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Mark Halperin and the art of the #MeToo U-turn

Many of the pundits who spoke to the disgraced NBC journalist were actively tweeting their support of #TimesUp and #MeToo. What changed?

August 20, 2019

11:11 AM

20 August 2019

11:11 AM

So, you’ve been accused of sexual misconduct. You’re officially hashtag canceled, laying low, plotting your return to glory. How do you pull off the comeback? Do you try and slip back in unnoticed like The New York Times‘s Glenn Thrush? Do you go on a literal apology tour around the country like comedian Aziz Ansari, performing a routine about how much you’ve learned from your experience?

Neither of those approaches was good enough for Mark Halperin. For the former NBC News correspondent, who was accused of, among other things, rubbing his clothed erect penis on some young female staffers and propositioning others, the smartest way back has a few stages.

First, issue a general apology, while denying a couple of the allegations, and don’t direct one at the women involved. Next, go quiet for a while…but not too long. Then, employ some of your famous friends to try and repair the reputation you tarnished…before, finally, the masterstroke: drag the whole Democratic establishment through the mud by quoting them in your forthcoming book!

Halperin’s effort, How to Beat Trump: America’s Top Political Strategists on What It Will Take, is set to be published by Regan Arts. Founder Judith Regan is renowned for her attempt to publish another redemption story: O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It.

According to Sunday’s Politico Playbook email, the book will feature interviews with Jill Alper, David Axelrod, Bob Bauer, Donna Brazile, James Carville, Tad Devine, Anita Dunn, Karen Dunn, Adrienne Elrod, Jennifer Granholm, Ben LaBolt, Jeff Link, Jim Margolis, Mike McCurry, Mark Mellman, Amanda Renteria, John Sasso, Kathleen Sebelius, Bob Shrum, Ginny Terzano, and David Wilhelm.

Cockburn has so many questions. If these strategists are so wise, did they not see how rubbing shoulders with Halperin could backfire? Is that the same Anita Dunn who’s advising the Biden campaign, the one who spends her day freaking out at what Uncle Joe’s next perceived misstep will be? What would so many Hillary Clinton backers know about how to beat Trump?

But chief among them…when exactly did they decide it was time to move on from #TimesUp?

For many of these Democrats, the groundswell #MeToo movement provided a great chance to hammer home talking points. Which, presumably, is why throughout 2017 and 2018, pundits like Donna Brazile were frequently deploying the movement’s viral hashtags.

‘Please read this. #MeToo,’ Brazile wrote, when tweeting out actress Lupita Nyong’o’s Harvey Weinstein story in The New York Times.

‘If you claim to be a progressive space, you can’t treat victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault as an inconvenience,’ reads the standfirst of a ThinkProgress article she posted in April 2018.

‘#EarlyVoting starts this weekend. We may quarrel over how people should vote, but we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder when it comes to protecting people’s right to vote. If you agree, pledge #IWillVote#2018Midterms #MeToo,’ wrote Brazile in September 2018. That one…doesn’t seem to particularly concern sexual misconduct.

‘There’s a pattern here. #BelieveSurvivors#RespectWomen#MeToo’, Brazile tweeted days later, when posting an ABC article about how ‘Brett Kavanaugh is only the latest man whom President Trump has defended amid allegations of sexual misconduct or physical and sexual assault.’ Was she suffering from memory loss when Halperin came calling?

She wasn’t alone: former Michigan governor and CNN regular Jennifer Granholm also got in on the act. ‘The Kavanaugh issue is not men vs. women. Thank you to the millions of supportive male allies in the #MeToo movement,’ she wrote in September 2018. Cockburn thinks her definition of ‘male ally’ is perhaps slightly too broad if it includes Halperin…

Perhaps the most confusing person who chose to speak to Halperin is former Clinton ’16 political director Amanda Renteria, who was beaten in the California gubernatorial primary by Gavin Newsom last year.

Around the start of the #MeToo movement in October 2017, Renteria published a short Medium post alluding that she had ‘her own #MeToo story’. Then in February 2018, a week after announcing her run for governor, she made another Medium post entitled ‘My #MeToo story and why it matters’, describing an experience with a male senior executive at a financial services firm. She made fighting sexual harassment a central tenet of her gubernatorial campaign

The pundits have scrambled to explain away their perplexing #MeToo U-turns. Brazile told the Daily Beast, ‘Many of my friends today are disappointed that I answered Mark’s call, but I did so after he understood where I was coming from.’

Granholm was a little less convincing, appearing to claim she had no idea who Halperin was: ‘Spoke with him by phone once a few months ago about how to defeat Trump in the Midwest. Did not mean to hurt anyone, ever; should have done more research. My sincere apologies.’

Renteria tweeted, ‘As my record shows, I have no sympathy for people with a history of sexual harassment in the workplace and I’m not interested in rehabilitating anyone’s career. At the same time, women and people of color are worse off when our voices and experiences are left out of campaign histories like this. I respect people who might have taken a different path, but to win the fight for women’s equality, we need to tell our own stories and not let anyone – especially people with a history of harassment – speak for us.’

Serial sinner that he is, Cockburn believes in forgiveness. Plus, there’s no demarcated path to redemption from #MeToo ignominy. In most theologies, though, one must be truly sorry to be forgiven. Do the likes of Brazile, Granholm and Renteria believe that Mark Halperin has a contrite heart? Or was that worth overlooking in the interest of causing Trump’s defeat? After all, books about Trump are famously his Achilles’ heel…

Got a tip for Cockburn? Email cockburn@spectator.us.


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