Halperin and the Liberal Press Corps?
Liberal bloggers are taking ABC’s Mark Halperin to task for writing to Hugh Hewitt challenging a description of him as a “liberal,” considering such labeling “a serious affront to my professional integrity.”
Glenn Greenwald sees this as pandering of the worst kind:
Apparently, the most traumatizing and horrifying thing that could ever happen to Mark Halperin is for Bush followers like Hugh Hewitt to think he’s a liberal. It is self-evidently very important to Halperin — on an emotional and deeply personal level — to demonstrate that he is one of them, or at least not one of those liberals. To achieve this, he made an extraordinary vow to Sean Hannity when trying to win Hannity’s approval, in which he pledged that the media would spend the next two weeks compensating for all of their anti-conservative sins over the past decades, and now he is engaged in a truly debased and highly emotional crusade to obtain Hugh Hewitt’s affection.
The link goes to a previous Greenwald that has no apparent mention of Hannity or Halperin, so I’m not sure of the exact nature of said vow. [Update: Greenwald provides the correct link in the comments below. It goes to a Media Matters report. The key excerpt:
Halperin told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that ABC and the rest of the “old liberal media” have “a chance in these last two weeks” before the midterm elections “to prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances,” and that “[w]e should use this last two weeks as an opportunity to help rebuild our reputation with half the country.” He added: “[A] failing of the press is not doing enough to explain to people what Nancy Pelosi’s liberal views are like.” Halperin made a point of distinguishing ABC from the rest of the “old liberal media” during his appearance of The Sean Hannity Show, however, stating: “I’m proud of where I work, where we understand that we’ve got to not be liberal, we’ve got to not be perceived as liberal.”
End of update.]
Ezra Klein goes further:
I really question whether someone who has obviously made it such a high priority to obtain a very personal form of right-wing absolution can possibly exercise appropriate news judgment. If Halperin is willing to expend this much time and energy and shower Hewitt with such gushing praise — and if he’s willing to make such a public spectacle of himself when doing so — all in order to convince Hewitt that he isn’t liberal, won’t that goal rather obviously affect Halperin’s news coverage? Isn’t there something extremely unseemly about the political director of ABC News engaging in such an intense campaign to win the approval of one of the most blindly partisan, extremist Bush followers in the country?
It’s not just unseemly, it’s unprofessional. The point of journalism, of punditry, of analysis, is that it’s independent. That doesn’t mean it’s not ideological, or even totally non-partisan, but that it’s not written to attract external approval. If I were always writing to please the DCCC, or the AFL-CIO, or my editor Harold Meyerson, or my libertarian friends, or my hawkish family members, or my readers, anyone else, my work would be useless. It wouldn’t be honest. It couldn’t be interesting. It shouldn’t be trusted.
While I agree with every word of Klein’s second paragraph, I think the first paragraph is, like Greenwald’s post, a mischaracterization of Halperin’s stance. Asking an influential conservative commentator not to label him as a partisan when he’s in the business of objective news reporting is hardly “an intense campaign” to win his approval. It seems to me that he is merely saying that he recognizes that there is a widespread impression that the mainstream press has a liberal bias and that he wants to bend over backwards to correct that.
The danger is in going to far. To use a sports analogy, it’s one thing for the refs to learn from past mistakes to correct their behavior and quite another for them to try to “make up” for bad calls by intentionally going the other way. If Halperin is merely going to spend the next couple of weeks thinking twice about stories, being especially careful to ensure they do not begin from ideologically driven premises, that’s a good thing. If he’s going to put his thumb on the scale to ensure the Republicans get especially good coverage, it’s not.