Full Disclosure

by Dan Ward

ABC took a big hit to its credibility last week, not only because of George Stephanopoulos’ failure to report $75,000 in donations to a charitable foundation he later reported on, but also because of the network’s pitifully weak response.

As the Poynter Institute’s James Warren discusses in great detail, Stephanopoulos, the lead anchor for ABC who has close ties to the Clinton family, contributed $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation over three years, and failed to report this to either his employer or his viewers.

He should have at least reported this potential conflict of interest to ABC, which never should have let him interview Peter Schweizer, author of a book critical of the Clintons and their foundation.

That is a clear conflict of interest, something that calls his credibility and that of ABC’s entire news department into question.  ABC’s response has been to do nothing, calling it simply “an honest mistake.”  Making a factual error is an honest mistake.  Failing to disclose a conflict of interest is an insult to viewers who put their trust in the network to provide unbiased, objective reporting.

Stephanopoulos, and his employers, could use a refresher course on ethics. I suggest they take a look at the PRSA Code of Ethics that so many in our profession follow, which holds that “avoiding real, potential or perceived conflicts of interest builds the trust of clients, employers and the publics.” Or, since they’re professional journalists, perhaps they could read the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code, which says that journalist should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality.”

Stephanopoulos may not be a journalist by training, but he is by trade.  He should know by now that nothing is more important to a professional journalist than credibility.

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