Mark Halperin swears he’s changed his personal conduct since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting a dozen women, and I certainly hope that is true. But his public conduct as a political pundit, which is also important, has not changed.
On Thursday, Halperin appeared on Sirius XM radio with host Michael Smerconish, a prominent #MeToo critic, and said he’s sorry for how he’s hurt women and said he understands now why “it is so painful for a woman or a man in the workplace to be harassed by someone.”
Halperin is accused of masturbating in front of a young woman, pressing an erection through his clothes onto three others and slamming a woman into a wall, among other things, while he was the political director of ABC news. Halperin denied these specific accusations, but apologized at the time to women he said he “mistreated.”
He launched into an assessment of the 2020 Democratic field and made a series of sexist assessments and omissions that were the hallmark of his commentary for many years.
For example, throughout the episode, he offered his thoughts on a number of the men in the race, but none of the women. His assessments weren’t all positive, but by talking about just male candidates, he defined the scope of who he thinks is important and who is not. Given this was his first attempt to rehabilitate himself, it was a glaring omission.
He also downplayed Joe Biden’s problematic history with women, kicking things off saying that the coverage is “a bit of a distraction.”
“This latest problem, I think, is getting a lot of attention, but it is far from his only problem and in terms of pure politics and winning the nomination, far from his biggest problem.”
Halperin’s point that Biden has run and lost before is a valid critique, but it does not require dismissing the conversation around his conduct as unworthy of attention. It’s the kind of remark that makes victims of abuse not speak out because they believe they won’t be believed or won’t be taken seriously. (Several women who say Biden made them uncomfortable have specifically said they did not speak out sooner for this very reason.)
Halperin moved on to gush over Pete Buttigieg, praising him in a way that research shows boosts male candidates and harms female candidates. Ambition is perceived as a positive quality in men and negative quality in women. “He’s got the personality and drive,” Halperin said, offering no explanation of what that means, in any case.
“[Buttigieg has] what a lot of John McCain supporters felt, which is people want to be part of something that’s larger than themselves and I think that the mayor of South Bend makes people feel that way,” Halperin said. “He makes people at the grassroots feel that way and he makes elite donors feel that way. A lot of the elite donors care about the country, I’d say most of them do, and he’s appealing to them.”
Halperin’s opinion used to matter. His newsletter was once called the “most influential tip sheet in Washington.” He directed political coverage at ABC. He went on to write two best-selling books on the 2008 and 2012 presidential races, Game Change and Double Down. He was omnipresent on cable news for years.
So while he considers himself an outsider watching the passing show, his critics have long said he’s also a participant who shapes how we think. And when it came out that he abuses women, the media was forced to contend with the work of a man whose behavior shows he does not respect women.
As my colleague Ezra Klein wrote at the time about Halperin and a handful of other powerful men in media: “The most influential institutions in America have long had serial sexual abusers and deep misogynists at their apex. Those abusers didn’t just shape their workplaces or their industries; they shaped our politics, our culture, and our country.”
Rebecca Traister wrote about how Halperin specifically shaped 2016, describing Hillary Clinton as “a grasping and scandal-plagued woman.” Yet he once argued “the sexual-assault claims leveled at Trump would only help the now-president’s brand.”
Politics has changed since Halperin’s hiatus. A historic number of women are running for the Democratic nomination. A historic number of women ran and won in the midterm elections. But it doesn’t seem like Halperin’s own views have changed along with the times.
Correction: The original version of this story reported that Mark Halperin was accused of masturbating in front of several young women while he was the political director of ABC News. He was accused of masturbating in front of one woman. Three other women accused him of pressing erections through his clothes against them without their consent. Halperin denies these specific accusations.