Mark Halperin is editor and chief political analyst of Time magazine, as well as a political analyst for ABC News. He writes “The Page,” a graphics-heavy, blurby sort of newswire on Time’s website. All his titles place Halperin firmly among the Very Serious Journalists in Washington, those with the platforms to reach broad audiences with opinions that circle through the discourse. Problem is, he’s a hack.
A little backstory: Halperin was ABC’s chief political analyst during the 2004 election. In this capacity, he wrote a memo warning ABC News staff not to “reflexively and artificially hold both sides ‘equally’ accountable when the facts don’t warrant that.” While Kerry’s campaign “distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time,” those efforts were not “central to his efforts to win.” Following a month of Swift Boat Veterans ads, Halperin characterized Bush’s campaign as trying to “destoy Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions.” At the same time, Vice President Cheney was attacking the New York Times for front-paging the 9/11 Commission’s finding of no ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. In this atmosphere, the memo closed by reminding reporters to “help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest.”
Enter shitstorm. Matt Drudge, purveyor of the frequently wrong Drudge Report, runs the memo. (Drudge’s major accomplishment is breaking the Monica Lewinsky story, mixed in with the usual libelous crap about Democrats’ private lives.) Right-wing blog Powerline grabbed the memo as an example of Bush’s media martyrdom. Mark Finkelstein of the right-wing website Newsbusters put two and two together and concluded that Halperin’s father was to blame. Soon, every mention of Halperin was tied to the memo, with lunatics like Frontpage dragging up his childhood to testify to H.U.A.C.
As a smart, powerful, well-connected journalist, could Halperin take this lying down? Could he let his demand for simply objectivity be skewered by politically-motivated attacks? Could he allow partisans of the right to determine his political coverage based on the volume and vitriol of their attacks?
Fuck yeah, welcome to Washington! In 2006, Halperin co-authored The Way to Win, a blueprint for the 2008 Presidential campaign. The book praised Karl Rove as an “ideas man,” (Rove in turn continued attacking the media,) and presented the noxious Drudge as the most important journalist in America. This intellectual abortion was aided and abetted by John F. Harris of The Politico, another Very Serious Journalist who used to work for the Washington Post. If the book was bad, the PR tour was worse. Halperin called Drudge “a visionary” and “the Walter Cronkite of his era”; told Bill freakin’ O’Reilly that the “old media” was “too liberal”‘ and pleaded for the approval of Hugh Hewitt. (To paraphrase Woody Allen: “If Cronkite knew what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.“)
The shameless Halperin isn’t alone in pandering to our new overlords. And it isn’t just about Drudge; it’s about full-scale, ideological war against objectivity. Halperin is moving wheelbarrows of this shit at half-off. At one point, his “advice” to John McCain was so fetid, so cankerous that he had to run a disclaimer explaining that suggestions to race-bait, raise Obama’s college drug use, and present the Democrat as “a Manchurian Candidate” were simply “analysis of what is likely to happen, not advice or endorsement.” (If it wasn’t advice, he shouldn’t have headlined it “What McCain can do…”)
A few days ago, at a forum in Los Angeles, Halperin ripped the media for “extreme” and “disgusting” pro-Obama bias. He called campaign coverage “the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war.” (Funny, since Halp failed to discuss the pre-war record of the network at which he was political director.) In case you still thought he had any grounding in reality, Halperin gave the entire McCain campaign team a “B,” a solid report card for a crew that basically lost by 200 electoral votes and went all William Golding even before the election was over.
Halp particularly blamed the New York Times for running what he considered an unfairly negative profile of Cindy McCain compared to their stuff on Michelle Obama. Of course, the McCain team responded to the piece on Cindy by doing what Republicans do – what Halp knew they did back in 2004 – by attacking the messenger. A McCain spokesman called it “trash” and “gutter journalism.” The difference in the coverage style reflected some basic differences in reality. Only one of those two women had an affair with her husband when he was still married to another woman and stole prescription drugs through a charity. Michelle Obama was also busy catching flak for the non-existent “whitey tape,” an unsourced rumour that Harris’ Politico dismissed as having “zero credible evidence” even while covering the story.
Obama ran a better campaign, and the American public knew it. Problem is, the traditional media wanted balance. While pundits scored debates for McCain, snap polls of actual voters gave Hopey 15 point wins. Yes, the Republican campaign was filthy (and no, they aren’t over it.) Losing late, McCain went all negative. He ran close to 100% attack ads, in contrast to Obama’s approximately 35%. On one hand you had a campaign scoring record numbers of donors, running an unprecedented, people-powered ground game, and busting out new methods for reaching young voters. Against them, a campaign with exactly zero positive messages and no internal coordination who trailed consistently except for a short bump following a convention in which they attacked the media, people who live on the east coast, and community organizers among others. In Halpernistan, these two political efforts should be reported as equally commendable.
What’s his deal? Maybe Halp is a closeted leftist now terrified for his job security. Maybe he’s a rightist finally free to do as he pleases. Maybe he’s a valueless hack trying to sell books. We’ll never know. “Jed L” over at Daily Kos did some research and pulled this up:
Number of references on Mark Halperin’s website, thepage.time.com, for each of the following, according to Google:
That’s a 6 to 1 sourcing ratio for the right; worse yet if you exclude Olbermann, who is primarily anti-Bush rather than an actual ideological liberal. This from someone constantly twitching about media bias. For the love of Christ on a sandwich, Rush Limbaugh is the man’s top source. Rush who referred to 13-year old Chelsea Clinton as the “White House dog” Limbaugh. Rush Michael J. Fox was faking it Limbaugh. I guess Halp just likes defending drug addicts?
The fact that any (gag) respected, “mainstream” journalist could rely on such people to drive the political discourse is astonishing. Greg Sargent importantly reminds us that these are editorial choices, not simply the product of something in the ether. When Drudge reports something that doesn’t fit the narrative, traditional media sources don’t lead with it. The pictures of Obama dressed all Mooslem-like, which Drudge sourced to an “unnamed Hillary staffer,” slunk into the mainstream news cycle. In reporting the story, Newsweek’s Andrew Romano reaffirmed how desperately the traditional political media clings to the “reload” button on Drudge’s website.
*Update: And, as if on cue…