Department of WOW. I never thought I’d be writing a defense of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who just had an interview with perhaps respected-too-much journalist Mark Halperin of Bloomberg News. I can visualize my journalism profs at the Medill School of Journalism raising both eyebrows if I had asked a Hispanic officeholder the questions Halperin asked of Cruz, as detailed by Ruben Navarrette, and some others writers and Facebook posters. First two disclaimers.
FIRST: I’m not a fan of Cruz’s. He disdainfully says the word “moderate” like the seven-letter word is the worst of the four letter words. He looks down on and works against compromise and consensus, which most moderates and independents seek. And he has frequently shown he is fact-challenged. I am an independent voter but I can flatly state that I would never ever vote for Ted Cruz — even though I have voted for members of both parties.
SECOND: Halperin certainly does have a great journalistic resume and has done superb work for ABC News, Time magazine, and solid books such as Game Change. But I have been critical in the past since he epitomizes the smug, conventional wisdom of those talking heads on Morning Joe and the Sunday morning shows that declare future political developments with utter certainty — and are often as accurate as Penelope the Psychic (real name Sylvia Schmidlepper) who sits with a crystal ball at a table at a county fair.
I wrote Halperin off as a truly serious analyst who wasn’t out to market his personality as brand four years ago when MSNBC suspended him for calling Barack Obama a “dick” on the air. The issue isn’t whether it was true about Obama; the issue was Halperin becoming yet one more person who got on the tube because of his journalistic chops and later downgraded himself so he’d fit in with our tiresome, flippant, seriousness-challenged broadcast political analysts culture. I said Halperin had “now been sucked into the seeming ongoing race to cheapen the quality American political discourse.”
[UPDATE: April 11, 2015: Halperin has apologized in an official statement to those who might have been offended by his questions, which he says were quickly prepared. And Cruz has responded to the apology on Facebook. READ THEIR STATEMENTS IN FULL HERE.)
And now he provides us with more proof of his decline as a serious analyst. Navarette:
Imagine the following pep talk that a young Ted Cruz might have gotten from his father, Rafael, about 35 years ago.
“My son, I was tortured in a jail cell in Cuba, but I managed to come to the United States and build a life so that you could live your dreams. I grew up speaking Spanish, but I made sure you spoke English so you could go far. If you study hard, you can attend great universities. You can clerk for the chief justice of the Supreme Court, become a great trial lawyer and argue nine cases before the high court, get elected to the U.S. Senate, and someday run for president.
“Then, after all the family’s efforts and sacrifices, one day, you can go on an interview program and be asked by a smug and clueless white journalist if you’re authentically Cuban.”
Watching Mark Halperin of Bloomberg Politics interview Cruz recently, I wasn’t just uncomfortable. I was actually nauseated.
Why? Because Halperin had Cruz in a broadcast interview, which automatically places the reporter in a dominant position because if the interview subject gets angry or evasive the subject looks bad. And Halperin asked Cruz questions that indicated a)he views office holders who are Latinos through stereotypes that don’t fit in the 21st century, b)he was willing to pressure Cruz to act out a stereotype, c)rather than use his valuable time to ask Cruz to be specific about some policy positions he took the lazy way out and asked questions that it anything underlined the smug attitude which he has increasingly displayed in recent years. Keep reading:
As a journalist, I felt embarrassed for Halperin. As a Hispanic, I felt like I was watching a college fraternity have fun with racial stereotypes, like when staging a “border party” where people show up in serapes and fake mustaches. And as someone who doesn’t adhere to a party line to the point where I’ve been accused of being a “coconut” (white on the inside, brown on the outside), I was furious enough to — as Sarah Palin once said approvingly about Cruz — chew barbed wire and spit out rust.
The online interview show that Halperin co-hosts on BloombergPolitics.com is called “With All Due Respect.” But there was nothing respectful about the line of questioning. It started off innocently enough with Halperin asking the 2016 GOP presidential candidate about whether he thinks Hispanics will vote for him. He also mentioned a speech that Cruz had given to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and gave Cruz the chance to explain his argument that Republican economic policies help Hispanics.
Nothing wrong with that. But then Halperin made it personal, and the interview careened into a ditch. He told Cruz that people are curious about his “identity.” Then, the host asked a series of questions intended to establish his guest’s Hispanic bona fides. What kind of Cuban food did Cruz like to eat growing up? And what sort of Cuban music does Cruz listen to even now?
And it did get worse:
I kept waiting for Halperin to ask Cruz to play the conga drums like Desi Arnaz while dancing salsa and sipping cafe con leche — all to prove the Republican is really Cuban.
Just when I thought I’d seen the worst, it got even more offensive. Earlier that day, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, had entered the presidential race. So, Halperin said: “I want to give you the opportunity to directly welcome your colleague Sen. Sanders to the race, and I’d like you to do it, if you would, en español.”
What nerve, treating a U.S. senator like a trained seal! Who does this guy think he is, trying to evaluate how well a Hispanic speaks Spanish? And what does that have to do with being authentic anyway?
On the button. Navarette then falls into the trap of asking why Halperin doesn’t put some Democrats to the same line of questioning.
SIGH. This is the most typical mistake done in our political discussion and analysis — turning a larger issue into a partisan one. Let’s focus on the larger issue here, which Navarette does well through the majority of his piece.
Halperin should know better.
And he should question better.
And, yes, he’s a highly paid journalist and people need to demand he act like one.
Narvette has a point.
If Halperin interviews Andrew Cuomo, will he ask him to sing something in Italian?
Will he ask Cuomo his favorite Italian food?
Will he ask him what he thought about the fall of Benito Mussolini?
Will he ask him if he liked the Sopranos?
It’s stereotypical and trite.
A Cuban American doesn’t have to speak Spanish.
A Cuban American or an African American or Jew or Muslim is a “real” Cuban American or African American or Jew or Muslim no matter how he or she speaks and whether he or she lives up to the conventional wisdom about what he or she should say or not.
There isn’t a litmus test in America where they must fit the stereotype cemented in the head of a well-paid journalist who knows he knows all the answers.
Cruz showed grace under fire and Halperin fizzled.
Some reaction (most of it so far from conservatives):
Truly vile stuff; as PJM alumnus Fausta Wertz writes, “Halperin interviews Ted Cruz, expects Ricky Ricardo.” Note that Halperin, a former Time magazine journalist, tweeted last month, “There’s literally nothing on Earth funnier now than conservatives on Twitter who think @HillaryClinton is enjoying a honeymoon w/ the media.” Here’s one way that Hillary will be allowed to skate through; being asked softball questions while her opponents receive disgusting queries such as this.
Halperin even asks Ted Cruz to “welcome” Bernie Sanders into the race in Spanish. I swear Halperin was about to ask Cruz how many times he tells his wife, “you got a loooot of splaining to doooo!”
What an idiot. Ironically, there were plenty of blacks who said Obama wasn’t black enough but he was never challenged like that in the mainstream media. IN fact I don’t remember any of these questions asked of Democrats. Just pathetic.
#HalperinQuestions Halperin asks Ted Cruz to speak "espanol". Cruz is Canadian, Halperin. Ask him to speak French.
— RiskyLiberal (@RiskyLiberal) May 10, 2015
You don't have to be a fan of Ted Cruz to be appalled at Mark Halperin's shameful "interview" style: http://t.co/v3IRiQpI7x
— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) May 10, 2015
"I'm curious about your Irish identity Gov. O'Malley. Will you preform the Riverdance for us right now?" http://t.co/RHRI1ugzG7
— Jamie Weinstein (@Jamie_Weinstein) May 10, 2015
— Brad Thor (@BradThor) May 10, 2015
Mark Halperin's demanding Ted Cruz take a racial purity test is not a "What if Obama" story. It is a standalone act of racism.
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) May 10, 2015
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.