Continetti: Stephanopoulos Acted Like 'Campaign Operative' in Leaking Our Scoop on Donations to Clintons

May 24th, 2015 9:51 PM

Such are the perils of playing by the rules against people who don't.

An interesting discussion this morning on CNN's Reliable Sources between host Brian Stelter and Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Matthew Continetti about ABC News attempting to sabotage the Beacon's scoop on George Stephanopoulos's $75,000 in donations to the vast money-laundering operation otherwise known as the Clinton Global Foundation.

Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's Sunday morning political talk show This Week and co-anchor of the network's Good Morning America program, was a campaign spokesman and strategist when Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Stephanopoulos was rewarded for his work in the campaign's "War Room" with a high-profile position as Clinton's press secretary.

After leaving the White House at the end of Clinton's first term, Stephanopoulos was hired by ABC as a political analyst, landed the role of host at This Week in 2002, and started work on Good Morning America seven years later. His role as a purported newsman on the network has rankled conservatives for years.

Continetti said he believes the disclosure about Stephanopoulos's donation to the foundation has left him tainted as a journalist because just before this was reported by the Beacon, Stephanopoulos contentiously grilled "Clinton Cash" author Peter Schweizer about his damning expose on the foundation. Stephanopoulos "could have taken that moment to say that I was a Clinton Foundation donor," Continetti pointed out. "He didn't. And I think that's the reason that the Washington Free Beacon pursued this story and the reason why the story has legs on other media."

Stephanopoulos offered what many consider a half-hearted apology for not disclosing his donations to the Clintons until after they were reported.

Continetti revealed how his reporters uncovering the bombshell of a story --

STELTER: Take me to the moment where you all found out about this. How exactly did you all find out this donation even happened

CONTINETTI: Sure, well, I mean, it's simple investigative reporting. One of my reporters composed a spreadsheet of all the foundation's donors and another of my reporters was just spending his off-hours going through it. He just happened to see that George Stephanopoulos was in the list. So he contacts me and says, I found this out, what do I do? My first thought was, well, has he disclosed it? We did the research, turned out George had not. My second thought was, well, we're going to write it up as a straight news piece but first go to ABC News for comment.

Here's where a good journalistic deed gets punished --

STELTER: So tell me about what when you reached out to ABC and you asked for comment.

CONTINETTI: Well, we reached out to ABC News because like any news site we wanted fair comment from the subject of our stories. And ABC said that they would get back to us. Well, Friday morning we were about to run the story, I asked if we had received anything. My reporter said no, ABC hadn't gotten back to him, and just as we were about to publish our story, another story on Politico with the headline, "George Stephanopoulos discloses Clinton Foundation donations" appears, at that very moment. I knew right away that what had happened was ABC News had gone to Politico with our scoop in order to control the narrative.

STELTER: How did you feel when you saw it happen?

CONTINETTI: I felt very angry, Brian ...

STELTER (previously a media reporter with the New York Times): I would have too, I guess.

CONTINETTI: ... and it's lucky in this new media age that an angry editor has outlets like Twitter to express himself (Stelter laughs), so I went on Twitter and expressed my rage and gratifyingly ...

STELTER: It got a lot of attention ...

CONTINETTI: .... I got a lot of attention and so the Free Beacon was still able to own the story which we had uncovered.

This is what Continetti tweeted after ABC's desperate attempt at damage control -- "It's really considerate of @ABC to answer @FreeBeacon queries by running to @DylanByers!" Fortunately for Continetti and his intrepid crew, the move backfired on ABC and most likely made the story much bigger --

STELTER: By taking it to Politico, leaking it to Politico, they made it worse for themselves.

CONTINETTI: Absolutely because it then became a media story ...

STELTER: It became an inside-baseball story as well.

CONTINETTI: ... an inside-baseball story that then kind of picked up. And then what you saw basically was George Stephanopoulos, the old campaign operative, basically functioning like a campaign operative by taking information from one source, the reporters asking questions, and handing it to another source in order to shape the narrative.

The Beacon is unlikely to sit for long on future stories about Stephanopoulos while waiting for him to return their calls. "They did respond to one of our inquiries about a separate story, which was thrilling," Continetti told Stelter. "But I have to say, it does make me pause as an editor if a reporter comes up with another George Stephanopoulos story and says, should I go to him for comment? I'm going to think twice."

Go figure, Stephanopoulos was conspicuously absent today from This Week, with ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl guest hosting.