What does Mark Halperin’s history of harassment say about political journalism?

32nd Annual IDA Documentary Awards - Arrivals

Last week we discussed Mark Halperin, a journalist, author and on-air correspondent for several TV news shows. Halperin is perhaps most famous for co-authoring Game Change, the insider-y account of the 2008 election, which was later made into an Emmy-winning HBO movie. Halperin, it seems, was also well-known within certain media communities for being a serial sexual harasser, for being a creep and a sexist douchebag. After the initial stories came out about Halperin’s troubling history when he worked at ABC News, more women came out – he’s now being accused of harassing and/or groping more than a dozen women, and it went well beyong his time at ABC News. The Daily Beast also had a story about how Halperin targeted college undergrads who were seemingly looking for a mentor in journalism. Ugh.

Halperin had a contract with NBC News – he was at first suspended and then fired outright as an analyst. He’s been pushed off his Showtime show, HBO canceled plans to do another show with him and basically… no one wants to work with him or employ him in any way. On Friday, Halperin issued a more thorough statement:

The journalist took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to issue a statement saying he was “profoundly sorry for the pain and anguish” he caused with “past actions.”

“The world is now publicly acknowledging what so many women have long known: Men harm women in the workplace,” Halperin said in the statement. “For a long time at ABC News, I was part of the problem. I acknowledge that, and I deeply regret it. As I said earlier in the week, my behavior was wrong. It caused fear and anxiety for women who were only seeking to do their jobs.” Halperin claimed in the statement that he “closely read the accounts of women with whom I worked at ABC News,” claiming he was not looking for “discrepancies or inconsistencies,” but rather “in every case, I have recognized conduct for which I feel profound guilt and responsibility, some involving junior ABC News personnel and women just starting out in the news business.” He went on to “fully acknowledge and apologize for conduct that was often aggressive and crude.”

Halperin said, “I recognized I had a problem” toward the end of his tenure at ABC News, though “no one had sued me” or “filed a human resources complaint against me.” He claimed he had “weekly counseling sessions to work on understanding the personal issues and attitudes that caused me to behave in such an inappropriate manner.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

I have no problem with his apology just as a stand-alone statement – I mean, he sounds more remorseful than Harvey Weinstein, although that’s setting the bar way too low. It’s one thing to say that Halperin deserves to be shunned for harassing and assaulting women for years – and to be clear, he deserves to be shunned, if not sued into oblivion – but we also need to take a moment and assess how a man like Mark Halperin drives political narratives too. What I mean is that he was an influential political analyst for years, doing commentary and analysis on all of the major political stories of the past 20 years. Now that we know he was a serial harasser and sexual assailant during that same time, can we look back and reassess his “takes” on various political stories? Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine did just that, in a piece called “Our National Narratives Are Still Being Shaped by Lecherous, Powerful Men.” On Halperin, Traister writes:

They are also the men with the most power to determine what messages get sent about politicians to a country that then chooses between those politicians in elections. Mark Halperin co-authored Game Change, the soapy account of the 2008 election (excerpted in this magazine), which featured all kinds of history-making candidates who were not powerful white men. Halperin’s view of Hillary Clinton in particular was two-dimensional: Through his lens, she was a grasping and scandal-plagued woman; her exaggerated misdeeds and the intense feelings she engendered were all part of propelling his profitable narrative forward. His coverage of Trump, meanwhile, in this last campaign cycle, was notably soft, even admiring: Halperin once argued that the sexual-assault claims leveled at Trump would only help the now-president’s brand.

[From The Cut]

As I said with the Weinstein stuff, my mind was blown when I really started thinking about how many careers Weinstein had destroyed or hampered over the years as a form of sexual retaliation against many, many women. Now think about that with political journalism, how we assess political stories, who drives political narratives and more. The media failed over and over and over again during the 2016 election cycle, and the media continues to fail today, and this is one of the reasons why.

Mark Halperin,

Photos courtesy of WENN.
Mark Halperin, 32nd Annual IDA Documentary Awards - Arrivals