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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ezra says:

    FYI, the first paragraph is a blockquote from Greenwald’s post.

  2. James Joyner says:

    So it is–just a formatting error followed by lack of proofreading of the final post.

  3. Glenn Greenwald says:

    Here is the link I intended to included for the Halperin/Hannity exchange.

    It is true that there is a difference between (a) a mere request that someone not call Halperin a liberal and (b) an intense and self-debasing campaign to prove that he is not a liberal. Between the three-hour, painfully obsequious interview he did with Hewitt two days ago — during which, as Halperin himself said, they “agree[d] on almost everything [they] discussed” — and the follow-up pleas by e-mail yesterday, I think it’s quite clear into which category Halperin falls.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Glenn: Fair enough. It’s hard to wade through an entire Hewitt interview!

  5. Halperin and Hewitt agree on the basic premise that the old media is overwhelmingly liberal. Halperin starts with over 70%, Hewitt responds with 95% and they seem to settle on 75 to 85%. In any case they are estimating. There is also a bit of observe affect. As an example, Ann Althouse is perceived as conservative by the left. I see her as moderate, though certainly much less conservative than me. So someone Halperin might not count as liberal, Hewitt could legitimately consider a liberal from his perspective.

    Reading through the transcript, I certainly don’t see Halperin attempting to “obtain a very personal form of right wing absolution”. He is taking the first step that every 12 step program calls for, admitting there is a problem.

    As to his saying that Hewitt has no evidence to call him liberal I agree and disagree. Hewitt resorts to profiling and even Halperin would agree that if you rounded up 100 old media journalists, the vast majority would be liberal. That allows you to set an odds that a given journalist is liberal, but it is not conclusive proof that an individual liberal is liberal.

    I see this a bit like the papers dealing with racial issues in the 60’s. They recognized that they had some biases. They attempted to change their processes to correct the bias. Some was in hiring more minorities to get different view points into the system. Some was removing race from descriptions of crime when the alleged perpetrator was a minority (I understand the motivation, but it is really not helpful to talk about a serial rapist on the loose and mention important information that could hep people avoid or catch the person).

    If the old media tries to become as sensitive to conservative view point as they did to racial relations, I think that would be a good thing. I am sure some of that will include some ham handed actions as they tune to get it right. But the key issue is for them to first admit there is a problem.

  6. Anderson says:

    I just wish I knew what country y’all are living in, where the mainstream media’s *product* is “liberal.”

    Because all I see on the Today Show, CNN, and whatever other mainstream news I watch, is apparently balanced between “conservative” and “raving wingnut.” Look at CNN treating the Kerry “stuck in Iraq” flap as MAJOR NEWS, at the same time that Maliki is ordering the U.S. military to quit trying to rescue a kidnapped U.S. soldier.

    That’s why Halperin’s bizarre statements to Hewitt, which smacked of the Cultural Revolution, are so obnoxious.

  7. Anderson,

    As I said, the first step is admitting there is a problem. If you can’t see the bias I think that says more about you than it does about there not being a bias.

  8. Bandit says:

    Because all I see on the Today Show, CNN, and whatever other mainstream news I watch, is apparently balanced between “conservative” and “raving wingnut.”

    There’s some reasonable, well thought-out analysis.