Political Animal


June 30, 2011 12:35 PM What matters (and what doesn’t) about Halperin

By Steve Benen

Following up on an earlier item, Time’s Mark Halperin appeared on MSNBC earlier to critique President Obama’s press conference. With a smile usually reserved for children who’ve learned a new vulgarity, the pundit said of the president, “I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday.”

He apologized, and soon after, MSNBC announced it’s suspending him.

“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.”

Halperin issued a statement of his own at the same time:

“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.”

This has sparked some discussion about whether MSNBC overreacted, whether the comment counts as a “gaffe,” whether “dick” is overly crude for a news broadcast, whether the president deserves a degree of deference, etc.

These strike me as legitimate questions, but I don’t think they’re the most important questions. The key takeaway, at least for me, is what prompted Halperin’s shot in the first place.

Forget the trees; look at the forest: congressional Republicans, for the first time in American history, are holding the debt ceiling hostage. They’ve announced to the country and the world that they’ll cause an economic crash, on purpose, unless Democrats agree to dramatic spending cuts. Yesterday, President Obama held a press conference to urge GOP leaders to accept a compromise — he and other Democrats will accept massive cuts, but the president wants Republicans to agree to some concessions as part of a bipartisan agreement.

I couldn’t care less which four-letter word Halperin uses. I do care that Halperin is presented to news consumers as a neutral observer when he clearly is not. But I really care that he and others in the media establishment look at the debt-ceiling fight and think Obama’s the one who’s a big jerk. And why do they think that? Because the president offered some relatively mild criticism of truly insane tactics.

Let me say this as plainly as I know how: Republicans are threatening to deliberately cause a global recession. The president is willing to strike a deal that leans heavily in the GOP’s direction, and Republicans are refusing. Who, in this scenario, is being dickish?

Halperin’s choice of words pales in comparison to the fact that he’s offended by the president’s mild rebuke of political recklessness the likes of which American hasn’t seen in generations.

When we talk about political institutions that no longer appear capable of functioning as they should, let’s not forget to add The Village to the list.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • TR on June 30, 2011 12:36 PM:

    This, this, this. Yes.

  • BA on June 30, 2011 12:41 PM:


  • JMunk on June 30, 2011 12:43 PM:

    I am very grateful for your blog and never moreso than after reading a post like this. Thanks...

  • c u n d gulag on June 30, 2011 12:44 PM:

    C'mon, look at that smile!

    He knew exactly what he was doing.
    This was no 'Ooops!"

    He got the new talking point out in the MSM - and it is that it's Obama who's being a dick, and NOT the Republicans.

    And if it costs Halperin a few paychecks, so be it.
    He doesn't mind.
    He can now play the victim card, and he'll be on FOX sometime soon with his own show "Mark His Words - with your host, Mark Halperin."

    Halperin was ever a Republican wolf in 'independent journalist' sheep's clothing.
    He can now go back to being a wolf.
    Halperin knows that FOX pays their wolves better than anyone pays sheep.

  • Brenna on June 30, 2011 12:45 PM:

    Halperin is a terrible analyst. I think he rides on the coat tails of John Heilemann, who I think is a pretty decent reporter.

    Halperin is a hack who shouldn't even be taken seriously.

  • ElsieJean on June 30, 2011 12:47 PM:

    Halperin can say what he wants in private, but this was rude, crude and insulting to the president, his colleagues and the audience. It is not part of civil discourse.

  • Sam on June 30, 2011 12:47 PM:

    Apparently, the press expects Obama to sit there and allow Republicans to scream that he is a socialist Kenyan Marxist who doesn't believe America is exceptional, apologizes to our enemies, hates Israel, can't speak without a teleprompter, and shows no leadership. And then when he holds a presser or makes a speech calmly stating that the Republicans want to turn Medicare into a voucher program which would harm seniors and that they are unwilling to compromise and are failing to do what everybody agrees needs to be done with the debt limit, the press say he has overstepped. It's hilarious if it wasn't so pathetic.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on June 30, 2011 12:48 PM:

    When we talk about political institutions that no longer appear capable of functioning as they should, let�s not forget to add The Village to the list.

    Wow Steve! I completely disagree with you!

    Halperin and The Village are functioning exactly as they are supposed to as Echo Chambers and Message Amplifiers for the Repuknican Message of the Day!

  • T2 on June 30, 2011 12:50 PM:

    another dick, Dick Cheney used much worse language on the Senate floor directed at a sitting Senator - and the Halperin's of the Media just chuckled. Halperin clearly thought his remark would not be heard....and I'm sure all of us have said something about our boss that we wouldn't want him/her to hear.
    But the bigger point, which was made in the earlier thread, is that if anyone has been a "dick" in this government recently it has been the leadership of the Republican Party. But you'll wait a long time for any Media type to call them out as forcefully as the president did yesterday (finally). Mr. President, please do that again soon.

  • Brooklyn on June 30, 2011 12:53 PM:

    This is so disheartening. The American Taliban have taken over the congress (or are posturing as if they own it all) and we can't seem to stop the madness. This is just a game for a lot of people - the pols, who are wealthy and protected, and people too young to realize what a catastrophe this could be. Those of us who are old enough to remember when seniors ate catfood know what's at stake - the New Deal is what made the middle class, and the wingnuts have always wanted to repeal it. But back in the day, no one listened to the crazies (see Goldwater et al.) and now they get all the attention.

    We're on the verge of losing a whole generation economically. Anyone who thinks that isn't a problem either has a congressional paycheck or is in denial.

  • cb on June 30, 2011 12:54 PM:

    Perfectly stated, Steve. Excellent writing.

  • jpeckjr on June 30, 2011 12:55 PM:

    Yes. Mr. Benen, you called it perfectly.

    The President of the United States of America has no obligation to be sensitive to the thin-skinned members of the press who think they are the most important people in the room. He called it perfectly in his remarks, too.

    Captcha: news hoxpar. Halperin is a news hoax!

  • MattF on June 30, 2011 12:55 PM:

    Well, Halperin said what he actually thinks, so I'm not terrifically upset over that-- e.g., "I am a partisan hack." Well, OK then,...

  • Pam on June 30, 2011 12:55 PM:

    Pardon my French, but clearly the president showed who has the "bigger" dick. He is the President! I hope he whips it out and remind the republicans more often.

  • DAY on June 30, 2011 1:02 PM:

    Much false outrage over a snide remark. Far, far worse are what those pundits are doing, every day, in every way, to destroy the Democracy we once had.

    As for TeeVee, an early pioneer of the Medium said it was called that, because it was Rarely Well Done. (Any of you kiddies remember Percy Dovetonsils?)

  • c u n d gulag on June 30, 2011 1:09 PM:

    One of my all time favorites - late, GREAT, Earnie Kovacs!!!

    And if anyone remembers him, did you know that one of the greatest actors ever, Jack Lemmon, was one of the gorilla's in "The Nairobi Trio?"

  • Elizabelle on June 30, 2011 1:12 PM:

    You could tell Obama scored several direct hits yesterday, because Republican trolls (other than Mark Halperin) -- paid, or just from under the bridge -- showed up in force on this NY Times readers comments thread.

    You can smell the desperation.

    (Happily, the trolls are pretty much among the lowest-recommended comments. But you can see the same comments, over and over again.)


  • Molly Weasley on June 30, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Ditto everything everyone has said. Rethugs act like "dicks" (and I would use much stronger language) constantly. They have dishonored their own congressional offices by the kind of things they say about President Obama, whether it's on the floor of the House or Senate, on the campaign trail, on Sunday morning talk shows, at Teabagger events or whatever. "They treat me like a dog," Obama said at a camapaign event last Labor Day.

    When Obama stands up and speaks the truth out loud, the Rethugs complain to their pals in the media, and we get this kind of "analysis" from a has-been hack like Mark Halperin. When he speaks the truth about their policies, they get their little feelings hurt and whine to the stenographers. Call the "WAAAmbulance," as has been said so many times elsewhere.

    The one time I ever wrote a letter to Time Magazine was to complain about Halperin's "Who Won the Week" nonsense during the 2008 election. At one stretch, McCain had made a series of ridiculous statements and ridiculous charges, and had received much bad publicity. Yet Halperin said McCain had "won the week." I wrote to Time: Was Mark Halperin in another country last week in that he didn't notice the string of mistakes McCain made? Was he in another universe, perhaps?"

    Luckily for me, Time dropped the "Who won the week" nonsense soon after. Maybe even they had had enough.

  • Han's Solo on June 30, 2011 1:20 PM:

    I'm sure Halperin, and the rest of the Republican pundits, will soon find a way other than naughty words to paint Obama as "The Angry Black Man you should feel threatened by." The Southern Strategy is their bread and butter.

    Now they just need to find another word for uppity. Haughty maybe? They'll work on it, I guarantee it.

  • Brian R. on June 30, 2011 1:20 PM:


  • Stuart Shiffman on June 30, 2011 1:21 PM:

    Face it. He said it because he thought he could get away with it. This is what media commentary has become. Say something outrageous and chances are it will slide by. But on occasion you cross the line. If you do you get double secret super probation. All that means is that he can now go to work for FOX where he belonged in the first place.

    The secret for all of these folks is not to watch them and to tell the station why.

  • Bill on June 30, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Agree entirely with Steve's analsysis. Add to that President Obama was obviously and understandably angry with GOP behavior. He was not posturing.

    It is deeply satisfying, though, that the awful Halperin is felled for the moment by the same 'freak show' he helped to create and perpetuate.

  • hell's littlest angel on June 30, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Sounds like Halperin was auditioning for a slot on Fox News.

  • BD on June 30, 2011 1:33 PM:

    IF I were the White House, I'd call him up immediately and give him an exclusive 1-on-1 interview and explain why he's being the adult in this whole mess and the republicans are the "d_cks", quoting directly from Benen above. Take advantage of this while it's in the headlines and turn it around.

  • rob on June 30, 2011 1:42 PM:

    All well and good. But the real 'forest' here is the fact that the 'compromise' gives the Rethug 'dick heads'
    about 98% of what they said they wanted 3 months ago and 73% of what they say they want today. And most of the talking dick heads support them! What is going on with the media is fairly plain: they all make a fairly decent income and would like to make more. They have sold out to the 'money changers in the temple'. They no longer report and comment on the news objectly. They sell themselves. So i guess talking dick head is the wrong sexual metaphor.

  • fourlegsgood on June 30, 2011 1:43 PM:

    Let's be clear here - the entire GOP is being dickish - not just about the debt ceiling, but about every single issue in every single state.

    Let's review - in Wisconsin, people exercise their right to peaceably assemble to protest against the lege and the governor, and the GOP senate leader goes on TV (The Last Word) and calls them "losers" and "dirty" etc. etc. with an incredible amount of venom and scorn - I'd call that being a dick.

    In the US Congress, during a State of the Union address, a rethug congressman, Joe Wilson, yells out "YOU LIE" and is hailed by his party as a hero. I call that "BEING A DICK"

    In NJ, a voter calls in to a TV show to ask her governor why he sends his kids to private schools and if that has anything to do with his education-slashing policies. He yells at the screen, pointing his finger saying, "IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!" I call that - BEING A DICK.

    I could go on and on and on.

    What Halperin objected to was Obama refusing to accept his version of the conventional wisdom and standing up to GOP obstructionism. I call that, oh yeah, BEING A DICK. Halperin, that is. Feh, a pox on him.

  • Anon on June 30, 2011 2:09 PM:

    What do Halprin and Jayne Mansfield have in common?

    My other comment would be how many have been suspended by MSNBC as compared to other networks? I think Halprin needs to be permanently banished and the network needs to tell it's people to get professional or get lost. Of course this means they will need a replacement for Morning Joe....

  • Schtick on June 30, 2011 2:29 PM:

    You silly people.
    Obama is a dem and refuses to let repubs get all their demands and more = dick
    I imagine Halperin was approached for a job on Fake Nooz and this was his test to see if he fit in with the rest of the repub talking heads.

    crapcha....generally alingto....I don't believe that

  • etpourtant on June 30, 2011 2:35 PM:

    and Gloria Borger's commentary on CNN equating Obama's attitude with that of the republicans exemplifies the stupidity that contaminates Washington's political "savants."

  • joy on June 30, 2011 2:50 PM:

    Thank you for your article. So perfectly stated

  • kevo on June 30, 2011 2:50 PM:

    I imagine Halperin was raised in a very conservative household fairly the same as I as I was growing up in the mid 50s to the late 60s. He may have been taught the same white bread lessons I was. He may have the same formidable values shared by the likes of my parents and the generations that came before them.

    In regard to his use of the offensive term on national television, he is utterly uncivil, disrespectful, and belligerent when he need not be in political discourse!

    How do I know? Because my parents taught me never to insult another person by referencing a body part unless that individual was there to defend himself and I was prepared to get my nose bloodied!

    Halperin is a coward, and I want nothing to do with the likes of him! Get him off the air, out of the press columns and into bigot therapy! -Kevo

  • FoxyOldBroad on June 30, 2011 2:50 PM:

    Absolutely agree 100%.

    Don't get mad, GET EVEN. Donate to President Obama's re-election campaign.

  • Trin on June 30, 2011 3:29 PM:

    Well stated Steve. Well-effing-stated.

  • justaguy2 on June 30, 2011 3:47 PM:

    Now all the other responsible parties are trying to cover their fingerprints on this, shifting the blame to "technical glitch, producer not doing their job ..."

    Sorry, though it was vulgar, disrespectful, offensive and all that, it was not obscene. It was also all calculated for effect. Halperin even waited for his close-up. And the joyful Gossip Queens moment afterward is all there.

    I guess the laughter was used to disguise the internalized shock of the moment. Yeah that's it.

  • Bill on June 30, 2011 3:57 PM:

    Steve should stop drinking progressive punch. The responsible thing to do is to NOT raise the debt ceiling. The responsible thing to do is correct the bad habits that created the problem . . . SPENDING!! We don't have a money problem, we have a SPENDING problem. Something created by a Democrat controlled congress and a clueless president who has no concept of debt, ownership, responsibility, duty.

  • ameshall on June 30, 2011 4:11 PM:

    Exactly, Steve. Apparently, the Republicans can spend nearly two years calling the president a socialist, terrorist-sympathizing, America-hating radical; question his citizenship; accuse him of trying to kill off seniors with non-existent death panels; reject every piece of legislation he shows the slightest interest in, even if they previously supported it; claim to reject the stimulus as they proudly accept federal checks at ribbon-cutting ceremonies; and threaten to tank the global economy (again) to enhance their chances of taking the presidency in 2012, AND somehow Obama's the dick.

    There is a double standard in Washington. Republicans are ruthless, immoral jackals, so whenever they spew some outrageous lie or threaten economic suicide, no one pays attention. That's just Republicans doing what they do best: playing hardball politics. Democrats, on the other hand, are effete weaklings who are supposed to show up to the debate with pie charts and white papers. Whenever a Democrat gets tough, everyone pounces on him or her for stepping out of bounds. Case in point: the President tells Congress to "get to work" and "get it done," and now he's a dick. Mind-boggling.

  • kevo on June 30, 2011 4:25 PM:

    Bill, who's the fool fool?

    Your observation marked @3:57pm is worthless!

    Has FOXNEWS gotten you to obsess on the term SPENDING?

    Do you understand the critical mass of debt we are experiencing at this time is directly tied to the Bush presidency that gave us two theaters of war and a plan D Medicare prescription program that weren't paid for, while having eviscerated the revenue streams necessary to support such mad policies, by passing the Bush tax cuts of '01 and '03 though the reconciliation process of the US Senate?

    Hey Bill, are you making over $75,000 annually? Cause if you aren't, those people feeding your brain are laughing at you all the way to the bank! -Kevo

  • Squeaky McCrinkle on June 30, 2011 4:30 PM:

    I agree with most of what's been said here, but I don't really think that CNN or MSNBC are that much less part of the problem than Fox News.

  • c u n d gulag on June 30, 2011 4:38 PM:

    I have one word to describe you - SAP!

    And NOT the king that comes out of trees.
    The kind that's a dope - a 'maroon.'

    Keep on watching FOX and listening to Rush and soon your IQ will go down to the lower double digits.
    Just in time to vote for the people who laugh at your stupid, ignorant ass, as they plan to eliminate you when your usefulness to them is done.


    CAPTCHA - ishati truth
    Yesh, it ish the truth.

  • Hermes on June 30, 2011 5:12 PM:

    Where were you when Obama as a Senator refused to vote for raising the debt ceiling and calling it failure of leadership?

  • Tony J on June 30, 2011 5:30 PM:


    - "I imagine Halperin was raised in a very conservative household fairly the same as I as I was growing up in the mid 50s to the late 60s." -

    Pretty much, but you might want to Google his dad. Resigned from the Nixon White House in disgust and became a big-wheel in ACLU circles. Someone Halperin Junior would apparently think of as a dick.

    In this case the apple didn't just fall far from the tree, it bounced on landing and came down in a whole different country.

  • Brenda T on June 30, 2011 6:26 PM:

    Joe and Mika need to go to because they egged him on and laughed once he said it! Joe said you fall and we will be there to catch you.

  • rone on June 30, 2011 6:43 PM:

    The GOP clowns in Congress aren't being dicks. They're being assholes. That's why the president needs to be a dick.

  • Proud to Wave My American Flag on June 30, 2011 6:45 PM:

    When Reagan acted up a stern snarl or nastily put down someone (as he did pretty viciously with Carter more than once), the moment was Proud! Tall! All-American! Strong! A Real Man!

    (Even if what he actually said was often garbled or sub-important. BUT -- let Obama get correctly stern about serious misbehavior on the other side and his manners are called into question. He is supposed to roll over and not call out this outrageous Republican nastiness and irresponsibility??)

    I had been previously indifferent to Halperin but this shallowness is astonishing. Hope he never comes back. Good riddance to these superficial racetrack bookies.

  • rick on June 30, 2011 7:47 PM:

    Just cancelled my subscription to TIME. Rep I spoke to told me that "lots" of subscribers have called to cancel today!

  • Doug on June 30, 2011 8:30 PM:

    I, too, would like to add my congratulations to Mr. Benen for an extremely well-written article!

    Day @ 1:02 PM, I'm confused! I thought Fred Allen was responsible for that quip? I'm thinking "Percy Dovetonsils" was either Sid Caesar or Milton Berle, with a definite leaning towards Caesar. If only because "Percy Dovetonsils" is 'way too subtle for Milton Berle!

  • nerd on June 30, 2011 8:33 PM:

    Given how thin skinned the GOP is when it comes to rhetoric, a phrase another Democratic president used comes to mind:

    "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

    The GOP dishes out loads of rhetoric, almost all of it over the top and untrue, but they can't take it. Truly a bunch of children who know the words but don't know what they mean.

  • jhill on June 30, 2011 11:14 PM:

    In total agreement, but I am also very pleased that MSNBC immediately pulled him for the utterly uncivil and inappropriate term. I detested President George W. Bush and all his works and the horse he rode in on, but in my professorial role, I _always_ referred to him as "President Bush' and used respectful language. Although actually I'm not surprised that this kind of language shows up on "Morning Joe" -- when I am occasionally forced to watch TV news and discussion shows because somebody else in the room (think visiting relatives) is watching them I am always horrified at the frivolous level of the banter over very serious issues. I find this the case right across the board, so when they get to 'dick' I'm not at all surprised.

  • Pseudonym on July 01, 2011 5:55 AM:

    Something created by a Democrat [sic] controlled congress and a clueless president who has no concept of debt, ownership, responsibility, duty.

    Which president are you referring to, Reagan or GWB?

  • yellowdog on July 01, 2011 6:41 AM:

    Good work, Steve, as usual. You always try to turn the discussion to the diseased elephant in the room, pardon the pun. True accountability is rare these days.

  • Jim on July 01, 2011 8:25 AM:

    Bravo! U nailed it Steven. U took the words right out of my mouth

  • samg on July 01, 2011 2:17 PM:

    Good point, Mr. B. Calling Obama a "dick" for blasting the latest Republican ridiculousness. I soured on Halperin years ago when he wrote a book with John Harris and they dubbed Matt Drudge "the Walter Cronkite of his era." Drudge is as much like Cronkite as Halperin is like Mother Teresa. Halperin may not have understood that, but Drudge did. He never compared himself to Cronkite, but to another right-wing hack and gossip, Walter Winchell, and wears a Winchell-style fedora all the time to continue to remind those of us old enough to remember Winchell of the comparison. Halperin is an ass, who should never be invited to be on television.

  • MattZ on July 01, 2011 2:20 PM:

    This blog is an oasis of sanity in an otherwise ridiculous political discourse.

  • jlt on July 01, 2011 4:49 PM:

    When the President points out the truth, the hogs of the gop squeal! Must have hit nerves...because they all have liquid running down their pant legs!

    Cornyn was on the verge of tears on the senate floor yesterday! Demagogue...well they should certainly be looking in the mirror...the example of yesterday was the mcconnel lunch stunt! What children..soo very transparent!

  • pc on July 05, 2011 8:27 AM:

    While the comment was inappropriate, I think it is idicative of where politics are today in America. Our so-called "leaders" have overspent and overpromised for years, and now that we have a few adults in Congress who want to implement some financial discipline, those adults are being chastised. Nothing is free folks and sacrifice and personal responsibility are two of the many things that has made our Country great. Until we have the courage to do in Washington what every American has had to do at home (i.e., tighten those belts), we are no better than Greece.