What Did George Know and When Did He Spin It?

ABC News analyst George Stephanopoulos is shocked, shocked to think that Clinton’s been screwing around! Or, rather, in his recent Newsweek essay (Feb. 2 issue), he is “livid.” He feels “betrayal.” He doesn’t “know whether to be angry, or sad, or both.” Stephanopoulos thus adopts the only defense he has–a plea of ignorance–to the obvious charge (see, for example, Chatterbox for 1/25) that he himself helped mislead the voters in 1992 when defending Clinton against a variety of zipper-related charges.

Poor trusting little George! During the 1992 campaign, however, this naivete must have been rather hard to maintain. First, Stephanopoulos, rounded up affidavits to squelch an article in Penthouse by groupie Connie Hamzy, who said Clinton propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel in 1984. Then he helped squelch an early Star story on Clinton’s womanizing. Then he participated in the vilification of Gennifer Flowers.

Can it be true that Stephanopoulos entertained no serious doubts about Clinton? Of course not. Newsweek’s own book on the 1992 campaign, Quest for the Presidency, reports “the secret suspicion, widely shared in the campaign, that some of the rumors about the governor were true and that the Flowers story might just be one of them.” (Indeed, the core of Flowers’ account–that there was an affair–was confirmed during the campaign by one of her roommates.) Later, according to the Newsweek book, Stephanopoulos, James Carville, and Mandy Grunwald were so demoralized by Clinton’s lack of candor that they crashed on a bed together, “too numb with fatigue and despair to speak.”

Even now, in his current Newsweek essay, Stephanopoulos–spinning his own crisis of credibility–admits “I assumed without asking that something had happened between” Clinton and Flowers. Well? Doesn’t that mean he knew Clinton was, at best, misleading and dissembling in his famous 60 Minutes interview? If you persist in foisting a candidate on the nation in the face of such doubts, it’s a little much to cry “betrayal” later. If Stephanopoulos didn’t know all along, his self-enforced ignorance (why did he go on “without asking”?) was the equivalent of the journalists’ “reckless disregard of truth.”