ABC host ‘doesn’t think he can serve four more years’

Joe Biden’s performance in the presidential debate was a disaster. The visibly aged standard-bearer of the Democratic Party was incoherent from the beginning, although he improved slightly, until mostly incoherent In the end, the uproar was so great that the president, in order to scare away the gadflies of his own party, decided to do something he rarely does: a personal interview with the press.

For the task, Biden chose George Stephanopoulos, the Clinton White House communications director who became ABC’s hard-hitting news anchor. Stephanopoulos was a good choice for the job: a trusted voice on a major network, a seasoned pro who has interviewed politicians for decades. And he performed admirably: repeatedly grilling Biden about his age, his ability to serve an additional term in office, and the strident calls for him to step aside and hand the nomination to a younger candidate. The president, for his part, came off better than he did during the debate, but by not suddenly reverting to his animated self Mr. Smith travels to Washington–a typical character of his youth, did little to calm the concerns of Washington’s grumpy political class.

But Stephanopoulos’s gaffe didn’t become apparent until later. Strolling down Fifth Avenue in tight-fitting workout clothes and over-ear headphones, the host responded to a passerby’s question: “Do you think Biden should resign? You’ve talked to him more than anyone lately.” He replied, simply, “I don’t think he can serve another four years.” After the celebrity gossip site TMZ posted a grainy video of the encounter, Stephanopoulos said in a statement: “Earlier today, I responded to a question from a passerby. I shouldn’t have.” (Note that he did not retract his words.) ABC News clarified: “George expressed his own viewpoint and not the position of ABC News.”

Stephanopoulos made no mistake in talking to a stranger on the street or divulging his personal opinion. His ethical error was in withholding his personal, first-hand assessment of the president from ABC viewers.

Too often, journalists bow down at the altar of objectivity, a false idol that demands they separate the part of their brain that asks questions from the part that forms opinions based on those answers. Stephanopoulos did the good work of holding the most powerful human being in the world accountable, but he failed to deliver what the public and Democratic decision-makers needed from him.

According to New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and even George Clooney, Biden’s cognitive decline has been increasingly apparent, a vulnerability carefully tucked away at an inconvenient time: the run-up to an election against Donald Trump, arguably the foremost threat to American democracy, the man who attempted to remain in power on January 6, 2021, against the will of the voting public. There could not have been a worse time for Biden to lose a step, let alone two, or three, or 100.

Stephanopoulos had the rare opportunity to interview the president. He should have been candid about what he saw, how he felt and what he believed. Those opinions influenced the premise of the interview and his questioning. There is no reason he couldn’t be honest with viewers and say how he felt. If he can tell it to someone on the street, he should tell it to him. all.