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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mark Halperin and Hugh Hewitt -- all you need to know about the national media

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

One could argue that Mark Halperin, Political Director of ABC News (and author of a new book with John Harris, The Washington Post's National Political Editor) is the living, breathing embodiment of the "mainstream media." In order to promote his book, he went on Hugh Hewitt's radio show for a three hour interview last night, and Hewitt spent the entire time trying to attack Halperin as one of the symbols of overwhelming, systemic left-wing bias in the "mainstream media."

The ironic problem for Hewitt? Halperin -- like so many of the most entrenched establishment journalists -- not only agrees with Hewitt about virtually everything, but was literally desperate to convince Hewitt that this is the case, that he is on Hewitt's side. In front of an approving Sean Hannity, Halperin last week announced his self-debasing quest "to prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances." He escalated that crusade by many levels with yesterday's interview.

So many "journalists" like Halperin seemingly have as their principal objective convincing right-wing extremists like Hewitt that they are good boys and girls and do their job in a way that pleases the Right. The effort is always tinged with self-flagellating confessions that they have not been Good enough -- they have been trying to be more fair to the Right, they insist, but they still need to do much better -- but these assurances are accompanied by pleas for the Right to recognize that they are not as bad as most of the other journalists.

Just survey some of these grotesquely obsequious pleas from Halperin for Hewitt to recognize Halperin as a good boy, along with Halperin's willingness to endorse the most inane right-wing myths in order to win that approval. This really is a vivid view into how the core of the national media thinks and behaves:

First, Halperin pleas with Hewitt to recognize that Halperin shares his core world view, and to convince him, Halperin couples that with some drooling praise for Hewitt:

HH: And so why is she…I think this is going back to media again. I think my giant unified field theory here is that liberal media has destroyed the necessity of the left having to debate, having to reach a message across, because you guys have always papered over the weakness of their arguments. And so, in essence, by creating an echo chamber, and by allowing them to get away with saying silly things, you’ve destroyed the incentive to be smart and facile.

MH: I agree.


HH: (laughing) That’s too easy. I’ve stormed the castle.

MH: Hugh, you and I have agreed on a lot during this show. For the purpose of jacking up your already sky-high ratings, occasionally you pick fights with me where they don’t exist. But you and I agree about that basic premise. I’m keeping notes here on the things we disagree on.

Halperin, on the goodness and innocence of the victimized Karl Rove and the terribly unfair media depictions of him:

MH: Let me say one thing we say in the book about Karl Rove, who I respect and enjoy…I enjoy his company. If you look at the allegations of Karl Rove that have been propagated in Texas and in Washington by the media, the liberal media, and by Democrats, and you look at the allegations, there’s…except for the useful indiscretions to which Karl has admitted, there is no evidence for the allegations against him.

And the ability of the press to paint him as this evil guy, and say that accounts for his success, is fundamental and outrageous. Maybe he did the things he’s accused of, but to have this guy’s image portrayed and defined by things that are accusations that are unproven, we say in the book is really outrageous.

Halperin, trying to convince Hewitt that he is not like those horrible biased lefties who dominate the media, because at least Halperin confesses the sickness:

MH: If, though, you want to in a casual introduction, lump me in with people in my business who are liberally biased and don’t seem to care about it, I think that’s doing your listeners a disservice. They should read the book and what we say in The Way To Win about how the media’s been liberally biased in presidential campaign coverage, what needs to be done to try to fix it, and why the current system may not be any better with new media. But to lump me in with everybody else, I think, is doing people a disservice, because most of my colleagues, as you know, are in denial about it, or blind to it.

Halperin, begging Hewitt to recognize that his new book is appropriately reverent of the Leader:

MH: Number two, you keep saying how much nice stuff there is in the book about Bill Clinton. The book writes at length, in fact, half the book is about Karl Rove and George W. Bush, and I would believe is one of the most favorable, in terms of judging them, and not treating them as evil, things that have been written about Karl Rove since he came to Washington.

Halperin, desperately displaying his contempt for the handful of White House journalists who are not sufficiently reverent of the Leader, including his own colleague:

HH: Mark Halperin, is David Gregory [Halperin's colleague at ABC News] a buffoon?

MH: Define buffoon for me.

HH: Oh, just use your own operational definition.

MH: I wouldn’t use that word, no.

HH: Is he a journalist?

MH: He’s definitely a journalist.

HH: Does he make you proud of being a journalist?

MH: I think that the relationship between the Bush White House Press Corps, and the Bush White House press staff has not produced a pretty picture for either side. . . .

HH: Does Helen Thomas make you proud?

MH: She…the questions she asks, that represent a point of view, have no place in the briefing room.


In contrast to the undignified and biased Helen Thomas and David Gregory, here is Halperin paying homage to the objective, unbiased journalist Brit Hume (while obediently adopting Hewitt's idiotic nomenclature of the "center-right" versus "the left"):

HH: Do you watch Special Report?

MH: With Brit Hume?

HH: Yeah.

MH: I do.

HH: Do you admire it?

MH: Do I admire it? I like it. It’s an entertaining program.

HH: Why do you think Brit Hume has the trust of the center-right?

MH: Because the center-right is looking for voices who are experienced journalists, who aren’t liberally biased. And Brit is not liberally biased.

HH: Coming right back. That’s exactly right.


Halperin eagerly and self-consciously touting his Red America roots to a disbelieving Hewitt:

HH: And so, I want you to finish off by telling me about your project…Nick Lemann’s got a project where he’s going to add another extra year of power skills, and it’s not going to work, because everyone who enters the place is a hard lefty. You’ve got an ambition, but you’re not transparent. The media keeps hiring from the Harvard Crimson. It keeps self-perpetuating from self-elected elites.

MH: Can I introduce you to my interns from Bob Jones University?

HH: I’m glad that you have one. They must feel like a stranger in a strange world.

MH: No, because within my unit, we’re all about being fair and non-partisan [ed: like Brit Hume].

Halperin, like a battered wife, blaming himself and his colleagues -- and defending Bush and Rove -- for the endless, vicious attacks from the Bush administration on journalists:

The founders saw the importance of a free press. What this country has now is a press that no one likes, and which is weak. And the reason George Bush and Karl Rove found the way to win in dealing with the old media, which Richard Nixon dreamed of doing, but couldn’t do, is because they recognized that we were seen as a spoiled, corrupt, biased, special interest that wasn’t interested in the public interest, and they’ve taken advantage of that.

I deplore it, or I decry it in the sense that I wish everybody was helping build up the media, but I don’t blame them from a tactical point of view, because their supporters do not trust the old media, and do not like the way we behave in the briefing room, the output that we produce, and conservatives are trying to deal with an America more on their terms. And I understand why they’re doing that, and like I said, we are responsible for that, not George Bush and Karl Rove, not Richard Nixon.

Halperin, explaining how Bill Clinton destroyed the dignity of Washington and drowned politics in tactics of personal destruction -- trends which Bush has heroically reversed (seriously):

HH: Did [Bill Clinton] radicalize politics by inventing the politics of personal destruction?

MH: I think what Bill Clinton did, we say in The Way To Win is, he helped usher in this freak show. The politics of personal destruction was part of it, but it was also making the office of the presidency undignified, wearing shorts into the Oval Office, answering boxers and briefs…

HH: That was hardly how he made the Oval Office undignified.

MH: Well, there’s that, too. But we’re talking about early on in his presidency, with the birth of the freak show, in the early 90’s when he got elected. Obviously, he did more to further this along later on through his personal conduct. But the ability of this president, and certainly this first lady, as we write in the book, to restore some of the dignity, personal dignity to the office, has been quite an achievement in the wake of what Bill Clinton did, given the freak show environment in which we live.

Halperin, teaching us who the serious and unserious people are in Washington:

HH: Do you see any evidence of superior brainpower in places like Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha, as opposed to Rove and Cheney?

MH: Those specifically?

HH: Are they on the same playing field?

MH: You want me to compare those specific four people?

HH: Yeah, because you’ve got two leaders…

MH: If I were running for president, I’d hire Rove and Cheney over Pelosi and Murtha.

It goes on and on like that. I had other selected excerpts but reading these engenders a strong urge (one could even say a need) to stop reading them. The intrepid Halperin, for instance, bravely refused to take a position one way or the other on whether The New York Times should have published the story of the President's warrantless NSA eavesdropping program ("In this case, without knowing the arguments that were made, it’s hard to know which it is") and repeatedly affirms the right-wing view that the media is hopelessly stacked against them ("for forty years, conservatives have rightly felt that we did not give them a fair shake").

In sum, Halperin, in one interview, illustrated the crux of the sickness of the national media -- every tenet of right-wing mythology, embraced. Every opportunity to debase himself before Hewitt in the hope of getting a little head pat as one of the Good Boys, seized. Every left-wing bogeyman, bashed. Every right-wing hero, glorified and praised and treated with intense reverence.

Poor Hewitt and his right-wing comrades. How do you maintain your sense of victimhood and persecution at the hands of the "MSM" when the Mavens and Lords of the "MSM" do nothing but crawl around, agree with you and embrace your entire world-view?

UPDATE: More rave reviews for Halperin from the unbiased, honorable, serious precincts -- this one from the upstanding, objective John Hinderaker:

It was one of the most remarkable interviews I've listened to in a long time. Remarkable, in part, because Halperin came across very well. . . . That kind of honesty deserves to be applauded. As I say, I found Halperin likable and intend to buy his book. Check out the entire interview; it is fascinating and intelligent.

If Halperin is pleasing the John Hinderakers of the world this way, that is as good an indication as one can imagine of what Halperin is -- and, by extension, what most national journalists have become.

UPDATE II: None of this is to deny that many reporters and journalists are more politically liberal than conservative (primarily on social issues). But on the critical, predominant issues -- and especially with regard to the framework for how our national political debates are viewed -- national journalism, as Halperin illustrates, has largely come to embrace the right-wing perspective.

In an excellent comment, Inactivist's Mona outlines some of the ways in which that is true. Two other comments -- from Paul Dirks and Paul Rosenberg -- also add some important observations (without my necessarily agreeing with all of the assertions in any of these comments).

UPDATE III: As Digby documented at the time, "liberal MSM journalist" Joe Klein of Time Magazine also went on Hugh Hewitt's show and did exactly what Halperin did -- pleaded with Hewitt to recognize Klein as one of the Good Journalists by lavishly praising the President and the full pantheon of right-wing icons (proclaiming that Bush is an "honorable man" and "I really like the guy"; proudly showing off the affectionate nickname the President gave him; touting his deep friendship with Bill Bennett; and best of all: "I've always really respected Newt, because he's a man of honor, and he is a real policy wonk, and he really cares about stuff").

By sad and glaring contrast, Klein also sought Hewitt's approval by devoting equal attention and energy mimicking right-wing demonization efforts to bash "the Left" (Democrats have a "black soul" that is anti-military -- Democrats are so "lost" and "off the cliff" that it makes Klein want to "cry" -- Democrats are now "harsh and stupid" -- insisting that he doesn't want to be called a "liberal" any longer because he doesn't want to be associated with people like Al Gore and Michael Moore (Bill Bennett is great, though, and he loves George Bush)).

These are the biased leftist titans of the tyrannical, liberal MSM who persecute the Hugh Hewitts and George Bushs of the world (from their kneeling position, while dutifully reciting, and nodding in desperate agreement with, every right-wing talking point).

UPDATE IV: Eric Boehlert comprehensively documents the deep (and by now depressingly familiar) dishonest tactics which drive virtually every page of Halperin and Harris' new book.

UPDATE V: This sad Halperin drama continues, and worsens, here.

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