Why you should care
Mark Halperin and Glenn Thrush were yanked from the spotlight amid scandal. Should they be allowed back on stage without bold reforms?
In the past few weeks, two men accused of sexual harassment and abuse at the onset of #MeToo have returned to the spotlight. New York Times journalist Glenn Thrush, accused of harassing female co-workers at Politico, has been promoted to covering the 2020 campaign after an internal investigation demoted him. Meanwhile, former NBC News contributor Mark Halperin, who has been accused of groping women and masturbating in front of them, has announced he has a new book coming out this fall titled How to Beat Trump.
The pattern for men who misbehave is always the same — man apologizes, man goes away, man comes back, no questions asked — but it’s the last part that raises the hackles. Comebacks should require hard questions be answered by the accused. Otherwise, how can we be sure that he has changed his ways?
It’s important not to conflate Thrush and Halperin given that the accusations against them are different. Halperin’s abuses were by far the more extreme, spanning decades. Thrush’s transgressions involved making inappropriate passes at his female co-workers.
He’s basically making it sound as if the sins of everybody else are the same as his.
Jonathan Alter on Mark Halperin
Political analyst Jonathan Alter says “the punishment and the level of atonement need to fit the crime, or at least the misdemeanor.” He believes that the Times was “perfectly appropriate” in its actions against Thrush, who sought treatment for his alcoholism after the allegations. However, Thrush has remained mum since his apology in 2017, and a Times representative declined to speak with me on the record concerning this matter.
Halperin, apart from an apology following the revelations of his abuse, and another mea culpa last week, has been flippant about his behavior. In an interview with radio host Michael Smerconish, he said glibly, “I’m happy to be judged by perfect people.” That, says Alter, is “a very nasty and insincere comment that actually says a lot about how he got into trouble in the first place. … He’s basically making it sound as if the sins of everybody else are the same as his.” Halperin has not personally apologized to his victims.
If Thrush and Halperin were more forthcoming about what they have specifically done to reckon with their misdeeds, it would be easier to extend the benefit of the doubt. That’s difficult to do, though, given that their misogyny bled into their coverage of the 2016 election as they cast Hillary Clinton in a negative light.
Halperin had previously portrayed Clinton as “Napoleon in a navy pantsuit” in his book Game Change, co-authored with John Heilemann. From the moment Clinton announced her campaign, Halperin beat the drum over the email “scandal,” calling her decisions “wrong, selfish, [and a] failure to cooperate.” On the other hand, he treated Trump with kid gloves, minimizing allegations of sexual assault against him by describing them as “nothing illegal … nothing beyond boorish or politically incorrect” and labeling him a “naturally gifted” candidate. His sycophancy was so blatant that NBC’s Brian Williams chided him for it on the air.
Thrush was more critical of Trump than Halperin was, but he still showed gender bias in his reporting, such as suggesting Clinton hadn’t earned her success when he dubbed her the “Queen of Coasting” in September 2016. On Twitter, he mocked her for “calling for love and kindness — by SHOUTING!” (caps his). When his followers asked him to talk about sexism in the campaign, he was quick to dismiss them. Even in 2017, he dismissed the idea that sexism had anything to do with Clinton’s loss.
But... sexism. I leave anything out? https://t.co/AkEpMBSs4y— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) August 21, 2017
Thrush and Halperin, like Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Ryan Lizza, were both unduly harsh on Clinton and accused of sexual harassment during that first wave of #MeToo. Their views on and behavior toward women skewed their journalistic objectivity and twisted public opinion against Clinton. The media’s attitude toward her might have been different with more prominent female journalists covering the election, but since many of the women these men victimized left the profession, we’ll never know what they could have achieved had they stayed.
It’s not up to the accused to set the terms for their rehabilitation. They must earn it by demonstrating that they have learned the right lessons. More women are running for president than ever before, and one might even be the nominee. If Thrush and Halperin want to return to the political arena, they must make this public show of atonement; otherwise, there’s no guarantee that their attitude and behavior toward women won’t skew both their writing and our body politic.