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

More on Mark Halperin's sad little crusade for right-wing blessings

I honestly didn't think it was possible for Mark Halperin's behavior to become any more craven or cringe-inducing than it was during his three-hour submissive inquisition with Hugh Hewitt last night. But I was so wrong.

Today, Halperin is very upset -- very emotionally distraught -- because Hewitt remarked both during and after the interview that he thinks Halperin is "very liberal." Halperin spent three hours in the interview desperately trying to convince Hewitt that he is on Hewitt's side, but that wasn't enough to win Hewitt's approval. Nonetheless, Halperin is willing -- actually, quite eager -- to go to still greater and more horrifying lengths to obtain Hewitt's blessing.

First, Halperin e-mailed Hewitt today to again try to persuade Hewitt that he is not a liberal. Hewitt didn't print the e-mail but wrote about it on his blog, and claimed that Halperin "asked that [Hewitt] apologize for the characterization and remove the description or post" in which he called Halperin "liberal." Hewitt also quoted Halperin's e-mail by writing that Halperin "considers the description a 'a serious affront to [his] professional integrity,' and requested that I "note [Halperin's] strong objection to [my] characterization." Unconvinced by Halperin's pleas both in the interview and again today that he is not a liberal, Hewitt rubbed the comment in Halperin's face again: "Not only do I think that Mark Halperin is very liberal, I don't think it is possible to conclude anything else."

In response, Halperin returned to Hewitt yet again, this time to request that Hewitt allow him to post a statement on Hewitt's blog, in which Halperin expressed how hurt he was that even after he agreed with almost everything Hewitt said during the interview, Hewitt is still calling him a liberal:

Dear Hugh,

I really enjoyed our radio talk and I appreciated the opportunity to appear with someone I respect so much.

I have gotten a lot of positive feedback, mostly from conservatives, including this reaction on

But, as I have said to you privately, I am beginning to think you are intellectually dishonest on a few points. It seems strange that someone who seems to be trying to bring truth to people would do such a thing, but I can't really explain your behavior any other way. As I said on the show, you and I agree on almost everything we discussed. On most of the points of disagreement, I respect your position and accept our disagreement. . . .

As for your repeated insistence that you could reach no other conclusion but one that says that I am "very liberal," I'm sure if you think it over, you will reconsider. You went to a liberal school and you appear to not be liberal. And I am sure you have heard of people having different political views than their parents.

Again, I respect much about you, but I am mystified by your determination to lump me in with others. Acknowledging the liberal bias that exists in the Old Media -- as John Harris and I do in The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 doesn't necessarily prove that I am not liberal, but I would think you would be open to giving me the benefit of the doubt, when you have no actual evidence to the contrary.

The letter ended: "And I'm still waiting for the offer to appear again on the show. Thanks so much, Mark Halperin." Halperin just can't understand why it is that after he went to such lengths to be such a good boy -- the book, the interview, the confessions all over the place, the Drudge worship -- he is still being punished. He is clearly hurt and bewildered by this. He thought he would be welcomed by them and yet they are still hitting him. Why?

In response to all of that, Hewitt kicked some more dirt in Halperin's face by escalating the mockery: "the condescension in [Halperin's] offense taking is startling. This is the MSM disease, one associated with all aristocracies --that it will not endure criticism or questioning, is easily offended, and quick to cast aspersions on opponents." For good measure, Hewitt added: "His anger with me comes from my opinion that he is very liberal. I don't think it is easy to come to any other conclusion with the evidence at hand." I'm sure Halperin is working on his apology now.

I don't think I've seen self-debasement like this outside of Arlen Specter. Hewitt rudely badgered a pitifully meek and agreeable Halperin for three straight hours in the interview, including subjecting him to a rather disgusting line of McCarthyite inquiry about whether Halperin's "famous radical left wing father [ACLU Director and Nixon enemy Mort Halperin] . . . shaped Mark Halperin’s political values." Hewitt demanded to know:

But given that you come from a liberal, or in Ponte’s view, radical family, doesn’t the American people (sic) have a right to know whether or not you share, for example, those opinions that permeated your household growing up before they absorb your analysis and your protestations of neutrality?

Still, Halperin couldn't praise Hewitt enough. And in his e-mail today, he tried to re-assure Hewitt specifically: "I am sure you have heard of people having different political views than their parents."

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.

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?

Mark Halperin is really showing his true colors here, and it is extremely unpleasant to watch. Part of me really hopes -- just for the sake of Halperin's dignity -- that he sends no more pleas to Hewitt and that he stops seeking benedictions from the likes of Sean Hannity. But ultimately, it's necessary to put one's personal concern for Halperin to the side because this exercise is truly revealing. The need of journalists to please right-wing extremists and convince them that they are good and fair is very pervasive among the national media, and Halperin's highly emotional interaction with Hewitt is placing a high-powered microscope on how that dynamic works. As ugly as it is, it is highly instructive.

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