ABC news anchors leverage political backgrounds

By A. James Memmott

December 14, 2009 at 9:42am

A background in partisan politics would seem to be no detriment to a career in television journalism.

George Stephanopoulos, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, today becomes co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

He takes over for Diane Sawyer, a former aide to President Richard Nixon. On Dec. 21, she becomes anchor of the network’s “World News Tonight,” replacing Charles Gibson.

George Stephanopoulos
George Stephanopoulos

The moves at ABC also involve another staffer with political connections.

Chris Cuomo moves from his job as news reader on “Good Morning America” to become co-anchor of ABC’s “20/20″ and the network’s chief law and justice correspondent.

He’s the son of former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and the brother of New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.

Juju Chang, a correspondent for ABC News, moves into Cuomo’s chair on “Good Morning America.”

The New York Times reported Friday that Stephanopoulos will continue as the network’s chief political reporter.

And he’ll anchor “This Week,” the Sunday morning political talk show, until his replacement is named.

“I just can’t do both jobs for long and also help raise a family,” he told the Times.

Stephanopoulos, 48, is married to the actress, Alexandra “Ali” Wentworth, the daughter of Mabel Brandon Cabot, who served as Nancy Reagan’s social secretary. They have two young daughters.

A 1982 graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes Scholar, Stephanopoulos first worked in government as a staffer for Democratic Congressman Edward Feighan of Ohio.

He then served as deputy communications director for Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign.

After that, he was executive floor manager for Dick Gephardt, then the Democratic House Majority leader.

He left that position to become deputy campaign manager and director of communications for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.

After the 1992 election, Stephanopoulos joined the Clinton administration, serving on the communications staff and then as a senior adviser on policy and strategy.

Stephanopoulos left the administration after Clinton’s re-election, returning to Columbia in January 1997 as a visiting professor of political science. At the same time, he joined ABC as a panelist on “This Week.”

He became anchor of “This Week” in 2002, and has received credit for the program’s rise in the ratings, though it still trails NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Good Morning America” also lags behind NBC’s “Today,” which has been the No. 1 morning program for 14 consecutive years.

The Times reported that Stephanopoulos, who joins current co-anchor Robin Roberts, would not have to assume some of the lighter duties of a morning show host such as cooking features. However, it suggested his role wouldn’t be limited to that of a political reporter.

“He has interests,” said Jim Murphy, the show’s executive producer. “It’s not like we’re getting some wonk who was born on a Sunday morning show.”

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