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In the Crossfire

Can Stephanopoulos be objective?

(CNN) -- George Stephanopoulos is in the running to become host of the Sunday ABC news show "This Week." Conservatives who criticize the news media of liberal bias are complaining about the possible selection of Stephanopoulos, an ex-senior adviser to former President Clinton.

At issue is whether Stephanopoulos, with his former political background, can be an objective journalist.

Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary in the Clinton administration, and Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center debate the question with "Crossfire" hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

BEGALA: Conservative critics who relish bashing the media as being controlled by liberals are on the attack again. Their target, ABC newsman George Stephanopoulos. ... George is on the verge of being named solo anchor of the ABC news program "This Week." Conservatives are already whining that the media bosses would never do that with a Republican. But is that true? Let's put our guests in the "Crossfire" and hear from them.

NOVAK: Dee Dee Myers, there's a little myth being spread in Washington that George Stephanopoulos went through a magical transformation at ABC. He's now a straight, down-the-middle newsman. And I want to read you some of the things that George Stephanopoulos said, not working for Bill Clinton, but working for ABC.

On April 6, 1997, talking about the Chemical Test Ban Treaty. "If we don't ratify it after all of these years of negotiation, what is that going to say to the world, that Jesse Helms runs America?"

And then on December 21, 1997, talking about the Republicans, "The Republican Party will lose their advantage on taxes because they will over-push the flat tax issue and reinforce that they're for the wealthy."

And then on May 24, 1998, this about the Republican Party "trying to destroy what little is left of the labor movement in America right now and advance their agenda." Does that sound like an objective reporter?

MYERS: That -- actually it does sound pretty objective, pretty straight on point to me. But no, actually Bob, in that incarnation, as you well know, George's job at ABC was not a straight reporter in that setting. It was as an analyst. He was on the left, if you will, and your friend and all of ours...

NOVAK: Bill Kristol.

MYERS: Bill Kristol was on the right.

NOVAK: Whom they fired.

MYERS: That was his job. [Stephanopoulos] also, over the course of the last five years, as you well know, spent a lot of time out interviewing people, working hard to develop his credentials as a journalist. And he's done a fine job. I think his work as a journalist should speak for itself. In the role of an analyst, he's an analyst. In the role of a journalist, he's a journalist.

NOVAK: Dee Dee, I knew you were going to say that. That was yesterday, and now is now. Let me read you some of the things he has said this year. "Contrary to what Vice President Cheney said, the long-term decline in the surplus, over 40 percent of that is from the tax cut." That's a straight Democratic line.

MYERS: It's a fact.

NOVAK: And I'll bet that over time, you're going to see more and more Democrats come into the Kennedy position. The Kennedy position is to roll back the tax cut.

MYERS: That is a straight analysis, Bob.

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Let me finish this. I'll be -- and then you can comment. On January 27 of this year, "my guess is" -- this is about the so-called secret contacts with Enron -- "my guess is that what they're trying to keep secret because there was Enron entangled in this administration." And then on April 28, you know, that's not long ago, he is already -- he is just about to become an objective anchorman.

BEGALA: Do you need me on this show?

NOVAK: He said, "It may have brought deficits back." This is the Republican tax cuts. Tax revenues are down. And now, we see there's probably a deficit of this year of $100 billion. That sounds to me like the Democratic National Committee.

BEGALA: You don't need me.

MYERS: If your point is that George worked as a Democratic operative and represented the Democratic point of view as an analyst, what's the argument?

NOVAK: He's a reporter now.

MYERS: In that position, he was an analyst. He's obviously making points that are actually straight news reporting points. The larger point is can't somebody go from partisan politics to objective reporting? I think the answer is yes.

And you need to look no further than your friend and mine and everyone at this table, Tim Russert, who worked, had a background in partisan politics and now works as one of the most respected, toughest questioners objective -- day in, day out -- trusted by both sides. OK, what's the difference?

BEGALA: Let me give you an opportunity to show that you're not one of these whiny, wimpy conservatives, that you're a tough guy who can take it conservative. I'll give you a different example from Sunday morning, and that's my friend, Tony Snow. Tony Snow went not five years after Bush was president. He was an aide to President Bush the first. He didn't wait five years the way Stephanopoulos is. As soon as he got out of the White House, pretty much, he went to Fox News and was given the job of hosting "Fox News Sunday," Fox's Sunday show, which competes with the show that George appears on.

He came straight out of the White House. And by the way, enwrapped himself in the middle of that vast right-wing conspiracy. He was the guy who introduced Linda Tripp to Lucianne Goldberg. And you know what? When I worked for President Clinton, I went on Tony's show. And he treated me well, and I thought he was fair.

BOZELL: See, that's the difference. That's the difference, Paul, because you won't have any liberal coming on "Crossfire" with those kind of quotes ...

BEGALA: Tony Snow said worse than that.

MYERS: Much worse.

BOZELL: No, no.

BEGALA: Are you kidding me?

BOZELL: No, you name me a liberal who's gone on his show and has complained about the way he was treated.

BEGALA: Name me a conservative who's gone on, or anybody's gone on George's show.

BOZELL: There have been plenty.

NOVAK: Let him answer your question.

BOZELL: The problem with George Stephanopoulos is that he's got a worldview that is to the left. It is your worldview, it is your worldview. He sees that.

BEGALA: Tony Snow doesn't?

MYERS: You don't?

BOZELL: Tony Snow ...

BEGALA: Tony Snow served as President Bush's aide. Now he hosts a Sunday public affairs show. Same deal.

BOZELL: Let me point this out. George Stephanopoulos, during the campaign in the year 2000, labeled the two Democrats running, Bill Bradley and Al Gore, as "basically centrists." To George Stephanopoulos, they are centrists. You know what he labeled George Bush? A kamikaze conservative. And he called him far right. Now only a far-left person can say George Bush as been far right. Or you. Right?

MYERS: Or somebody in the middle of a heated campaign? Come on, Brent.

BOZELL: But that's not a journalist.

MYERS: You just made my point.




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