Former ABC News anchor Carole Simpson suggested she endorsed Hillary Clinton for President of the United States last month because she couldn’t think of anything else to say when the Democratic candidate called on her at a political event. “I kept trying to get her attention,” Simpson told the Boston Globe’s Peter Schworm. "When I did, I realized I didn't have anything to say. I felt like a deer in headlights."
So rather than tolerate a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, Simpson told Clinton: “I want to tell you tonight, because I happen to be here with my students, that I endorse you for president of the United States.”
Schworm contacted several media experts for comment, including Simpson’s former ABC News colleague Bob Zelnick and the Media Research Center Vice President (and NewsBusters Editor) Brent Baker. Both said that Simpson’s endorsement of the liberal Clinton was less than a complete surprise. "People had always assumed she was a liberal when she was at ABC, but this confirms it," said Baker.
"Those familiar with her work probably had very little doubt she stood on the liberal side of the field," Zelnick agreed.
Indeed, back in January 2001 when she still worked as a supposedly objective news anchor, Simpson posted a gushing online tribute headlined "Long Live Hillary." Reacting to Clinton becoming a U.S. Senator, Simpson tingled:
What an exhilarating moment it must have been for her -- the first First Lady in history to be elected to public office. There, for all the nay-sayers to see, was the woman who had finally come into her own, free at last to be smart, outspoken, independent, and provocative, all qualities she had been forced as First Lady, to "hide under a bushel." Still she was voted one of America's most admired woman. Just wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet.
Here’s an excerpt from Schworm’s article, in which Simpson says she will stop teaching her journalism course if she decides to hit the campaign trail on behalf of her heroine:
"I know I made a mistake. It was definitely the wrong venue for my first foray into free speech," Simpson said. "But I'd really like to see her win. After being a reporter for so many years, where you wish you could do more than you can, it would be nice to make a difference."
Simpson described Clinton, whom she covered extensively during President Bill Clinton's administration, as the smartest woman she had ever met.
Simpson took her 14-student journalism class, "Road to the White House," to the rally to show students how to cover a political event, and possibly introduce them to the Democratic front-runner.
Instead, Simpson, who is best known as the first woman to moderate a presidential debate, found herself professing her preference for Clinton as the first female president.
As Clinton was fielding questions from the audience, Simpson tried several times to get her attention, shouting "Senator Clinton!" across the crowded room.
When she finally caught Clinton's eye, she offered an off-the-cuff endorsement that took both parties aback.
"I want to tell you tonight, because I happen to be here with my students, that I endorse you for president of the United States," she said. "It's very freeing now that I'm not a journalist and I can speak my mind, and I wanted you to know I think you are the woman, and I think this is the time."
Simpson said she immediately recognized her actions were unwise, and believes she has lost a measure of respect among her colleagues as a result.
Jerry Lanson, an Emerson journalism professor who co-teaches the course with Simpson, said he immediately told Simpson her actions were inappropriate.
"As faculty members if we're teaching journalists, we need to model the behavior we're teaching in the classroom," he said.
Janet Kolodzy, acting chairwoman of Emerson's Department of Journalism, said she was startled by the endorsement, but felt it was within ethical bounds.
"The presence of her students is what raised concerns," she said. "But we are a college that advocates free expression." Kolodzy said the event has sparked discussion on campus on the "gray area between the rights of a private citizen and a journalist's responsibility."
Other media observers saw the issue in starker terms. Brent Baker, vice president of the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group, said Simpson's endorsement shows the liberal dominance of the mainstream media.
"People had always assumed she was a liberal when she was at ABC, but this confirms it," he said.
Robert Zelnick, a Boston University journalism professor who also worked at ABC News, said professors are not inhibited from voicing their political opinions, and that Simpson's endorsement of Clinton was fairly predictable.
"Those familiar with her work probably had very little doubt she stood on the liberal side of the field," he said.
Simpson said her endorsement not only was unplanned, it was caused by a lack of planning.
"I'm trying to show them persistence as a reporter, so I kept trying to get her attention," she recalled with a chuckle. "When I did, I realized I didn't have anything to say. I felt like a deer in headlights."