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Jun 2, 2015 4:28 PM

Donation little hindrance to Stephanopoulos interviews

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Newly declared Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham's interview with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" Tuesday is the latest sign that the ABC anchor's donations to the Clinton Foundation seem not to have impeded his coverage of the upcoming presidential elections.

Stephanopoulos also has interviewed declared or prospective candidates Rick Santorum, Martin O'Malley, Bobby Jindal and Ben Carson for ABC News since it was revealed last month that he had donated a total of $75,000 to the former president's foundation and failed to inform his bosses about it.

The "Good Morning America" and "This Week" host apologized on both programs for the donation and said he would not moderate an ABC debate among GOP candidates scheduled for early next year. ABC promised to stand by its chief news and political anchor, but his three separate gifts to the foundation run by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton's husband led some critics to suggest Stephanopoulos' ability to fairly cover the campaign had been compromised.

His interviews since then suggest the ethical issue hasn't been an ongoing concern.

Carson and Jindal both appeared on "This Week" this past Sunday, as did O'Malley, who with Vermont's Bernie Sanders is one of two declared Democratic opponents to Clinton.

In the O'Malley interview, Stephanopoulos asked him how an O'Malley presidency would differ from those of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. They discussed whether Hillary Clinton would be beholden to Wall Street interests, and O'Malley was asked to make the case about why progressives should support him instead of Sanders.

Asked about Stephanopoulos on Tuesday, O'Malley press secretary Haley Morris pointed to an earlier quote the campaign's Lis Smith had given to CNN: "We have immense respect for him and he has always been fair."

Santorum had questioned after the donation was reported whether Stephanopoulos should moderate Democratic debates. But the former Pennsylvania senator appeared on "Good Morning America" with Stephanopoulos last week.

"Sen. Santorum and George Stephanopoulos have always had a solid working relationship and the senator did not have any hesitation in doing an interview with him," said Matthew Benyon, Santorum spokesman.

Rand Paul was the only Republican candidate to publicly suggest that Stephanopoulos, who worked in Bill Clinton's White House and first presidential campaign, made it impossible for him to be unbiased. ABC News would not comment Tuesday on whether anyone had declined to be interviewed by Stephanopoulos because of the issue.

Clinton came up during Stephanopoulos' interview with Graham. The ABC newsman pointed out that Graham had referred to Clinton as a "national treasure" and praised her effectiveness as secretary of state. "What changed?" Stephanopoulos asked.

Santorum's decision to go on "Good Morning America" caused some consternation within conservative circles, said Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog. That group's founder, Brent Bozell, had called on ABC to take Stephanopoulos off campaign coverage.

Tim Graham, who's no relation to Lindsey Graham, said that he realized that a guest spot on the top-rated network morning news program is difficult to resist. If an interview with a journalist that many conservatives regard as liberal were to become contentious, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for a GOP candidate seeking to appeal to his party's base, he said.

"I wouldn't advise it," he said. "But I understand what they're trying to do. In a Republican field this enormous, you have to do what you can."


Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder


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