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.
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.