Watch First, Judge Later

As I write this column, ABC News is preparing to announce that George Stephanopoulos will be the new host of its Sunday morning public affairs program, This Week.

Meaning that as I write this column, some conservatives are preparing to be irate.

By the time this column appears on the Fox website, there is a chance that ABC News will have made the announcement.

Meaning that by the time this column appears, some conservatives will be officially irate.

They believe that because Stephanopoulos was once Bill Clinton’s right-hand man, which is to say a publicly declared Democrat, which is to say a card-carrying liberal, he is unqualified to hold a position as a network news anchor. They believe that ABC’s naming him to such a position is an example of the network’s bias.

What I believe is that conservatives who feel this way are demonstrating a bias, or at least closed-mindedness, of their own.

Do they not realize that the most clearly and consistently ideological voice on This Week belongs to George Will, a conservative?

Do they not realize that Tim Russert, host of This Week competitor Meet the Press on NBC, was once an aide to New York’s liberal governor Mario Cuomo and New York’s liberal congressman Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and yet manages to conduct a program that is a model of hard-hitting impartiality?

Do they not realize that Tony Snow, host of This Week and Meet the Press competitor Fox News Sunday, was once and still is a columnist with impeccable conservative credentials, and yet manages himself to moderate a program that is hard-hitting and impartial?

Do they not realize that Stephanopoulos was one of the first public figures to suggest the possibility of a Clinton impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

Do they not realize that he is already so sensitive to charges of liberal bias, so aware that some on the right will take him to task for even so minor an offense as turning his head to the left to sneeze, that he is likely to work harder on his neutrality than virtually anyone else in a similar position?

Among Stephanopoulis’s foes are a few conservatives who claim to object to him not on the basis of his politics, but on the basis of his limited experience as a journalist. This argument does not hold up, either. This Week is a political talk show. Stephanopoulos is far more qualified to be its host for having spent several years in the White House than he would have been had he spent the same amount of time covering plane crashes or stock market crashes or the plight of the American farmer.

In the late 1980s, I reported on an upcoming Martin Scorcese movie called The Last Temptation of Christ. It seemed that a number of religious leaders were protesting it. I do not remember now who the protesters were or what they said, but I will never forget what they had in common. Not a single one of them had seen the movie. Not a single one of them had read the screenplay or even an excerpt from it. Not a single one of them knew a single thing about a single frame of Scorcese’s film except what a fellow inhabitant of the dark had told him.

Yet they were blasting away at the movie in print and on TV and organizing protests at Universal Studios headquarters as well as in front of theaters scheduled to show the film.

My reaction? See the movie first, jot down some examples of blasphemy, then tell the world what you think.

My reaction to George Stephanopoulos’s new job? See the TV show first, jot down some examples of liberal bias, then tell the world what you think.

You are more likely to be right, or to avoid being wrong, if you wait.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .

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