Disgraced political pundit and television personality Mark Halperin has been spending the past several months on a quiet yet calculated professional rehabilitation campaign with the active help of MSNBC Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
The 54-year-old Halperin—whose lucrative career imploded in October 2017 after several female colleagues, subordinates, and other women went public with allegations that he groped them and made unwanted sexual advances during his tenure at ABC News—has also received positive airtime from CNN and SiriusXM radio host Michael Smerconish.
Halperin has lost millions of dollars in income. He was fired from Showtime’s The Circus; Penguin abandoned a planned book on the 2016 presidential campaign, co-authored by his longtime writing partner John Heilemann; and HBO nixed a television project based on that canceled book.
“I am deeply sorry and hope to have a chance to apologize directly to those I treated badly. It is the right and necessary thing to do,” Halperin said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “I cannot imagine how difficult this experience has been for them. I hope this will be a further step in my continued efforts to fully comprehend and make amends for the pain that I have caused.”
In recent months, Halperin has been carefully raising his public profile, resuming his social-media activity after a lengthy hiatus, and launching a political blog titled “Mark Halperin’s Wide World of News”—a throwback to his days of writing “The Note” when he was ABC’s political director two decades ago—in which he offers his opinions on subjects ranging from Attorney General William Barr’s congressional testimony to Joe Biden’s poll numbers.
According to knowledgeable sources, Halperin called the top editor at The Hill, the Washington-based political newspaper, to ask about job prospects, but was told there were no openings; Halperin was spotted having lunch in December with TiVo Chief Executive Tom Rogers at Manhattan’s media-centric Michael’s Restaurant, and, earlier last year, dining at the Washington political watering hole Charlie Palmer’s with senior presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Throughout Halperin’s rehab tour, Scarborough and Brzezinski especially have been offering moral support and more concrete assistance. According to multiple sources at MSNBC—which, along with NBC News, dismissed Halperin as an on-air political analyst when the allegations surfaced—the network scrapped a plan for the Morning Joe anchors last fall to collaborate with Halperin on an online-only program analyzing the 2018 midterms.
According to these sources, Scarborough and Brzezinski didn’t seek prior approval to involve their friend and former regular panelist in the show, and colleagues reacted with surprise and concern when they got wind of the scheme.
“Everybody was going ‘WTF!,’” said one MSNBC insider.
“All parties, including Mark, decided not to move forward with the midterm project for a variety of reasons,” a source with knowledge said, “including concerns by management that the online broadcast would detract from MSNBC’s coverage.”
Similarly, MSNBC managers were blindsided on April 5 when Brzezinski devoted a Morning Joe segment to Halperin’s rehab, playing and positively commenting on an audio clip of his appearance on Smerconish’s SiriusXM program, in which Halperin claimed he had engaged in “hundreds” of discussions with women on the subject of workplace sexual harassment and had come to a new understanding of how his misconduct had “hurt” people.
“I’d like to take the opportunity to again apologize to the women that I mistreated, who told their stories, and who were hurt by me,” Halperin told Smerconish before launching into a heartwarming account of his volunteer work with former prisoners at the Fortune Society, a convict rehabilitation nonprofit, and a pundit-like analysis of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
And then he commented on the controversy over various women’s complaints about Joe Biden’s unwanted touching.
Noting that many people would not be “the least bit interested in what I have to say about a topic like this”—namely the Biden flap—Halperin nevertheless continued: “I think this is a bit of a distraction. As serious as the charges are, and then as important as this debate is, I think Joe Biden is, despite his standing in the polls, an extremely overrated candidate.”
Brzezinski introduced the April 5 segment by touting political news “that actually was broken by Mark Halperin… about the Bernie Sanders campaign,” and added that he’d also discussed “his own personal situations and the terrible mistakes that he has made and addressed them. Let’s show that.”
According to multiple MSNBC sources, the cable outlet’s executives were not forewarned that Brzezinski was going to address such an internally sensitive issue in public, and they were not happy about it. MSNBC, Scarborough, and Brzezinski declined to comment for this story.
Brzezinski publicly supported Halperin from the start of the snowballing scandal, telling the Morning Joe audience in October 2017 that “nothing has been proven or adjudicated here” and that “Mark and Karen [Avrich, Halperin’s longtime girlfriend and the mother of their infant son] have been a part of Morning Joe’s extended family for years. They’re our friends and we believe it’s important to stand with our friends through even the most difficult of times.”
In December 2017, two months after Halperin’s firing, Brzezinski was compelled to publicly apologize after she complained on-air that several of his accusers had declined her offer to arrange a face-to-face meeting between them and their alleged sexual harasser.
Responding to Brzezinski’s complaint, 10 of Halperin’s accusers issued a statement attacking her “inappropriate comments” suggesting “that women who were assaulted by Mark Halperin owe him an opportunity to meet with him in person so that he can ‘apologize face-to-face.’”
Brzezinski was apparently chastened.
“In our discussion about sexual harassment this morning, I said some things that hurt people,” she said in her own apology. “In the case of Mark, my goal today was to start a conversation about hearing from the men whenever we can, but I realize that it is not my place. It isn’t my call to make, and for that I am truly sorry.”
Smerconish, meanwhile, has invited Halperin back on his radio show two additional times so far to share his political insights. In an email to The Daily Beast, the CNN host pointed out that during the initial April 4 appearance, he spent 10 minutes asking Halperin about his history of sexual misconduct before the conversation turned to politics.
“He seems genuinely sorry for what he did. My view is that to not let him opine after 2 yrs would be akin to a professional death sentence,” Smerconish emailed. “If he hadn’t apologized, I would not have invited him. But he did.”
Smerconish added: “My radio callers appreciated both his repentance and perspective, so I invited him back,” he said. “Mark is a smart guy.”
But during that chat, Halperin questioned whether some of his critics were sincere: “I wasn’t a perfect person when I made these mistakes. I’m not a perfect person now. I’m happy to be judged by perfect people.”
And some of Halperin’s accusers doubt his sincerity as well, expressing fury about his comeback attempt.
Among them is crisis-communications executive Eleanor McManus, who alleged that when she was a recent college graduate more than a decade ago, Halperin invited her to his office at ABC News, where he was political director, and made unwelcome sexual advances, including trying to kiss her and “a bit more,” as she wrote in a column for CNN.
“He leveraged his position as a prominent journalist to prey on women,” McManus told The Daily Beast, adding that, despite his public mea culpa, Halperin has not tried to personally contact her to apologize for his alleged misconduct.
“Before he is given that kind of power again, he needs to demonstrate genuine contrition—which includes apologizing to all the women he has victimized,” she said.
—Lachlan Cartwright contributed reporting.