Prior to his career as a journalist, Stephanopoulos was an advisor to the Democratic Party. He rose to early prominence as a communications director for the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and subsequently became White House communications director. He was later senior advisor for policy and strategy, before departing in December 1996. Stephanopoulos is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Stephanopoulos was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, the son of Nickolitsa "Nikki" Gloria (née Chafos) and Robert George Stephanopoulos. His parents are of Greek descent. His father is a Greek Orthodox priest and dean emeritus of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City. His mother was the director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America National News Service for many years. In his youth, he became a follower of the Greek Orthodox faith, and long considered entering the priesthood.
Following some time in Purchase, New York, Stephanopoulos moved to the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended Orange High School in Pepper Pike. While at Orange, he wrestled competitively.
In 1982, Stephanopoulos received a bachelor of arts degree in political science summa cum laude from Columbia University in New York and was the salutatorian of his class. While at Columbia, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa his junior year, was awarded a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, and was a sports broadcaster for WKCR-FM, the university's radio station.
Stephanopoulos's father wanted his son to become either a lawyer or a priest. Promising his father that he would attend law school eventually, George took a job in Washington, D.C. as an aide to Democratic Congressman Ed Feighan of Ohio.
Stephanopoulos attended Balliol College at the University of Oxford in England, as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a masters of arts in theology in 1984. He states that he spent much of his time trying to root his political leanings in the deeper philosophies that he studied while in college.
In 1988, Stephanopoulos worked on the Michael Dukakis 1988 U.S. presidential campaign. He has noted that one of his attractions to this campaign was that Dukakis was a Greek-American liberal from Massachusetts. After this campaign, Stephanopoulos became the "floor man" for Dick Gephardt, U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader; he held this position until he joined the Clinton campaign.
Stephanopoulos was, along with David Wilhelm and James Carville, a leading member of Clinton's 1992 U.S. presidential campaign. His role on the campaign is portrayed in the documentary film The War Room (1993).
At the outset of Clinton's presidency, Stephanopoulos served as the de facto press secretary, briefing the press even though Dee Dee Myers was officially the White House Press Secretary.
On February 25, 1994, Stephanopoulos and Harold Ickes had a conference call with Roger Altman to discuss the Resolution Trust Corporation's choice of Republican lawyer Jay Stephens to head the Madison Guaranty investigation, that later turned into the Whitewater controversy.
Stephanopoulos resigned from the Clinton administration shortly after Clinton was re-elected in 1996.
His memoir, All Too Human: A Political Education (1999), was published after he left the White House during Clinton's second term. It quickly became a number-one bestseller on The New York Times Best Seller list. In the book, Stephanopoulos spoke of his depression and how his face broke out into hives due to the pressures of conveying the Clinton White House message. Clinton referred to the book in his autobiography, My Life, apologizing for what he felt in retrospect to be excessive demands placed on the young staffer.
Stephanopoulos's book covers his time with Clinton from the day he met him in September 1991, to the day Stephanopoulos left the White House in December 1996, through two presidential campaigns and four years in the White House. Stephanopoulos describes Clinton in the book as a "complicated man responding to the pressures and pleasures of public life in ways I found both awesome and appalling".
Stephanopoulos canceled a seminar he had previously committed to teach at Columbia University to promote the book.
In 1994, columnist Jack Anderson reported that Stephanopoulos sealed an $835,000 commercial real estate deal consisting of a two-story apartment, including an eyewear retailer, with a below-market loan rate from a bank owned by Hugh McColl, who had been called by President Clinton "the most enlightened banker in America". A NationsBank commercial loan officer said that this loan did "not fit our product matrix" as banks typically only offer such loans for customers with deep pockets and on a short-term adjustable rate basis. Stephanopoulos's real estate agent explained that "nobody making $125,000 could qualify for the property without the commercial property (lease)." One former senior bank regulator told Anderson that, "If his name were George Smith, and he didn't work in the White House, this loan wouldn't have gotten made."
Regarding the controversy, NationsBank stated, "The loan described by Jack Anderson as a commercial loan to George Stephanopoulos was, in fact, a residential mortgage loan. At the time the loan commitment was made, Mr. Anderson (or his imaginary 'George Smith' who 'doesn't work in the White House') could have walked into any NationsBank Mortgage Company office in the D.C. area and received the same excellent rate and term for the same deal."
However, Stephanopoulos's realtor states that he would not have qualified for the loan without the commercial property rent. One NationsBank source states that the issuance of a residential loan on mixed-use properties is such a rarity that it was not even addressed in the "NationsBank Mortgage Corporation's Program Summary" or its "Credit Policy Manual." A NationsBank underwriting memo revealed that one of the three restrictions for mixed-use properties is that "the borrower must be the owner of the business entity." The source claims that NationsBank told the listing agent that, "We're not (interested in mixed-use properties), but we do have an appetite for this particular loan." NationsBank's primary regulator at the time was Comptroller of the Currency Eugene Ludwig, a Rhodes scholar who attended Yale Law School with President Clinton, and who had been asked to investigate NationsBank by Democratic congressmen Henry B. Gonzalez and John Dingell.
After leaving the White House at the end of Clinton's first term, Stephanopoulos became a political analyst for ABC News, and served as a correspondent on This Week, ABC's Sunday morning public affairs program; World News Tonight, the evening news broadcast; Good Morning America, the morning news program; along with other various special broadcasts.
In September 2002, Stephanopoulos became host of This Week, and ABC News officially named him "Chief Washington Correspondent" in December 2005. The program's title added the new host's name.
When named to the position, Stephanopoulos was a relative newcomer to the show, usurping longtime panelists and short-term co-hosts Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts who, for a few years, briefly replaced the longtime original host, David Brinkley.
Opinion columnist and part-time ABC News commentator George Will was the only remaining member of the original This Week panel from the Brinkley days to participate consistently in the weekly show until 2013; Donaldson and Roberts still appear on the program on a very limited basis. Fareed Zakaria was a weekly panelist during the first two years of Stephanopoulos' tenure, broadening the show with his perspective on world and Middle Eastern issues.
ABC News executives reportedly offered Ted Koppel, former Nightline anchor, the This Week host job in 2005 after the program's ratings had become a regular third-, fourth-, and sometimes fifth-place finish after competitors NBC, CBS, Fox, and syndicated programs. However, This Week beat Meet the Press on January 11, 2009, when Stephanopoulos interviewed president-elect Barack Obama.
In February 2009, the gap between NBC's Meet the Press and its competitors – CBS' Face the Nation and ABC's This Week – began closing. Meet the Press posted its lowest ratings since NBC's David Gregory became moderator in early February, with the show airing Sunday, February 1, averaging just 3.9 million viewers. Face the Nation averaged 3.33 million total viewers, while This Week came in just behind with 3.32 million total viewers.
On April 16, 2008, Stephanopoulos co-moderated, with Charles Gibson, the twenty-first, and ultimately final, Democratic Party presidential debate between Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton for the 2008 election cycle. While the debate received record ratings, the co-moderators were heavily criticized for focusing most of the first hour of the debate on controversies that occurred during the campaign rather than issues such as the economy and the Iraq War. Stephanopoulos acknowledged the legitimacy of the concerns over the order of the questions, but said they were issues in the campaign that had not been covered in previous debates.
In December 2009, ABC News president David Westin offered Stephanopoulos Diane Sawyer's job on Good Morning America after Sawyer was named anchor of World News. Stephanopoulos accepted the new position and began co-anchoring GMA on December 14, 2009. Stephanopoulos announced on January 10, 2010, that that would be his last broadcast as the permanent host of This Week. However, after his successor, Christiane Amanpour, left the show amid sagging ratings, it was announced that Stephanopoulos would return as host of This Week in December 2011.
Stephanopoulos was one of the substitute anchors for Sawyer on nights when she is away on assignment or unavailable.
On January 7, 2012, Stephanopoulos was the co-moderator of a debate among Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. During the debate, Stephanopoulos repeatedly asked Romney whether the former Massachusetts governor believes the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a 1965 ruling that a constitutional right to privacy bars states from banning contraception. During the debate, Romney said it was a preposterous question. During the fall presidential campaign, the Obama campaign used the question and answer to intimate there was a political War on Women.
Following Diane Sawyer's departure from World News at the end of August 2014, Stephanopoulos became the Chief Anchor at ABC News while retaining his current roles on GMA and This Week. Stephanopoulos is now the lead anchor for coverage of breaking news and major special events.
During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Stephanopoulos launched a blog George's Bottom Line on the website of ABC News. Stephanopoulos blogged about political news and analysis from Washington.
In October 2008, Stephanopoulos began posting updates to Twitter, a social-networking website. He also launched a public profile page on Facebook.
Stephanopoulos donated $25,000 in 2012, 2013, and 2014, a total of $75,000, to the Clinton Foundation, but did not disclose the donations to ABC News, his employer, or to his viewers. Stephanopoulos failed to reveal the donations even on April 26, 2015, while interviewing Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, a book which alleges that donations to the Foundation influenced some of Hillary Clinton's actions as Secretary of State. After exposure of the donations by Politico on May 14, 2015, Stephanopoulos apologized and admitted he should have disclosed the donations to ABC News and its viewers. The story was broken by The Washington Free Beacon, which had questioned ABC News regarding the matter. The donations had been reported by the Clinton Foundation, which Stephanopoulos had considered sufficient, a reliance ABC News characterized as "an honest mistake."
Based on Stephanopoulos's donations to The Clinton Foundation charity and his behavior during prior interviews and presidential debates, Republican party leaders and candidates expressed their distrust, and called for him to be banned from moderating 2016 Presidential debates, due to bias and conflict of interest. He agreed to drop out as a moderator of the scheduled February 2016 Republican Presidential primary debate.
In the month prior to his revelation, Stephanopoulos told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that when money is given to the Clinton Foundation "everybody" knows there's "a hope that that's going to lead to something, and that's what you have to be careful of."
Stephanopoulos was the inspiration for the character of Henry Burton in Joe Klein's novel Primary Colors (1996). Burton was subsequently portrayed by Adrian Lester in the 1998 film adaptation.
Michael J. Fox's character, Lewis Rothschild, in the film The American President (1995), written by Aaron Sorkin was modeled after Stephanopoulos. He was also used by Sorkin as the model for Rob Lowe's character, Sam Seaborn, on the television drama series The West Wing. According to Stephanopoulos, his role in the Clinton administration was more like Bradley Whitford's character Josh Lyman than Seaborn or Rothschild.
Stephanopoulos also appeared as himself in the first season of Spin City starring Michael J. Fox in an episode entitled "An Affair to Remember". Fox's Deputy-Mayor character was partially inspired by Stephanopoulos, but this is turned around for comedic effect with Fox commenting at the end of the episode "I don't know what the big deal with that guy is anyway... all he does is copy from me".
In an episode of the first season of the TV series Friends titled The One with George Stephanopoulos, the characters of Monica Geller, Rachel Green, and Phoebe Buffay realize that Stephanopoulos is staying in an apartment across the street from theirs and, being attracted to him, they proceed to spy on him throughout most of the night.
In an episode of the animated TV series American Dad! titled "Iced, Iced Babies", Francine breaks into a sperm bank in pursuit of injecting herself with the first sample she finds. The first vial she grabbed was Stephanopoulos' and threatened Stan she would impregnate herself using a turkey baster. Stan countered her saying he had "only the third-best rated talk show".
Stephanopoulos appeared in the Pawn Stars episode "Buy the Book", where he bought a first edition of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls for $675 after haggling with owner Rick Harrison.
During 1999, he was also referenced as a former boyfriend of the fictional character Robin John in an episode of Popular, titled Wild, Wild Mess.
Stephanopoulos returned to his alma mater, Columbia University, in 2003, serving as the keynote speaker at Columbia College's Class Day.
In May 2007, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from St. John's University in New York City.
In 2013, Stephanopoulos played himself in House of Cards and in 2014 he played himself in an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Starting September 2016, Stephanopoulos features on a €1 (1 Euro) Greek postage stamp.
He is an Orthodox Christian and has earned a master's degree in theology.
He married Alexandra Wentworth, an actress, comedian, and writer, in 2001 at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on New York's Upper East Side. The couple has two daughters: Elliott Anastasia Stephanopoulos and Harper Andrea Stephanopoulos. The family lives in Manhattan.
In 1995, as he was pulling out of a parking space in front of a restaurant in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., he had a collision with a parked vehicle. Stephanopoulos was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident and driving with an expired license and license plates. The charge of leaving the scene of an accident was subsequently dropped.
Along with a number of other notable Greek Americans, he is a founding member of The Next Generation Initiative, a leadership program aimed at getting students involved in public affairs.
Stephanopoulos was introduced to transcendental meditation by Jerry Seinfeld. Conducting an interview on Good Morning America, he said, “We’re all here because we all have something in common—we all practice Transcendental Meditation. … I think that people don’t really understand exactly what it is and what a difference it has made in people’s lives.”