George Stephanopoulos is reinventing himself for the third time. He's been a smug political hack, a penitent political memoirist, an earnest political journalist, and now he's going to host ABC News' wacky morning show. Let's look at his past transformations.
1. George the Earnest Young Striver
The son of an Orthodox priest, he grew up in Cleveland, New York, and Boston. He considered following in his father's footsteps, but wanted to serve in a more worldly capacity. At 21, he won a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and served as a staffer for the Washington, D.C.-based Arms Control Association. He headed to England in 1984 on a Rhodes scholarship. When he returned, he took a job as a staffer for Rep. Edward Feighan, an Ohio congressman noteworthy for losing a mayoral race to Dennis Kunicinich and being one of 22 congressman found to have repeatedly overdrawn their bank accounts without penalty in what became known as the House Banking Scandal.
Stephanopoulos left the Hill in 1988 to join Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign, serving a variety of roles in the press shop. He was drawn to Dukakis in part by their shared Greek heritage, but the bruising loss soured him on politics. From a 1992 New York Times profile:
After the 1988 Presidential campaign, Mr. Stephanopoulos says, he "wanted out" of politics. He had worked on the Dukakis campaign's version of the Clinton campaign's celebrated quick-response team. "We just weren't that good at it," he said of the 1988 effort.
The disillusionment didn't last, and Stephanopoulos spent the Bush I years as House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt's floor manager.
2. George the Star-Struck Acolyte
In 1991, Stephanopoulos signed on the Bill Clinton's primary campaign, and a great political love affair was born. The Times described him as Clinton's "political and intellectual alter ego":
"I know nothing about what [George] feels emotionally or personally," said Ms. Wright, the deputy campaign manager. "But it doesn't matter because he checks his own identity at the door, and it's Bill's identity that matters."
3. George the Hunk
His role as the boyish public face of the Clinton campaign earned him legions of female admirers, and he dated Jennifer Grey and Bebe Neuwirth. He eventually settled down with former daytime talk-show host Ali Wentworth, with whom he tries to have sex on a daily basis, in 2001.
4. George the Controlling Over-Reacher
As a campaign spokesman, Stephanopoulos' job was to lie to reporters. He did it so well that they praised him for it:
Mr. Stephanopoulos practiced his pre-emptive strikes on the traveling press corps as well, taking reporters aside to sow seeds of doubt about the work of competitors when he knew negative news was coming the next morning. It usually worked.
But installed in the White House as Clinton's communications director, Stephanopoulos' youthful charm gave way to a sense of his own power, souring his relationship with the White House press corps. He bigfooted press secretary Dee Dee Myers and briefed the press himself, closed off the area outside his office to reporters, and was generally, according to the Times, "too clever for [his] own good in [his] handling of the press, trying to go over their heads and carry the agenda-controlling techniques of the campaign into Government." In 1993, he was pushed aside by David Gergen in a humiliating and public rebuke, renamed a "special adviser" to the president, and forbidden from going before the cameras.
5. George the Fake Penitent
Stephanopoulos left the White House after Clinton's reelection in 1996, just in time for Clinton to get caught inserting tobacco products into an intern's body cavity. That gave Stephanopoulos a great idea for a book, called All Too Human, wherein he pondered how a nice young boy like him fell for the lies of an imperfect president whom Stephanopoulos had long known to be a philanderer and a liar. Gary Wills called it a "tiresomely moralizing book" that "proves that self-castigation can be a device for avoiding self-examination":
For all his rather histrionic questioning of his own personal motives, Stephanopoulos never investigates his own political judgment, which was often poor (his political judgment is the commodity he has on sale at the moment, which shows why a penitence that quietly celebrates it is a good career move).
6. George the Humble Correspondent
Having absolved himself of responsibility for the moral chaos of the Clinton White House by ratting out his former boss in a tell-all, Stephanopoulos moved to ABC News, where he had been a political analyst, as a full-time staffer. ABC New executives painted him at the time as an eager, fresh-faced young reporter, running around the newsroom with a notepad in hand and feeding hot tips to colleagues. When he was named to replace the venerable David Brinkley on This Week in 2002, he responded with understanding and humility to people who were troubled by the idea of a partisan political operative taking over the role of a Sunday show moderator:
In an interview, Mr. Stephanopoulos said of questions about his objectivity, "My basic message is judge me by the work. Judge me by the interviews I've done and the interviews I'm going to do. If you think I'm not fair, tell me and we'll talk about it."
He added, "Obviously I know that the question's there — I have to be conscious of it in my work. I have been, and will be."
7. George the Serious Journalist
At This Week, Stephanopoulos has fashioned himself a sober, serious-minded journalist who sometimes has people like Michelle Malkin and Laura Ingraham on his show just for kicks and devotes presidential debates to rehashing hourly news-cycle minutiae. He's so serious, in fact, that during negotiations over his role at Good Morning America, he let it be known that he had reservations about sullying his reputation by hosting what amounts to a live-concert series:
But according to associates familiar with the former aide to Bill Clinton, he still has questions about whether he will be able to demonstrate his work as a serious-minded journalist on the program, whose hosts toggle between covering the news of the day and participating in cooking segments.
8. George the Cooking Show Host
He got over them! ABC News will announce Stephanopoulos' appointment to GMA tomorrow. He will pay lip-service to the idea that he wants the show to focus on serious issues that people care about, and then he will interview whoever pretends to launch their kid in a balloon next and worry about sexting and rainbow parties. Maybe in a few years he'll write a book about how an idealistic young reporter got dazzled by the morning-show lights and ended up compromising his principles for fame and power.