The chief anchor of ABC News acknowledged Thursday that he did not disclose a substantial donation to Bill Clinton’s charitable organization even as he reported on both the former U.S. President and his wife, Hillary, now a leading candidate for the office in 2016.
George Stephanopoulos gave two gifts totaling $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation in recent years, but did not tell ABC viewers of that fact when he interviewed people about the Clintons’ activities on air or covered topics pertinent to them in ABC News programming.
“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,” Stephanopoulos said in a statement. 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.”
The disclosure was reported previously by Politico.
Stephanopoulos’ disclosure will likely come under scrutiny — not only by political adherents who might wonder if his charitable contribution suggests bias, but also because an anchor at a rival network, NBC’s Brian Williams, has been suspended for six months after disclosing he had not been transparent with viewers and the public. In that situation, very different from the matter in which Stephanopoulos finds himself, Williams made up details about a 2003 trip he made aboard a Chinook helicopter in Iraq and claimed the craft had come under fire while he was aboard.
Stephanopoulos is one of the most recognizable faces of ABC News. He co-hosts ABC’s top-rated morning program, “Good Morning America,” as well as its Sunday public-affairs showcase, “This Week.” He is also supposed to be person behind the anchor desk when news of national and international importance breaks.
In a statement, ABC News suggested Stephanopoulos was not likely to face a reprimand. “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,” the network said. “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.”
Stephanopoulos is not in violation of ABC News policies, a person familiar with the situation said. The unit allows employees to make donations to charities of their choice. Where the anchor erred, this person said, was in not disclosing the contributions to viewers when reporting on topics related to the Clintons. In April, for example, Stephanopoulos interviewed Peter Schweitzer, author of “Clinton Cash,” a book that examined how donations to the Clinton Foundation could have influenced Hillary Clinton’s actions and decisions while she served as U.S. secretary of State between 2009 and 2013.
That distinction could be critical. In 2010, MSNBC suspended anchor Keith Olbermann for making donations to political candidates without getting approval from superiors, a violation of company policy at the time. Stephanopoulos, however, donated to a cause, not directly to someone seeking office. He makes donations comprising millions of dollars to several charities, the person familiar with the situation said, and the gifts given to the Clinton Foundation represent a small percentage of that sum.
The anchor’s ties to Bill Clinton are well known. Before joining ABC News, he was a senior advisor and a communications director in the president’s administration.
Update: Stephanopoulos later acknowledged his donations came to $75,000, not $50,000.