Stephanopoulos again steps into the light with pivotal presidential interview

President Biden attempted to quiet the detractors calling for him to drop out with an ABC News interview Friday that also put a spotlight on his interviewer — George Stephanopoulos, the former Democratic operative turned star ABC anchor and host. For Stephanopoulos, the Biden interview could be the most important sit-down of his journalistic career, dissected by both media observers and partisans of all kinds.

The newsman gently but firmly prodded Biden on his motivations for staying the race after last week’s halting and unfocused debate performance.

President Biden sat down for an interview with ABC News on July 5 to discuss the 2024 campaign, one week after his debate with former president Donald Trump. (Video: JM Rieger/ABC News)

When Biden maintained that he has the stamina for another term (“I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think I did”), Stephanopoulos pressed him: “Are you sure you’re being honest with yourself when you say you have the mental and physical capacity to serve another four years?”

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The president asserted that he did. Stephanopoulos noted his faltering polls, prompting Biden to challenge the numbers. “You think polling data is as accurate as it used to be?”

Stephanopoulos’s technique drew praise from other journalists on social media.

“His toughest questions were delivered with empathy,” New York Times reporter Kenneth Vogel wrote. James Fallows, a veteran correspondent for the Atlantic and former White House speechwriter, wrote that Stephanopoulos did an “excellent job.”

The interview, which was arranged just three days ago, is expected to earn a big audience. ABC initially planned to air Stephanopoulos’s full, unedited conversation on Sunday, with only teaser clips on Friday, but moved it to Friday amid heightened public interest following Biden’s performance in last week’s debate against Donald Trump.

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Stephanopoulos rose to prominence in 1992 as one of the top staffers for Bill Clinton as he mounted his first run for president. His political celebrity was heightened after the release of “The War Room,” an award-winning documentary on the campaign that centered on the relationship between Stephanopoulos and fellow Clinton operative James Carville.

During that race, Stephanopoulos experienced the production of another make-or-break television interview from a different vantage. In January 1992, the campaign booked Bill and Hillary Clinton for a “60 Minutes” interview to address the infidelity allegations that were then dogging the candidate. In one crucial exchange, Hillary Clinton feistily declared that she was not “some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” helping to salvage her husband’s candidacy at the cost of her own image.

“We bet a whole campaign on a single interview,” Stephanopoulos later wrote in his memoir.

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After leaving the administration, Stephanopoulos started working at ABC News in 1997, at a time when he was so famous as a celebrity political operative that the New York Times dubbed him the “thinking woman’s sex symbol.”

Since then, Stephanopoulos has become one of ABC News’s leading journalists. He currently appears as a co-anchor on “Good Morning America” and hosts the channel’s Sunday morning political talk show, “This Week.”

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