Mark Halperin’s Making a Comeback

A year and a half into the #MeToo era, we're still debating who gets to have a career.

#metoo artistic graffiti girl shocked
“#metoo” by Duncan C is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Maxwell Tani and Lloyd Grove have an interesting report at The Daily Beast under the breathless headline “Mark Halperin Enlists Pals Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Michael Smerconish to Rehab His Career After Sexual Misconduct Scandal.”

Honestly, the headline covers most of it.

Disgraced political pundit and television personality Mark Halperin has been spending the past several months on a quiet yet calculated professional rehabilitation campaign with the active help of MSNBC Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

The 54-year-old Halperin—whose lucrative career imploded in October 2017 after several female colleagues, subordinates, and other women went public with allegations that he groped them and made unwanted sexual advances during his tenure at ABC News—has also received positive airtime from CNN and SiriusXM radio host Michael Smerconish.

Halperin has lost millions of dollars in income. He was fired from Showtime’s The Circus; Penguin abandoned a planned book on the 2016 presidential campaign, co-authored by his longtime writing partner John Heilemann; and HBO nixed a television project based on that canceled book.

Put another way, several media organizations canceled what they had previously presumed to be lucrative projects because they didn’t want the association with a minor but early symbol of the #MeToo movement. Now, close friends and former colleagues are trying to ease him back in.

For his part, Halperin is taking the usual steps:

“I am deeply sorry and hope to have a chance to apologize directly to those I treated badly. It is the right and necessary thing to do,” Halperin said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “I cannot imagine how difficult this experience has been for them. I hope this will be a further step in my continued efforts to fully comprehend and make amends for the pain that I have caused.”

Scarborough and Brzezinski are using their platform a wee bit aggressively:

Throughout Halperin’s rehab tour, Scarborough and Brzezinski especially have been offering moral support and more concrete assistance. According to multiple sources at MSNBC—which, along with NBC News, dismissed Halperin as an on-air political analyst when the allegations surfaced—the network scrapped a plan for the Morning Joe anchors last fall to collaborate with Halperin on an online-only program analyzing the 2018 midterms.

According to these sources, Scarborough and Brzezinski didn’t seek prior approval to involve their friend and former regular panelist in the show, and colleagues reacted with surprise and concern when they got wind of the scheme.

“Everybody was going ‘WTF!’,” said one MSNBC insider.

“All parties, including Mark, decided not to move forward with the midterm project for a variety of reasons,” a source with knowledge said, “including concerns by management that the online broadcast would detract from MSNBC’s coverage.”

Similarly, MSNBC managers were blindsided on April 5 when Brzezinski devoted a Morning Joe segment to Halperin’s rehab, playing and positively commenting on an audio clip of his appearance on Smerconish’s SiriusXM program, in which Halperin claimed he had engaged in “hundreds” of discussions with women on the subject of workplace sexual harassment and had come to a new understanding of how his misconduct had “hurt” people.

“I’d like to take the opportunity to again apologize to the women that I mistreated, who told their stories, and who were hurt by me,” Halperin told Smerconish before launching into a heartwarming account of his volunteer work with former prisoners at the Fortune Society, a convict rehabilitation nonprofit, and a pundit-like analysis of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

The hosts are applying the old adage “It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission,” knowing that the latter would not be forthcoming. That’s not shocking, really. Halperin was a regular panelist on the show for years and the co-hosts, since married to one another, developed a personal relationship with him and his girlfriend. And, frankly, Brzezinski has made it abundantly clear that she doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

I don’t follow Smerconish and have no idea about his relationship with Halperin. But his explanation seems straightforward:

Smerconish, meanwhile, has invited Halperin back on his radio show two additional times so far to share his political insights. In an email to The Daily Beast, the CNN host pointed out that during the initial April 4 appearance, he spent 10 minutes asking Halperin about his history of sexual misconduct before the conversation turned to politics.

“He seems genuinely sorry for what he did. My view is that to not let him opine after 2 yrs would be akin to a professional death sentence,” Smerconish emailed. “If he hadn’t apologized, I would not have invited him. But he did.”

Smerconish added: “My radio callers appreciated both his repentance and perspective, so I invited him back,” he said. “Mark is a smart guy.”

And the thing is, he is a smart guy. He built a major career as a campaign reporter-turned-commentator. People seemingly enjoyed his coverage up to the moment he was declared persona non grata.

But, of course, there’s no shortage of smart guys out there. I enjoyed his commentary over the years but, honestly, I haven’t thought of him in well over a year until this story.

And he’s damaged goods. Since his transgressions came to light, there are simply issues where his commentary is cringe-worthy.

In one of the Smerconish appearances, for example,

[H]e commented on the controversy over various women’s complaints about Joe Biden’s unwanted touching.

Noting that many people would not be “the least bit interested in what I have to say about a topic like this”—namely the Biden flap—Halperin nevertheless continued: “I think this is a bit of a distraction. As serious as the charges are, and then as important as this debate is, I think Joe Biden is, despite his standing in the polls, an extremely overrated candidate.”

Pre-scandal Halperin saying that would perhaps be interesting. Post-scandal Halperin saying that comes off as self-serving and creepy.

And, for a smart guy, Halperin doesn’t quite seem to get it:

But during that chat, Halperin questioned whether some of his critics were sincere: “I wasn’t a perfect person when I made these mistakes. I’m not a perfect person now. I’m happy to be judged by perfect people.”

But, surely, his victims get to judge how his actions impacted their lives?

[S]ome of Halperin’s accusers doubt his sincerity as well, expressing fury about his comeback attempt.

Among them is crisis communications executive Eleanor McManus, who alleged that when she was a recent college graduate more than a decade ago, Halperin invited her to his office at ABC News, where he was political director, and made unwelcome sexual advances, including trying to kiss her and “a bit more,” as she wrote in a column for CNN.
“He leveraged his position as a prominent journalist to prey on women,” McManus told The Daily Beast, adding that, despite his public mea culpa, Halperin has not tried to personally contact her to apologize for his alleged misconduct.

“Before he is given that kind of power again, he needs to demonstrate genuine contrition—which includes apologizing to all the women he has victimized,” she said.

Now, of course, neither McManus nor any of the other accusers gets to decide whether Halperin is allowed to make a living. Ultimately, that’s a judgment for the marketplace.

Thus far, it’s not looking good:

According to knowledgeable sources, Halperin called the top editor at The Hill, the Washington-based political newspaper, to ask about job prospects, but was told there were no openings; Halperin was spotted having lunch in December with TiVo chief executive Tom Rogers at Manhattan’s media-centric Michael’s Restaurant, and, earlier last year, dining at the Washington political watering hole Charlie Palmer’s with senior presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway.

The poor bastard’s reduced to writing a blog. No word whether he does so in his pajamas or from his mother’s basement.

Still, I suspect that he’ll make a comeback, if not to his previous heights. While he’s hardly indispensable, he’s a solid reporter and commentator. And he’s got friends with platforms eager to have him back on.

And, while #MeToo drew attention to widespread abuses against women in politics, the media, and the entertainment industry, it also lumped a wide range of transgressions together. Halperin isn’t Bill Cosby. Or Harvey Weinstein. He’s not even Louis C.K. Hell, he doesn’t even rate mention on the #MeToo wiki.

Does he merit, as Smerconish puts it, “a professional death sentence”? Certainly, Cosby and Weinstein do. It’s less certain in the case of lesser—but still serial—offenders.

Halperin is already appearing on national radio and, by proxy, cable news. We’ll see if MSNBC puts a stop to the “Morning Joe” part of the rehab effort after this report. Eventually, he’ll be able to go on TV without awkward apologies and reminders of his past.

Ultimately, it’s up to audiences to decide whether they’re okay with that.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Gender Issues, Media, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Generally the pundits and talking heads are indistinguishable and only small parts of the audience will notice whether someone in particular appears or is banished. Halperin’s success in rehab will be dependent on his acceptance by the gatekeepers.

    To the broader question, as to whether the the #metoo creeps should have an opportunity to make a living, the answer is yes, though not the same living as they previously enjoyed. The typical corporate lecher who has been fired for harassment would probably spend a few months in unemployment purgatory and then use his network to find a position somewhere. Likely his career advancement would be over, but he could pay his bills.

    As for “personalities,” while it maybe satisfying to envision the likes of Halperin and Charlie Rose, spending their days pushing around a shopping cart, collecting aluminum cans and their nights in a homeless shelter, that won’t happen. Hell, even OJ managed to get along after the trial and now after his jail time.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Mark who?

  3. SKI says:

    I see no atonement from Halperin. That is a problem – a problem expressed better by https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/famous-abusers-seek-easy-forgiveness-rosh-hashanah-teaches-us-repentance-is-hard/2018/09/06/c2dc2cac-b0ab-11e8-9a6a-565d92a3585d_story.html:

    The perfunctory public apologies that we have so often seen in the wake of allegations could, at best, be considered part of the first step toward repentance, taking ownership of the harm done. But they must reflect a genuine ownership of all actions taken — not “if I did behave then as he describes ,” as Spacey said; not complaining about the impact on their work (Keillor), fans (Batali) or family (Lauer), with minimal focus on the victims; not minimizing the complaints as Rose did, blaming God as O’Reilly did or guessing what the victims might have thought, as C.K.’s initial statement last year did. Issuing such superficial and narcissistic public statements is the only thing that any of the above-named men have done to signal any sort of repentance process, at least publicly.

    Even if these men had taken full responsibility in their statements, a few months away from the spotlight isn’t long to be gone, given all the inner work that must be done. We’ve seen few indications that these accused perpetrators have gone directly to those they have harmed to make restitution — financial or otherwise — amends or apologies. Their interest in jumping back into the spotlight at the first opportunity raises suspicions about where their focus might really be.

    What would indicate that their tshuvah was in earnest? A shift in priorities, an investment of their wealth or time into work protecting victims of assault and harassment or creating policies that would better prevent abuse. They would be stepping away from the ego-stroking, power-holding limelight that makes abuse so easy to perpetrate in the first place.

  4. SKI says:

    grrr. link was supposed to indicate it was from the amazing Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, found on twitter @TheRaDR

  5. Teve says:

    I read reports last year of what he did to women. He’s a scumbag. Give the 7-figure luxe media jobs to people who aren’t serial assaulters.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    I would put Woody Allen into the category of un-redeemable. I’ve felt that way for years, not least because after denying the charges about his de-facto step daughter, he continued to make movies about men his age having affairs with teenage girls. It’s a theme in virtually every one of his movies in the last couple of decades. There is something wrong there. That’s deliberately sticking a finger in the eye of every thinking person. On top of that we know by their own words that he conducted a romantic affair with another one of his de facto step daughters when she was in her mid teens and, truth be told, their claims that it did not become sexual until she became of legal age takes a pretty big suspension of belief.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    From WIKI,

    In December 2011, Halperin was listed as #1 in the Salon website’s 2011 Hack List, his reporting described as “shallow and predictable” as well as “both fixated solely on the horse race and also uniquely bad at analyzing the horse race.”

    In what way would Halperin’s return to the national stage make the world any better? Why should I care about the fairness of him losing his job? Lots of people lose jobs for reasons fair and not.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @SKI:
    I apologize more sincerely for running my shopping cart into someone else’s at my local supermarket.

  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I think this clown is a lot like Stephen Moore…his comments (or in this case, his actions) were terrible on their own, but there is an underlying incompetence that renders the rest meaningless. The guy shouldn’t have had the job in the first place.
    If someone is going to have their career re-habed, I vote for Al Franken. His voice is TRULY missed.

  10. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds: We joke but it really does actually matter when we recognize the impact of our actions on others and take accountability for them.

    Actions matter to other people. Intentions don’t.

  11. Gustopher says:

    I expect he will find a place in the right wing media circuit, talking about how the Democrat party is held hostage by rampant feminism.

    He was in interchangeable talking head, who rose to prominence by schmoozing behind the scenes. No more talented than thousands of other potential talking heads.

  12. Kathy says:

    @SKI:

    This is absolutely the point. All these people are sorry they faced adverse consequences. This isn’t about them. It’s not that they lost their jobs, or income, or career opportunities, it’s what they did to others. And they still don’t seem to care.

  13. Gustopher says:

    Also, this is great news for John McCain.

    I had forgotten who gave us that gem, since the talking heads are so interchangeable, but that was him. He was disgusting, AND really bad at his job. He will end up on Fox.

  14. wr says:

    @MarkedMan: ” There is something wrong there. That’s deliberately sticking a finger in the eye of every thinking person.”

    How dare anyone make art of which every thinking person — by which I mean me — disapproves!!! All movies, TV shows and books must be judged appropriate by a panel of experts — by which I mean me — or the creator must be banished from society!!!