Did Stephanopoulos Help Democrats Create GOP Bashing Ad?

In January, Politico's John F. Harris exposed a liberal cabal involving telephone calls between White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, ABC's George Stephanopoulos, and CNN's Paul Begala and James Carville.

Since then, Americans on both sides of the aisle have wondered just how far-reaching the political influence of these four is on the mainstream media.

More importantly, just how much is the Obama administration, via its press contacts that worked in the White House before, involved in controlling the message being disseminated?

Consider the following sequence of events involving Stephanopoulos that began with a March 13 press release by the Democratic National Committee: 

The Democratic National Committee today launched a new "Party of No" Clock that highlights the number of days, hours and minutes Republicans in Washington have gone just saying "no" instead of offering a substantive alternative to President Obama's budget. 

On February 26, the President proposed a groundbreaking federal budget that will end fiscal gimmickry, restore honesty and accountability to the process, and make critical investments to rebuild and renew America. At every step, the Republican Party has chosen Rush Limbaugh-inspired obstruction over progress. As House Republican Whip Eric Cantor told the Washington Post, the Republican Party's approach to the Obama agenda is "just saying no." The DNC's new "Party of No" Clock will keep count of the number of days Republicans in Washington continue to say no without offering an alternative.

"Instead of joining Democrats in working to pass practical steps to confront the challenges we face, Republicans have been passing their time just saying no to everything the President proposes," said Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "The American people want leaders who will work together to confront the challenges we face, not more of the same broken politics from Rush Limbaugh-led do-nothings. Instead of petty politics and empty obstructionism, Republicans in Congress should either support the President's budget or present their own plan to create jobs, fix our schools, reform our health care system, and make America energy independent."

As NewsBusters reported Sunday, DNC communications director Woodhouse is the founder and former president of Americans United for Change. The Associated Press revealed in January 2006:

An organization with strong backing from the top Democrats in Congress intends to launch a costly election-year campaign to promote issues on the party's agenda, officials said Tuesday, beginning with a television commercial arguing it's "time for a change" after a season of political corruption.

Americans United "will use all the campaign-style tactics which characterize political campaigns," ranging from paid advertising to grassroots organizing, according to a memo describing the group's plans. [...]

Officials said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California met with potential donors in Los Angeles earlier this month, underscoring their personal interest in the group's efforts. [...]

Americans United seeks to shape public opinion on issues such as health care, homeland security and education rather than advocate for the election or defeat of specific candidates in the November elections. As a result, it is permitted to accept donations of unlimited size from donors, and is not required to disclose the names of its contributors. It is headed by Karen Olick, a former chief of staff to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and will rely on several other Democrats with long experience in political campaigns.

In March 2007, AUC produced and disseminated an ad attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for his position on the Iraq war.

As fate would have it, within 48 hours of the DNC launching its new "Party of No" campaign, McConnell was invited on ABC's "This Week" to discuss Obama's budget proposal. As you watch the embedded video while reading the partial transcript, observe how closely Stephanopoulos's questions mirrored the talking points expressed in the DNC's March 13 "Party of No" press release:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: (Off-camera) Let's get the response right now from Senator McConnell. He's down in Louisville, Kentucky. And you heard Mr Summers there, Senator. Will the Republicans in the Senate be providing an alternative budget?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: First, let's take a look at the budget the President is offering. That's his responsibility. The majority has a responsibility to lay out their plan, George, for the next few years, and they've done it. It will double the national debt in five years and triple the national debt in ten years. It taxes too much. It spends too much. It borrows too much, as you indicated. What I have said and my colleagues have said repeatedly. And it does what the President's chief of staff, he was pretty candid about it. They're taking advantage of a crisis in order to do things that had nothing to do with getting us into the crisis in the first place. They want to have a massive expansion of health care. A energy tax which many people are now calling a light switch tax of another $600 billion. It's sort of bait and switch. What we really ought to be doing here is concentrating on fixing the financial system, which you did ask the, Secretary Summers about a good bit and the housing problem. But not using this crisis as an excuse to go on an explosion of spending. One other point. We have already authorized this year, in the first 50 days of this administration, spending at the rate of $24 billion a day, or $1 billion an hour. Another way of looking at it, just putting it in context, this $1.2 trillion that we've spent in the first 50 days is more than the previous administration spent after 9/11, on Iraq, Afghanistan and the response to Katrina.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Off-camera) Well, Senator, there's criticism there. But no alternative. And the Democratic Party and the White House are going to make a real push to paint you as the just say no party. Look what the DNC has put up on the website.

GRAPHICS: THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS

GRAPHICS: DNC WEBSITE

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Voiceover) They have this clock showing that its' been 16 days, 20 hours and 18 minutes and counting since you've had a budget. An outside group called Americans United for Change is putting out this ad this morning making the same point. Listen.

GRAPHICS: AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE AD

NARRATOR (AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE AD)

The Republican response?

NARRATOR (AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE AD)

No.

NARRATOR (AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE AD) (CONTINUED)

No.

NARRATOR (AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE AD)

Nope.

NARRATOR (AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE AD)

So what kind of budget have the Republicans proposed to get us out of the mess they created? Here are the details. That's right. Nothing.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) So will you have a budget and are you worried about that attack?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: No, we, we are going to offer a number of amendments to the Democratic proposal.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) But no comprehensive budget?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, it will reframe what the Democrats recommend for America over the next five and ten years. And I assure you, the amendments that we offer will not lay out a blueprint for doubling the national debt in five years and tripling it in ten years. That is not what we think...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) But shouldn't you have to have a comprehensive approach that lays out the tradeoffs? If you just have rifle shot amendments you don't have to make all the tradeoffs that you have to make in an overall budget?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we're just sort of getting down in the weeds here over procedure. Through the amendment process, we would absolutely reformulate the Democratic plan. Whether you have a comprehensive approach or whether you offer an amendment approach is something that parliamentarians can debate. But the point is, we're gonna have alternatives just like we had alternatives when the offered the massive stimulus package. We would have spent half as much money, we would have fixed housing, and put money back in the pockets of taxpayers. So we have offered alternatives all along the way, and we will offer numerous alternatives on the budget when it comes up.

Almost like Stephanopoulos was acting on behalf of the DNC, wasn't it? This seems especially the case given his knowledge of how Congress works, and that the minority Party offering its own complete budget proposal is an exercise in futility as it would never get passed.

As such, likely the only chance Republicans have of impacting this budget is through amendments, and Stephanoupolos knows this.

With that in mind, flash forward to Monday when the DNC released the following ad:

OPENING GRAPHIC: Party of No with audio clips of Cantor, Boehner and McConnell saying the word no.

McCONNELL: We are going to offer a number of amendments to the Democratic proposal. [ABC This Week, 3/15/09]

Q: But no comprehensive budget? [ABC This Week, 3/15/09]

GRAPHIC: GOP Strategy is Just Saying No. Rep. Eric Cantor [Washington Post, 2/9/09l]

Q: But shouldn't you have a comprehensive approach that lays out the trade-offs? If you just have rifle-shot amendments, you don't have to make all the trade-offs that you have to make in an overall budget. [ABC This Week, 3/15/09]

GRAPHIC: We are no Longer Legislators Rep. John Boehner [Slate, 2/26/09]

MCCONNELL: Well, were just sort of getting down in the weeds here about procedure. [ABC This Week, 3/15/09]

GRAPHIC: Republican Lawmakers Ought to Get the Idea Out of their Minds That They are Legislators. Rep. Boehner [New York Times, 3/14/09]

CLOSING GRAPHIC: Republicans: The Party Of No Budget Plan Ideas. Republicans: The Party of No

Add it all up, and last Friday, the DNC started a new campaign to bash Republicans about their response to Obama's budget proposal. Two days later, the most powerful Republican in Congress went on ABC's "This Week" and:

  • Was shown the DNC's new "Party of No" web page
  • Was shown an anti-GOP ad from a group created and previously run by the current communications director of the DNC -- a group which had disseminated an attack ad on McConnell in 2007
  • Was asked questions by Stephanopoulos which tremendously resembled the talking points present in Friday's DNC press release

24 hours later, the DNC disseminated an ad using footage of Stephanopoulos's interview with McConnell.

Coincidence?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.