Just 18 months after his career as a political pundit and TV commentator imploded amid sexual harassment and assault allegations, Mark Halperin is trying to mount a comeback. He’s getting help from media personalities including MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinksi.
Halperin, 54, lost commentary gigs with MSNBC, NBC and Showtime in October 2017 after nine women accused him of unwanted touching, sexual comments and physical assault when he worked at ABC News between 1994 and 2006. HBO also canceled plans to adapt “Game Change,” the best-selling campaign books he co-authored, into a miniseries.
Halperin has denied any unwanted physical interactions but has previously acknowledged that he “did pursue relationships with women I worked with” and that his “behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain. For that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize.”
He was among several high-profile media figures to fall as a result of #MeToo accusations, a list that included TV news hosts Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Bill O’Reilly.
Yet while Rose, Lauer and O’Reilly have been unable to reclaim their former prominence, Halperin appears to be making progress.
After many months out of public view, Halperin resumed his presence on Twitter last month, commenting on the presidential race. He also began a blog titled Mark Halperin’s Wide World of News, offering his views on current events.
His reemergence has been fostered by CNN contributor Michael Smerconish, who has interviewed Halperin on his Sirius XM radio program three times over the past month. The first interview included Halperin’s observation that Joe Biden’s conduct toward women could be a “bit of a distraction” for his campaign, a statement for which Halperin later apologized.
Halperin also seemed to take a shot at some of his critics on Smerconish’s program, saying of the accusations against him: “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.”
Smerconish said he gave Halperin a shot after reading a detailed apology on his Twitter page. When Halperin first came on the Sirius XM show last month, he apologized again, and “only then did we talk about the 2020 field,” Smerconish said by email.
“He seems genuinely sorry for what he did,” Smerconish added. “My view is that to not let him opine after 2 years would be akin to a professional death sentence. If he hadn’t apologized, I would not have invited him. But he did.”
The Daily Beast reported Thursday that Scarborough and Brzezinski — co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program — discussed plans to collaborate with Halperin on an online-only program analyzing the 2018 midterms (the program never came to fruition). Before his firing by NBC News, Halperin was a regular panelist on “Morning Joe.”
Brzezinski, in particular, has been publicly supportive of Halperin. At one point in late 2017, she said on “Morning Joe” that Halperin’s accusers owed him the opportunity to apologize in a face-to-face meeting. Her comments drew a scathing rebuke from some of his accusers. Brzezinski apologized on air.
MSNBC declined to comment for this article. Halperin didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But several of his accusers expressed shock and disappointment at his attempt to return to political punditry.
“Mark Halperin repeatedly abused his position of authority in the newsroom, negatively impacting the careers of many women journalists,” said Lara Setrakian, a journalist who alleged that Halperin harassed her. “He has proven himself unfit for leadership in our industry and a questionable narrator of the national conversation.”
Setrakian, the chief executive of News Deeply, a digital news outlet, added: “I can’t assess whether Mark’s apologies are sincere. But I would be seriously concerned for the next generation of young women who work in our newsrooms if he returns to a position of authority. It’s not my place to act as judge and jury over Mark’s career. But right now Mark seems to be playing that role for himself, with the help of some of his close friends in broadcasting.”
Attorney Dianna Goldberg May, who was the first of Halperin’s former colleagues to publicly accuse him, said, “It troubles me that he is more concerned with rehabilitating his career than demonstrating any semblance of understanding the gravity of the harm he caused so many women. And the fact that his friends in broadcast are enabling this effort is appalling. Mark is asking for a seat at a table in a profession where credibility and integrity are everything, now more than ever. I’m not convinced he has earned the right to occupy such a venerable position.”
Another accuser, Eleanor McManus, said, “Halperin used his status as a powerful journalist to victimize women, so why should he have that power again? Giving a serial harasser a platform to be in the public spotlight again only hurts all the women he has victimized. Those who enable it are on the wrong side of history.” McManus, who was formerly a senior producer at CNN, is now a public-relations consultant in Washington.
As a result of their shared experience, Setrakian, May and McManus became co-founders of Press Forward, an initiative that advocates for “safe and civil” workplaces. The group has taken no position on any harassment case.
The three women say Halperin has not apologized to them.