APOLOGY

06.30.11

MSNBC’s Halperin Suspended for Comment

Time columnist apologizes for dickish description of Obama as the White House calls comments “inappropriate.”

Barack Obama has been called plenty of names on television, as cable fans know all too well.

But I don’t think anyone has called the president of the United States a dick—at least until now.

Mark Halperin, the Time magazine columnist and MSNBC contributor, was assessing Obama’s performance at a news conference when he delivered this opinion Thursday morning on Morning Joe:

“I thought he was a dick yesterday.”

Yup. He went there.

Host Joe Scarborough was not pleased, saying: “Delay that. Delay that. What are you doing?” But the program has a new executive producer who didn’t react by hitting the seven-second delay button.

Now I would be a dick if I didn’t point out that Halperin quickly tried to make amends: “Joking aside, this is an absolute apology. I shouldn’t have said it. I apologize to the president and the viewers who heard me say that.”

But as more than one wit has pointed out, playing off the title of the best-seller co-authored by Halperin, that was a game changer. Two hours after Morning Joe went off the air, MSNBC suspended him.

The comments, the network said in a statement, “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, in an accompanying statement, called MSNBC’s reaction “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.”

Halperin and co-author John Heilemann had incredible access to most of the 2008 campaigns for their book Game Change, which is being made into a movie, but didn’t get much inside stuff from the Obama camp. With the two journalists now working on a sequel for 2012—sold for a reported $5 million—Halperin’s locker-room epithet won’t be terribly helpful in terms of his relations with the White House and Obama reelection campaign.

I know that people can blurt out stupid things on live television; a few weeks ago a Gawker writer used the same word on my CNN program in referring to Anthony Weiner’s package, and I apologized on her behalf. But Halperin is a seasoned veteran who should know better than to use that word in front of the cameras—and I’m sure he is kicking himself as we speak.

Update: The Halperin suspension didn’t take place in a vacuum. The White House quickly complained to MSNBC.

Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Halperin’s comment “was inappropriate. It would be inappropriate to say that about either president of either party.”

Carney added that “on behalf of the White House, I expressed that sentiment to executives at the network.” He declined to comment on the suspension.

Halperin is a former ABC News political director whose day job is at Time, where he writes a weekly column and a Web site called The Page. The magazine did not suspend him but issued this scolding: “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.”