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George Stephanopoulos Discloses Donations To Clinton Foundation


The chief news anchor at ABC is the subject of controversy. Today, George Stephanopoulos acknowledged giving $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. That's been since 2012, and it's despite Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions. Stephanopoulos has apologized, but the revelation is a reminder of his earlier career in politics working for the Clintons. And now many conservative critics are claiming it's proof of liberal bias. Here's NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik to talk more, and, David, what more do you know about this?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, he said that in a statement - in an interview with Politico that broke this story - that he had been just thinking about this as a philanthropic gift. He'd made these three gifts - 2012-2013-2014 of $25,000 a year - and meant it to go to help fight HIV in emerging nations; meant it to help fight deforestation, an issue dear to many of those concerned about climate change. He now says, you know, I should've acknowledge this, but he didn't really see this as something that came with political attachments to it, at least that's what he's claimed publicly.

CORNISH: So saying that these aren't campaign contributions, but does that really make a difference?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's really hard to separate the two. Hillary's name has been on that foundation since 2013 when she left the Obama administration as secretary of state, entered semiprivate life, but really was gearing up as everyone in the political realm knew - and most people past that - for a second presidential bid. It's not as though this is her first time thinking about the White House in her own name. And to give money to the Clinton Foundation, this is not a - this is not just the American Red Cross. It is certainly a major foundation that does a lot of good work around the world and, at the same time, it is a vehicle for President Bill Clinton's legacy in his retirement and also a vehicle for her to have a national, global, public stature as she looked toward the White House herself. So simply saying, you know, I should've acknowledged that doesn't seem to wash.

CORNISH: And George Stephanopoulos plays such a major role as a face of the news network there. What has the network said?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the network essentially said George should have told us this. He didn't tell us. He didn't tell his viewers. He should've acknowledged this. The issue came up recently as the question of transparency involving the Clinton Foundation has itself been a new story of late. And I think that's a - really a terrible irony for Stephanopoulos here. After all, the story that he did, an interview about a book about the foundation called "Clinton Cash," and it involved a question about the transparency of the foundation. And yet, Stephanopoulos himself wasn't transparent about his own interactions with the foundation. I think that's very troubling.

But beyond that, Hillary Clinton has been such a prominent figure. You know, there are hundreds of times he's mentioned her on the air in recent years. It just seems as though this incredibly close tie to her interests and her family's interests should have been acknowledged, and yet the network says this is an honest mistake. He should have told us. We're moving past it, and I think that's, in some ways, a sign of his importance to that network.

CORNISH: David, let's talk a little bit more about the consequences here, if any. What do you think the fallout could be?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the fallout's already happening in some ways in the sense that it raises, uncomfortably for Stephanopoulos, his earlier chapter. You know, he came to ABC in the late '90s and has reinvented himself in many ways over the last 17 years, but he had to fend off in the first couple years consistent claims he was biased towards the Clintons. After all, he came to national prominence as a major figure in President Bill Clinton's first campaign for office in 1992 very successfully. He was communications director for the Clinton White House in that first administration. And even though there was some discomfort and break between the two when he left the White House in '97 and ultimately wrote a best-selling book and memoir that the Clintons took some exception to, conservatives have always said, you know, this is a guy who's going to favor them.

You have Mike Lee. He's a prominent Republican Senator from Utah who said that he won't appear on "This Week" again, "This Week" being the Sunday public affairs show that Stephanopoulos hosts. Of course, Lee was all too happy to appear on the show to promote his own book just a few weeks ago. But you're seeing that, and in addition, Stephanopoulos says he'll recuse himself from helping to moderate a Republican presidential debate later this year that ABC will host.

CORNISH: That's NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.