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The attacks on George Stephanopoulos are getting the problem backward

Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images

On the one hand, I find it weird that George Stephanopoulos donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. He should have known how it would look.

On the other hand, look is really the operative word there. It's not as if Stephanopoulos's ties to the Clintons were some kind of closely guarded secret:

Stephanopoulos worked on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for president. He was communications director in Clinton's White House. The sudden realization that Stephanopoulos might be, in his heart of hearts, sympathetic toward the Clintons is a bit odd.

It's easier to see what's going on here when you realize Stephanopoulos wasn't the only media figure to donate to the Clinton Foundation. Dylan Byers reports that the hyper-conservative Newsmax gave more than a million dollars. So did James Murdoch — yes, he's one of those Murdochs — and the News Corporation Foundation, the Murdoch family's philanthropy, threw in at least another $500,000.

But no one much cares about those donations because no one really thinks Newsmax or Fox News are going to end up biased toward the Clintons. They care about Stephanopoulos's donation because they think Stephanopoulos is already biased toward the Clintons, and this just proves it.

The real scandal behind these donations

bill clinton

(Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images)

But the attacks on Stephanopoulos are getting the possible scandal almost exactly backward. Stephanopoulos, Murdoch, Newsmax, and all the other Clinton donors weren't donating to the Clinton Foundation because they're biased toward the Clintons; they were donating to the Clinton Foundation because they want the Clintons to be biased toward them.

After all, if you're a powerful media figure trying to help out the Clintons on the sly, the last thing you want to do is publicly donate $75,000 to them so everyone thinks you're in their pocket. But if you're a powerful media figure — or a giant corporation — who wants to keep good relations with the Clintons, maybe you do want to make that donation. Bill Clinton, after all, was watching those donations carefully, and he was grateful to the people and institutions that stepped up to support a project he cared about.

It's hard to remember now, but Clinton managed, for a moment, to depoliticize his foundation pretty effectively. At the time Stephanopoulos made his contribution, supporting Clinton's charity was almost as bipartisan as supporting Simpson-Bowles. This was a moment when Mitt Romney and Donald Trump were also supporting the Clinton Foundation, after all. But that speaks to the deeper corruption of the Clinton Foundation, which became, to all appearances, a way for pretty much anyone to buy some goodwill with the Clintons.

Look at the other names on Byers's list of media or media-related companies that donated to the Clinton Foundation: Carlos Slim, Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg L.P., Time Warner, AOL, HBO, Twitter, Google. These titans and institutions weren't donating to Clinton Foundation just because they liked the Clintons — they were donating to the Clinton Foundation because they wanted the Clintons to like them.

Which is all to say that while it was a mistake for Stephanopoulos to donate to the Clinton Foundation, it didn't change much: he's either biased toward the Clintons in a way that affects his coverage, or he isn't, and that would have been true with or without his contribution. The more worrying question is whether the Clintons are biased toward the people and companies who give millions of dollars to their foundation.

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