ABC News’ selection of former Clinton spinmeister George Stephanopoulos to host This Week has been a flop thus far. The latest ratings have This Week skidding deeper into third place among its four network competitors. The show is barely clearing two million watchers, an all-time low in This Week’s history. It was the Sunday morning ratings king during David Brinkley’s run as host.
When Brinkley stepped down in 1996, the show fell to second place behind Tim Russert and NBC’s Meet the Press. Brinkley was replaced by co-hosts Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, both unvarnished liberals. The show retained its edge, however, especially with the ever provocative Donaldson present to stir things up. But Donaldson was pushed aside and eventually relegated to a talk-radio show and Roberts stepped down. ABC News’ producers tagged Stephanopoulos to revive This Weeks’ flagging ratings, but their experiment has yet to produce results.
Stephanopoulos was a controversial choice due to his role in Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued presidency. When the announcement was first made in July 2002, Accuracy in Media reminded its readers of Stephanopoulos’ track record, especially his role in trashing former FBI agent Gary Aldrich, ironically, on This Week with David Brinkley in mid-1996. AIM suggested to ABC News that Stephanopoulos could make amends by inviting Aldrich on This Week, apologize for his shabby treatment of him, and let him talk about whistleblowers. ABC ignored AIM’s suggestion.
Most television critics have given Stephanopoulos the benefit of the doubt thus far on liberal bias. The worst criticism of his performance has been his putative “blandness.” USA Today critic Robert Bianco labeled Stephanopoulos an “innocuous TV host who has yet to establish his presence.” Bianco concluded that Stephanopoulos “seems pleasant, but a bit adrift.”
The left-leaning New York Observer’s Jason Gay thinks the problem is that Stephanopoulos has yet to find his niche. In a favorable review, Gay lauds him for being smart enough to “admit that he is still finding his place.” Gay says Stephanopoulos’ boss is reminding people that they are in a “marathon, not a sprint.” Elsewhere, ABC News executives tell media critics that Stephanopoulos is “exactly where we want him to be.” But Stephanopoulos is forever branded as a liberal when liberal news programming is at an all time low in popularity.
And critics to the contrary, Stephanopoulos’ liberal bias is all too evident on This Week. Neo-conservative publisher Bill Kristol was unceremoniously dumped from the This Week roundtable segment not long after Stephanopoulos was announced as the new host. House conservative George Will was relegated to a brief weekly commentary segment, but was eventually brought back to participate in the show’s roundtable. That segment now includes the indefatigably liberal Michel Martin.