’ handlers made a real fuss about it in the days following the debate. Charlie would later write me that “…it was a revealing debate, and the candidates put themselves on record definitively on some important issues, and with a six week interregnum between debates, there were questions that have arisen in that period of time that needed to be asked.” It’s my longstanding view that if you’re being criticized from both the left and the right, then you’re most likely playing it right down the middle with viewers…just as it should be.
George is an incredibly kind and generous man. It is my privilege and pleasure to serve on the board of the Broadcasters Foundation of America with him where he continually makes vital contributions in both time and money which benefit fellow broadcasters in need. He is a WINNER that I’m proud to call both a network colleague and 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” Retrieved from www.wikipedia.org
“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
Whitcomb, Dan (April 17, 2008). “ABC criticized for handling of Democratic debate” Retrieved from www.reuters.com
(November 16, 2011). “Des Moines Register to partner with ABC, others to host Dec. 10 debate” Retrieved from www.desmoinesregister.com
Pursell, Chris (December 7, 2012). “George Stephanopoulos to Stay on ‘This Week’” Retrieved from www.xfinity.comcast.net
Byers, Dylan (May 14, 2015). “George Stephanopoulos discloses $75,000 contribution to Clinton Foundation” Retrieved from www.politico.com