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Posted by on Jun 30, 2011 in Media, Politics | 6 comments

MSNBC Suspends Time’s Mark Halperin for Calling Obama a “Dick” On Morning Joe (UPDATED)

Boy, it’s hard to adhere to “newspaper standards” these days when reporting on…our politics and even how mainstream reporters have tossed out dignity for accessibilty. One of my absolute favorite writers, commentators and bloggers is Time’s Mark Halperin, who does the must-read site The Page for Time, co authored the great book Game Change, and is on one of the best cable political shows, MSNBC’s Morning Joe. He does have his critics, to be sure. But even he has now been sucked into the seeming ongog race to cheapen the quality American political discourse.

The bottom line: He said Obama had acted like a “dick” on Morning Joe, it got on the air due a technical glitch with the delay button, he apologized on Twitter and MSNBC, MSNBC suspended him and Halperin did another mea culpa saying MSNBC was justified.

Mediaiate has the best post with an excellent summary, quotes and videos, but basically in a nutshell:

1. As Bob Stein noted HERE at yesterday’s press conference President Barack Obama was notably combative when talking about Republicans and the debt ceiling crisis. Greg Sargent suggested Obama was picking a fight with Republicans. Ezra Klein makes the convincing case here that Obama’s tough talk was a sign that talks with Republicans have failed and that the political politicization will cause both sides to dig in their heels even moreso in coming months with dangerous consquences.

2. Here’s a rough transcript of what happened on Morning Joe:

Joe Scarborough: Mark Halperin, What was the president’s strategy? We are coming up on a deadline and the president decided to please his base, push back against the Republicans.I guess the question is, we know a deal has to be done. Is this showmanship? A lot of times you go up there and both sides and they act tough so their base will be appeased, then they quietly work the deal behind the scenes.

Mark Halperin: Are we on the seven second delay?

Mika Brzezinski: Lordy.

Halperin: I wanted to characterize how the president behaved.

Scarborough: We have it. We can use it. Go for it. Let’s see what happens.

Brzezinski: We’re behind you, you fall down and we catch you.

Halperin: I thought he was a dick yesterday.

Scarborough: Delay that. delay that. what are you doing? i can’t believe — I was joking. Don’t do that. Did we delay that?

Halperin: I said it. I hope it worked.

Scarborough: My mom is watching! We’ll know whether it worked or not.

Halperin fell but they didn’t wind up catching him.

Here’s the video:

He later apologized (this has some of what was in the other video)

3.He later apologized on Twitter.

4. MSNBC and Halperin later issued a statement about his suspension:

Mark Halperin’s comments this morning were completely inappropriate and unacceptable. We apologize to the President, The White House and all of our viewers. We strive for a high level of discourse and comments like these have no place on our air. Therefore, Mark will be suspended indefinitely from his role as an analyst.

Statement from Mark Halperin:

I completely agree with everything in MSNBC’s statement about my remark. I believe that the step they are taking in response is totally appropriate. Again, I want to offer a heartfelt and profound apology to the President, to my MSNBC colleagues, and to the viewers. My remark was unacceptable, and I deeply regret it.

Some quick thoughts:

  • It’s no better when a reporter or pundit crosses the line than when a talk show crosses the line. Does Halperin really want to be perceived as doing the same job as an Ed Schultz or Sean Hannity? MSNBC also had its hands full with Schultz recently, who apologized and returned with renewed pizzazz and not crossing the line. But is Halperin as a writer, reporter, respected news pro in the same category as a talker? He was in this instance. And that’s sad — which is not dissing talkers who have their role and their professional goals.
  • Halperin’s problem is that by stating it the way he did he has lost credibility now with some viewers and readers. The advice a journalism professor gave me in 1972 while I went for my masters at Medill may be cynical but it is still valid: “A reporter must be overtly objective.” This professor didn’t believe reporters and editors should even belong to political parties. Granted, no one will will accuse Halperin of secretly being a Tea Party member but he will have some readers and listeners now who will feel his comments came less perhaps from a journalist in touch with both sides who feels Obama was harsh and pandering than from someone upset at Obama for political reasons.
  • The vulgarization and coarsening of America continues. We have Sarah Palin using three letters in a winking reference to a phrase that blogs use but does not appear in newspapers, an increasing divide between online content that uses words print publications don’t use so that online becomes to print media what cable programming is to broadcast standards — all within a sound bite and talk radio political culture where the most outrageous and harsh gets the most attention, readers and hits.
  • Halperin’s comments won’t help him with some of his sources who will think he has a political axe to grind and that they cannot just lay out what they are doing or saying and why they are saying or doing it without him having a preconceived preference.
  • Perhaps Halperin will now gain more credibility among readers and listeners on the right but the point is NOT about what he was saying about Obama — many blogs and pundits have said the same thing in so many words. It’s about his choice of language.
  • It’s all about the thoughtfulness of our politics, political discussion and analyses and if there are people who at least try and stand back and analyze.
  • It’s harder to sell yourself as someone who does that by just name calling in a way that would get a first grader sent to the office.

    PREDICTION: Like Schultz, he will return, sell books, get internet hits. But he did not enhance his overall image as a stand-back-and-coolly-analyze analyst.

    Even with a seven second delay, if it’s something that should not be said on the air, it should not have been said in the studio if politics is being discussed thoughtfully.

    PREDICTION II: In the way our media and political cultures now operate, Morning Joe will see its ratings go up.

    For ongoing comment on weblogs on this GO HERE.

    UPDATE: Time Magazine and the White House have reacted. The Huffington Post:

    Time magazine, where Halperin is Editor-At-Large, issued a statement of its own, saying it had warned Halperin about the comments:

    Mark Halperin’s comments on air this morning were inappropriate and in no way reflective of Time’s views. We have issued a warning to him that such behavior is unacceptable. Mark has appropriately apologized on air, via Twitter and on The Page.

    The fracas even got a comment from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (himself a former top editor at Time).

    “The comment that was made was inappropriate,” he said on Thursday. “It would be inappropriate to say that about any president of any party, and I expressed that to executives at the network. I have no comment on whatever action that network, or any network, or any newspaper might take.”

    Halperin’s is the latest in a string of suspensions that MSNBC has issued over the past year. Most famously, the network suspended Keith Olbermann for undisclosed donations to Democratic candidates in the 2010 election. It also suspended Joe Scarborough for making undisclosed donations and, most recently, yanked host Ed Schultz for a week for calling radio host Laura Ingraham a “slut.”

    The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent contends MSNBC’s response was excessive:

    I’m sorry, but this is crazy. Halperin’s crack was crude and dumb, but it doesn’t deserve indefinite suspension. Halperin’s use of an expletive is trival when compared with the degradation of our political discourse we witness on a regular basis from Halperin and many others — degradation that is seen as perfectly acceptable because no curse words are employed. Suspending Halperin only reinforces a phony definition of “civility” in our discourse, in which it’s unacceptable to use foul language and be “uncivil,” but it’s perfectly acceptable for reporters and commentators to allow outright falsehoods to pass unrebutted; to traffic endlessly in false equivalences in the name of some bogus notion of objectivity; and to make confident assertions about public opinion without referring to polls which show them to be completely wrong.

    I care less about Halperin’s use of the word “dick” than I do about the argument he and Joe Scarborough were making — that Obama somehow stepped over some kind of line in aggressively calling out the GOP for refusing to allow any revenues in a debt ceiling deal. This notion that Obama’s tone was somehow over the top — when politics is supposed to be a rough clash of visions — is rooted in a deeply ingrained set of unwritten rules about what does and doesn’t constitute acceptable political discourse that really deserve more scrutiny. This set of rules has it that it should be treated as a matter of polite, legitimate disagreement when Michele Bachmann says deeply insane things about us not needing to raise the debt limit, but it should be seen as an enormously newsworthy gaffe when she commits a relatively minor error about regional trivia. This set of rules has it that it should be treated as a matter of polite, legitimate disagreement when Republicans continually claim that Dems cut $500 billion in Medicare in a way that will directly impact seniors, even though fact checkers have pronounced it misleading, but it should be seen as “demagoguery” when Dems argue that the Paul Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it.

    Halperin has certainly done his part to encourage these unwritten rules, and so maybe there’s a certain poetic justice in the fact that he’s now been suspended indefinitely for violating them, but still, this is over the top.

    Steven Benen agrees:

    The other point that’s worth remembering is the larger dynamic. Forget Halperin’s choice of words, and instead consider the argument he and his “Morning Joe” colleagues were pressing. They were annoyed, apparently, because President Obama wasn’t docile and conciliatory during his press conference. He showed some backbone, and this seems to have troubled the political establishment to no end.

    If the president stays cool, he’s an emotionless Mr. Spock. If the president shows some fire in the belly, he’s “a dick.”

    What passes for mainstream political punditry in 2011 is too often a national embarrassment.

    -Betsy Newmark:

    The President’s press conference was so bad yesterday that ABC’s Mark Halperin, no right-winger, said what he really thought of Obama’s performance and then had to apologize profusely for what he said.

    Ann Althouse:

    Am I the only one who takes more offense at the blurted phrase “Oh my God” (by Joe Scarborough) than the use of the word “dick” to explain the President’s behavior? I think insulting the President is rough political discourse, but saying “Oh my God” is taking the Lord’s name in vain.

    You know, I bet Halperin was reverting to a style of speech that he uses with his colleagues, off-camera, and he thought he could stick it in, perhaps with bleeping or a comic reference to bleeping that didn’t happen. But he’s out of touch with the segment of the morning TV audience that experiences “he was a dick” as way off the norm. I mean, I am too.

    I’m trying to guess whether that segment is also disturbed by “Oh my God” the way I am. I really don’t understand how anyone who believes in God (or has respect for people around them who believe in God) can say use “God” as part of a casual exclamation.

    But calling people a dick. It’s rude, but actual dicks aren’t able to take offense, and even if they were, they wouldn’t determine your fate in the afterlife.

    –The Daily Kos’ Kos:

    Agreed. I think it’s wonderful that Halperin betrayed his full feelings about Obama on the air. It’s tiresome seeing people pretend that he’s some sort of neutral political arbitrer, when he’s engaged in a long-running jihad against the truth….

    …..And why would Scarborough — a conservative host on the lowest-rated morning show on cable–want Halperin around? It isn’t for his astute political acumen, because he has none of that. It’s because they’re fellow travelers in an ideological crusade against reality. How’s that from the supposedly “liberal” MSNBC?

    Today, Halperin was suspended by MSNBC for calling Obama a “dick”. His sin was to breach the Beltway’s pretend civility….

    ….As far as insults go, it’s weak tea. As political analysis, it’s laughable. As network policy, it’s ludicrous.


    It’s that these people have contrived this absurd set of shallow manners in which saying dick or taking a picture of a dick is wrong while lying, manipulating and cavalierly risking the country’s future (which is what Obama was allegedly being a dick about!) is considered perfectly acceptable.

    It’s the perfect manifestation of the Village. A bunch of decadent aristocrats pretending to be virgins and nuns, moralizing over trivia as a “lesson” for the rubes, all the while indulging in a debauched orgy of power and privilege.

    Salon’s Alex Pareene:

    When you have a wacky “cocktail party” morning show where “anything can happen,” sometimes what will happen — especially if your guest list features a lot of useless tools like Mark Halperin — is that someone will call the president a “dick” because he thinks it’s endearingly naughty. There was even a big, smirky buildup to Halperin calling the president a “dick.” It didn’t just slip out. Everyone got really excited that Halperin was about to use a bad word, because these people are children, and Halperin looked very pleased with himself after he said the bad word on the TV. Chuckle chuckle chuckle! Faux-outrage! Fun and high jinks! High-quality political analysis, everyone. …

    …I don’t care what Halperin calls Barack Obama. But for the record, President Obama did not really act like a dick yesterday, which is unsurprising, because Mark Halperin is a horrible political analyst who is wrong about everything. (Also for the record, it takes one to know one.)

    This is a great excuse for MSNBC to fire Halperin, though! I mean if they won’t fire him for being incompetent at understanding and explaining politics they now have an opportunity to fire him for being disrespectful and vulgar. (Ed Schultz was suspended over as much.)


    I am glad that Mark Halperin called the president a dick on Morning Joe this morning. I’m also glad the producer didn’t know which button to push to prevent it from being broadcast. I’m glad not because I agree with Halperin that the president was being a dick, but because it forever removes any doubt about Halperin’s political bias.

    Hugh Hewitt:

    Mark Halperin is a star of the Beltway-Manhattan media elite, a lefty and transparently so.

    But he is also a terrific though deeply biased political reporter and his slip into street-talk on air today needed and got an apology, but a suspension? I have been in broadcast studios, both television and radio, for two decades and the pejorative Halperin used is as common as it is low on the scale of insults towards political figures. So what is MSNBC saying with this absurd display of “standards?” That none of its hosts talk this way, or that they don’t talk this way on air? If it is the later, it is a mistake in delivery, not a moral offense, and no suspension is necessary. If the later, there will be a whole lot more suspensions coming down the pike at MSNBC.

    I have to suspect that the real crime in MSNBC’s eyes is that Halperin broke faith with the fever swamp’s favorite president and that the core demo rose up proclaiming that the president should never be criticized, even by an acolyte like Halperin.

    And make no mistake –Halperin is an Obama acolyte….

    Media Decoder:

    Mr. Halperin is a paid contributor to MSNBC and a regular guest on “Morning Joe.” He is Time’s leading political reporter and one of the magazine’s most recognizable bylines, a visibility that could complicate the fallout from his profane remark.

    Mr. Halperin often takes the lead role for Time in reporting on the presidential campaign and writes the popular political blog “The Page.” He is also co-authoring a follow-up book to “Game Change,” the best-seller about the 2008 campaign. In response to questions about how the comment could effect his objectivity as a journalist, a Time spokesperson pointed to a statement by the Obama adviser David Axelrod that suggested Mr. Halperin had made a mistake.

    “What he said was obviously stupid and tasteless, and he exercised poor judgment,” Mr. Axelrod told The Washington Post. “I think he’d be the first to acknowledge that. I strongy disagree with his analysis. But I’ve known him for decades. He’s a decent person and a good journalist. I’m sure that no one regrets this more than he does.”

    -No More Mister Nice Blog:

    Do I have to explain what happens next? We attack Halperin for disrespecting the president. Roger Ailes orders a dozen Fox interns to work overtime turning the news archives and the Internet upside down, looking for examples of similar insulting language directed at George W. Bush, especially if such language is uttered or met with approval by people who are now condemning Halperin. This becomes a story all weekend on Fox, and possibly into next week. Halperin, perhaps, is banned from Morning Joe for a while, and forced to apologize at Time — or suffers worse penalties. He then becomes a martyr to “political correctness.” Ailes offers him double what he’s getting from Morning Joe if he can break his contract and move over to the “straight news” part of Fox — just to piss off the liberals.

    It’s not true love. It’s more like revenge sex. But, years after he fell head over heels, I think Halperin’s finally going to get some.

    FP Passport notes that penalties for Halperin’s sin are greater in other countries:

    People can disagree about whether the network’s punishment was too harsh — I would imagine it’s something of a badge of shame at MSNBC to not have been suspended at this point — but as he kicks back this 4th of July weekend, Halperin should be thankful he doesn’t live in one of the many nations where much milder insults can land you in prison.

    In Thailand, a country with some of the world’s harshest lesè majesté laws, insulting the monarchy can bring a sentence of three to 15 years in prison, and the scope of the law is pretty wide: A U.S. citizen living in Thailand was arrested last month for posting a link critical of the king on his blog. It’s safe to assume there will be consequences for the new WikiLeaks cables describing some fairly depraved behavior from Thailand’s rowdy royals.

    In Turkey, where it’s illegal not just to criticize the government but “Turkishness” in general, a British artist was fined for placing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s head on a dog’s body in a series of collages.

    In Iran, a prominent journalist was recently sentenced to 16 months in prison for calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a megalomaniac. In pre-revolutionary Egypt, you could go to jail for four years for insulting Hosni Mubarak. It was even a jailable offence to insult foreign heads of state, as the late author Idris Ali learned when he wrote a novel critical of Muammar al-Qaddafi. In Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, you can be arrested just for sending an email with pictures of the president’s mansion. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has also used laws against insulting the president to silence his critics in the media.

    Doug Mataconis:

    My initial reaction to the MSNBC announcement was that it was appropriate under the circumstances. Halperin said something dumb and derogatory about the President and the circumstances under which he said it make it clear that he knew what he was doing. At the same time, though, we hear quite similar things on a regular basis. Moreover, just about six weeks ago MSNBC host Ed Schultz called columnist Laura Ingraham a “slut,” and he only got a weeks suspension. Suspending Halperin “indefinitely” strikes me as a bit of an over-reaction.

    Talk Left’s Big Tent Democrat is amazed at some of the reaction to Haplerin’s comments.

    –Pajamas Media’s Stephen Green thinks Halperin got it right.

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