Today's question before the court (of public opinion) involves network news anchors Brian Williams and George Stephanopoulos.
Is one's crime against media credibility and public trust worse than the other's?
Williams embellished (many would say lied about) the extent of his personal involvement in the coverage of major news events, most notably combat in Iraq. For these sins, Williams was suspended by NBC for six months without pay, and his future cast in doubt.
His actions seriously damaged media credibility at a time when the decline of daily newspapers adds greatly to the importance of network and cable television serving the public reliably. It's about trust.
Now comes Stephanopoulos, his unreported support of the Clinton Foundation (and participation in numerous Clinton Global Initiative programs), and his partisan grilling of Peter Schweizer, author of the book Clinton Cash. Stephanopoulos so far has been allowed to apologize but remain on the air at ABC.
Is his damage to media credibility at this critical time somehow less? Is trust any less an issue here?
The focus in the Stephanopoulos case has been on his $75,000 in contributions to the Clinton Foundation. While a mistake, as he has conceded in his apologies, that's not the real issue.
His blatantly partisan questioning when he interviewed Schweizer on ABC's Sunday morning news program bore a striking resemblance to the content of the attack on Schweizer and his book launched by John Podesta, chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton for President Campaign, a few weeks earlier.
With the looming presidential race and the subject of the interview relating so directly to a declared candidate, it was incumbent upon Stephanopoulos to conduct an objective interview. Instead, he chose to carry water for his close friend.
Anyone who reads Clinton Cash will see - in the first seven pages - that Schweizer acknowledges that he cannot offer hard evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Placing this book's investigative effort in the context of two previous books he has written detailing apparent Congressional insider trading and actions by members of Congress that seemed to amount to extortion of campaign contributions (Throw Them All Out , 2011 and Extortion, 2013), Schweizer writes:
"In a legal sense I could not prove that insider trading had taken place . . . .
"Was I able to prove intent or know why politicians were doing what they were doing (in reference to the premise of Extortion)? Of course not. . . .
"Using publicly available sources, including financial records, tax records, government documents and more, my research team and I have uncovered a repeated pattern of financial transactions coinciding with official actions favorable to Clinton contributors that is troubling enough to warrant (in my opinion) further investigation by law enforcement officers.
"Just as I couldn't prove that members of Congress were guilty of trading on inside information, I cannot say exactly why these financial tr5ansactions are taking place . . . ."
For Stephanopolous to hammer away at the question of evidence as Podesta and other Clinton apologists had been doing since pre-publication promotion began - without even acknowledging Schweizer's disclaimer in the beginning of his book - is transparently disingenuous.
He would have viewers believe that his questions were those of a hard-hitting investigative journalist. But Schweizer's disclaimers at the outset of his book expose that as a shallow façade.
A metro daily newspaper journalist myself for 43 years, I refused to sign even neighborhood petitions because I didn't want to compromise my appearance of objectivity and impartiality. If Stephanopoulos didn't learn that journalistic principle as he transitioned from Clinton confidant to newsman, I can excuse his contributions.
But there's no way I can forgive him for using his position at ABC to echo the defense points that have constituted the response from Hillary Clinton loyalists. Not when a reading of the book provides so much material for a serious, probing interview.
If Brian Williams gets a six-month sentence for misrepresenting his reporting role over and over, George Stephanopoulos deserves nothing less for masquerading as an objective journalist asking ostensibly tough questions.