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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Real Problem With Mark Halperin

As you’ve probably heard by now, MSNBC pundit and Time Magazine columnist Mark Halperin got himself suspended by the cable network for saying on Morning Joe that the president had acted like “a dick” at his press conference yesterday. And as you probably know, Halperin thought his sophomoric little quip would be deleted by tape-delay before anyone other than his studio colleagues heard it.
With respect to Halperin’s incivility towards the president, I would surely be more tolerant of it coming from anyone other than a guy whose ultra-insider reporting over the years (as readers of The Note in its heyday will probably remember) was built on a foundation of endless flattery of politicians, campaign flacks, and other reporters. You’d figure someone who appears to genuinely like Karl Rove could avoid insults aimed at Barack Obama.
But in any event, what annoyed me most about Halperin’s “gaffe” isn’t the term he used so much as the underlying “analysis” of the president’s press conference appearance, in which he took the very rare occasion to fire back at Republicans who have been savaging him for refusing to surrender to their agenda from practically the moment of his inauguration.
You need to understand, though, that Halperin comes from a journalistic point of view wherein “objectivity” is defined as keeping an equal distance from both parties. If one party chooses to move the goal posts, then the fifty-yard-line, where the “objective journalist” lives, has to move, too. So of course Obama was being unreasonable by trying to implement his 2008 campaign promises once Republicans decided to oppose them all, and of course, today, he’s being unreasonable by refusing to offer at least half of the spending cuts Republicans are proposing with no enhanced revenues whatsoever. Obama talked about restoring bipartisanship during his presidential campaign, so if bipartisanship has failed, he’s at least half–or maybe more than half–to blame.
The good news is that Halperin is vastly less influential than he used to be. Back in the day, before the development of much of the blogosphere, much less the huge aggregation and one-stop-political-shopping sites so prevalent today, The Note was a really big deal, consumed (with all its annoying stylistic trimmings) by political junkies everywhere. Nowadays, Halperin has become the symbol–almost a parody, really–of what some folk call “The Village,” an insulated coterie of Beltway cognoscenti with a fetish for “bipartisan” issues like deficit reduction, and a conviction that the unwashed masses need their enlightened leadership. They seem to mainly talk to each other, and to that extent, their impact is limited.
But all in all, Halperin still has a pretty choice perch in American political journalism. And his continued prominence is problematic from a perspective than transcends party and ideology.
After all, he’s a “reporter,” adept at getting quotes and interviews and with a rolodex full of insider “sources.” And this appeals to the prejudices of many progressive journalists who don’t have much use for him personally or professionally, but still find an affinity with him as a “pro,” as opposed to us “opinion journalists” or “bloggers” who don’t know how to dress up our own opinions with well-selected quotes or describe real-life events with the appropriate degree of color.
Still, Halperin may serve as an example of a journalist whose analytical blindness overwhelms whatever value his “reporting” can supply. Who cares if you can get “insiders” to give you rich quotes about the events of the day if you haven’t a clue of what any of it actually means? And why is there still so lucrative a market (if smaller than it used to be) for this kind of “reporting” at a time when smart journalists all over the country are leaving the profession or living on food stamps?
Beats me.

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