ABC's Comedy: Stephanopoulos Plays Dumb About His Own Role In U.S. Attorney Firings

Over at Opinion Journal, Mark Lasswell has an article about how ABC seems to be competing with The Daily Show for political comedy, at least when George Stephanopoulos talks about U.S. Attorney firings:

How else to explain those hilarious skits when Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos reports on the brouhaha over the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys while the proverbial elephant in the room is lurking just off-camera? Mr. Stephanopoulos doesn't mention his own valuable expertise on the subject of fired federal prosecutors, the kind of expertise that might help place the current mess in context. Mr. Stephanopoulos was the Clinton White House communications director in 1993 when the Justice Department cleaned its slate of all 93 U.S. attorneys, and he was central to the administration's finessing of the episode--just the sort of insider experience, presumably, that prompted ABC News to hire Mr. Stephanopoulos fresh out of the White House in 1996. And yet even when Mr. Gibson and Mr. Stephanopoulos engage in the sort of exploratory anchor-reporter chitchat that is a staple of network news nowadays, somehow the two manage not to crack up as they rake over the latest sinister developments in the fired-prosecutors "scandal" without acknowledging that one of the newsmen knows a good bit more than he lets on about how these things work. Mr. Stephanopoulos remains just as sober when working solo on Sunday mornings as the host of "This Week" or helping out on "Good Morning America." There hasn't been this much stone-faced comedy in circulation since Buster Keaton's heyday.

Lasswell notices what we've reported. ABC and CBS skipped U.S. Attorney firings entirely when Bill Clinton did it in 1993, and notes that Andrew Tyndall's numbers underline the dramatic contrast:

According to the Tyndall Report, which tracks this sort of thing, during the week of March 12-16, the three network evening newscasts spent a total of 45 minutes on the prosecutors story, with the war in Iraq placing second at 16 minutes. "World News with Charles Gibson" logged 13 of those 45 minutes on the prosecutors. By contrast, in 1993, Attorney General Janet Reno's wholesale firing of U.S. attorneys appointed by George H.W. Bush was a non-story on the ABC evening news--literally a non-story, according to records kept by the Vanderbilt University Television News Archive, as in zero coverage. CBS also skipped it; NBC gave it 20 seconds.

Lasswell also hints at what happened next with Stephanopoulos and Jay Stephens, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia fired by Clinton before he could indict Democrat Rep. Dan Rostenkowski. Stephens and his law firm was hired by the Resolution Trust Corporation to investigate the financial sheananigans of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, the corrupt bank at the center of the Whitewater scandal. Stephanopoulos demanded Stephens be fired, which landed him before congressional investigating committees. Ironically, when the Stephens law firm later found no serious criminal offense in Whitewater, the Clintonistas began touting it everywhere -- and still do to this day.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis