HH: In this election season, a bold new bestseller is on stands everywhere, The Way To Win: Taking The White House In 2008, authored by Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News, John F. Harris, New York Times bestselling author of The Survivor: Bill Clinton In The White House, and a Washington Post writer. I’ve got Mark Halperin with me today. We’re going to spend the entire day talking about politics and the American media, what has happened to it, what we find ourselves doing as we elect a president. Mark Halperin, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
MH: Hugh, thanks so much. Appreciate a chance to be here.
HH: Let’s begin with biography. I always like to begin with biography. Are you a child of the Beltway?
MH: Well, I grew up two miles outside the Beltway, so I like to say I’m more in touch with real people, but also access to the Beltway. Now I live in New York City. I like to say I’m living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, so I understand the heartland better than if I covered politics from Washington.
HH: Now if you…which high school did you go to in Maryland?
MH: Public high school, Walt Whitman.
HH: Walt Whitman. And then off to Harvard, class of what? ’87?
MH: Class of ’87. Excellent research from the staff.
HH: And what did you study at Harvard?
MH: Japanese politics. The East Asian Studies department, as you know, at Harvard’s pretty darn good, and at a time when I was in college, Japan was rising. We were all going to be driving Toyotas, or making them, or both. And so I was interested in studying what the Japanese knew. The big book then was Japan Is Number One by Ezra Vogel, a Harvard professor who I studied with.
HH: And which house did you live in?
MH: I lived in Mather House. I’m sure that’s of great interest to many listeners to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
HH: That meant you were in exile from the pulse of the university.
MH: I was far in exile. In fact, as a freshman, I lived in a place called Pennypacker, which was not in Harvard yard, where most Harvard freshmen live. And then as an upper classman, I lived in Mather House, far down the Charles River. So even though I was, in theory, in the inside, elite institution, I was an exiled schlub.
HH: You’re telling me. Pennypacker was a dismal place. Now Mark Halperin, when you were at Harvard, did you…you were at the Crimson, correct?
MH: Oh, no. I didn’t. In fact, once I went for a job interview with someone that was then the Washington bureau chief of ABC News, just out of college, and I went for the interview. And I told him why I didn’t write for the Crimson. I said it was a big waste of time, and all my roommates did, and they never studied. It seemed like student journalism to me was a big waste of time, and he said that’s funny. That’s not the way I felt when I was president of the Harvard Crimson. I didn’t get that job, but then ABC did hire me. But I’d never done any journalism, student or otherwise, until I started working at ABC.
HH: So right out of Harvard, you went to ABC, though. It says in the afterwards, it’s been your only professional home.
MH: That’s correct. I came here answering phones, and photocopying, and doing something you don’t do anymore anywhere, I think, in the world, rolling telexes. And I’ve worked here covering politics mostly, but not exclusively, since 1988.
HH: So you’ve had almost twenty years at ABC. Explain what the political director of ABC News does.
MH: Well, ABC News is a multi-headed beast. You know, most people think of news organizations as kind of one entity, but we have Good Morning America, and Nightline, and World News Tonight, and This Week, and morning news, and a big radio network, largest radio news network in the country, and now we have the internet. So all of that is a big range of products, platforms we call them here, shows. And the idea is to have some editorial continuity on big voices. We have a law and justice unit, we have a medical unit. On politics, a big story, the idea is…requires a little bit more reportorial work than some other beats in TV, and also a little bit more continuity is important, and, particularly, in an election year. We work with all the programs to help plan our coverage, and then also to figure out what goes on the air, or on the web, or on the radio.
HH: So what’s your relationship, say, to…Dateline’s an ABC program, is it not?
MH: It is not. Thank you for not knowing that’s an NBC program. We have 20/20.
HH: 20/20, that’s it. What’s your relationship, say, to 20/20.
MH: Well, same as it is to all the other platforms. Again, we use that word now rather than programs, because of the internet and radio. Same as it is to them. They actually are programs that focus less on politics than say This Week with George Stephanopoulos, or World News with Charles Gibson does, but they cover politics occasionally. So if they’ve got an interview with Hillary Clinton, or doing something else connected to elections or government, we’ll work with them the way we do. We’ll support them with help with bookings, story ideas, preparing for interviews, questions, helping shape scripts, whatever it is they need to, again, it might require a little more expertise that we’re able to provide.
HH: Okay, take us inside your daily life, Mark Halperin. Obviously, The Way To Win is premised on your having been around politics for twenty years now. You covered Bill Clinton quite extensively in ’91, ’92, ’93. But what do you do when you get to…which part of Manhattan is ABC in? Right there on 6th Ave?
MH: Upper West Side. We’re kind of between Tavern On The Green and Lincoln Center.
HH: All right. So when you get to work, what’s Mark Halperin’s day like?
MH: Well, I have a two block commute, so I start out unlike most Americans. I don’t get a chance to listen to Imus or NPR, at least not in the car. My day can vary, really, depending on the time of year. I’m not making widgets in the same way every day. If we’re close to an election, as we are now, I’m very much focused on, from dawn to dusk and beyond, preparing ABC shows, platforms, for that day’s coverage. So there’s a day to day news coverage responsibility. There’s something we do here on ABC News.com called The Note, that I help write in the mornings on the weekdays. And then throughout the day, we’re, my colleagues and I within the political unit, they’re based in Washington, I’m based in New York, we’re working simultaneously on that day’s political news, helping whatever program is needed, but also with an eye towards the future, building sources and planning coverage for down the road. And even now, we spend a significant amount of our time planning for 2008, and the presidential race, as we’re still dealing with these mid-terms.
HH: Now your co-author, John Harris, Washington Post reporter, national political editor of the Post, how did you come to collaborate with him on The Way To Win?
MH: John and I have been covering politics for rival organizations, although we poll together. ABC News and the Washington Post have been polling partners for a while, and we became good friends. I covered Bill Clinton when he ran for president in 1991, ’92, and for the first couple of years of the Clinton White House. And then John covered Clinton, pretty much handing the baton off to him, by coincidence, for most of the rest of the administration. And we had long talked about doing a book. We didn’t know what the title would be, but the topic was going to be what we describe in The Way To Win as the freak show, the way our politics and our political media now are dominated by extreme voices. We wanted to try to explain that, try to write an unvarnished look at our own business, and talk about how that influences our national politics, particularly presidential races. As we had talked about that, not finding the right time to do it, because we’re both so busy, Karl Rove and George Bush engineered their third straight national political win, getting the President re-elected in underdog fashion in some sense. And there was great publishing interest in that question. What did George Bush and Karl Rove know how to do that made them, allowed them to win in an uphill struggle? Now a lot of that interest, I think, came from the liberals of the publishing industry, and of course, much of Manhattan publishing is dominated by liberals. And they looked at Rove as kind of this curious figure. I had been, as they say in Arkansas, knowing Karl Rove since the late 90’s, and had great respect for his abilities. And so the question was were there two books there, or was there one book that we could combine? And what we decided was we could explain Karl Rove’s success, but we could also explain the success of Bill Clinton, and look simultaneously at the way to win, a big component of which is this freak show environment. So John and I put our minds together, agreed that there was a cohesive book there, outlined it, and found a publisher who was interested in publishing it.
HH: Now talk to me about the collaboration, a little bit of inside baseball, because it is a complicated book. It’s quite long, got a lot of inside baseball in it, and where does Halperin leave off, and Harris pick up, etc? How did you divide the task here?
MH: Well, pretty seamlessly. In fact, I…sometimes, when I take a look at the text, I see a sentence, and it’s not at all clear to me who actually wrote it. I can’t remember in some instances if something was mine or John’s. The book is basically four parts, broadly defined. One is defining this freak show, saying what is the environment today in which presidential elections are waged. Second is looking at Bill Clinton, his successes and failures, and what you can learn from him. We interviewed Bill Clinton for the book. The third section is about Karl Rove and the Bush political operation. We interviewed Rove extensively for the book. And then finally, we look at Hillary Clinton, who we argue is very well positioned to be the next president, because she’s learned not just from her husband, but from Karl Rove and George Bush. John and I outlined it together. We then assigned ourselves different chapters, to write different sections to write. And then we just trade chapters back and forth and edit them. One of us would get writer’s block, and say you know, I was assigned this chapter on how Karl Rove used direct mail, but I can’t figure out how to structure it. We’d talk it over, get an outline down, and then just traded them back and forth endlessly. It could not be done except by e-mail. Again, John lives in Washington, I live in New York. But we didn’t really have any collaboration difficulties, and we didn’t really disagree very much. One or two instances we had some disagreement about how to frame some tougher issues involving the media. But in the end, we both stand behind every word, and proud of every word.
HH: Now given that it’s appeared right before an election, and it’s going to go powering forward into the 2008 cycle, does…is the media interested in it? And did you have conflicts within ABC and the Washington Post that Woodward, for example, has to negotiate, as to what belongs to you and what belongs to your organization?
MH: Right. Well, John wrote an adapted article for the Washington Post. I’ve appeared on many of ABC’s programs to talk about the book. There’s some interesting things in the book, some memos, some interviews. Again, we interviewed Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Karl Rove for The Way To Win. There’s some things in there that I’m sure our organizations might have been interested in, in a more timely basis, not the kind of hard breaking news, though, in all the one or two cases that Woodward seems to get. But that is a complexity, and our employers understood what we were doing, and they were comfortable with us holding the stuff we held for the book, including some e-mails of Karl Rove, some campaign documents that went to the Bush campaign or the Gore campaign. And the media interest has been pretty high. I understand we’ll be on the Hugh Hewitt Show, of which we’re proud. But we’ve been on…from ABC’s programs…in addition, we’ve been on all the cable networks, and a lot of other television and radio throughout the country, and I think great interest not just in the Bill Clinton and Karl Rove way to win, George Bush way to win, but also in this question of the media, because the country hates the media.
HH: Oh, boy, do we ever, and we’re going to talk about that when we come back.
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HH: Before we press on to the specifics, we’ve got to get our plumb lines down, Mark Halperin. We’ve got to locate you on the political map somewhere, so the people will know how to adjust for the lie of the green. Did you vote for Kerry or Bush last time around?
MH: I believe that if you are a reporter covering politics, in America today, certainly, and probably I’d have the same view in the past, I think it’s important to try to restore credibility to the media, what we call the old media. And that requires doing what…the metaphor I used to use was we’ve got to be like Catholic priests and give up sex. But that metaphor’s lost some of its currency. We have to step away from politics. We can’t have political views. So I don’t discuss my political views. I don’t discuss…I will say, somewhat controversial in the minds of some, I don’t vote, because I think that just opens up the question of how can I say I’m being objective, and fighting for truth, if I’m making a decision about who to vote for in a presidential race.
HH: So you’ve never voted in a presidential race?
MH: No. I just don’t think…I think it’s a sacrifice. I urge everybody else to. I think it’s incredibly important. I think it’s a sacrifice that any sane and rational reporter should make.
HH: I think it’s silly. I mean, because after all, you still like one better than the other.
MH: No, I really don’t. I like everybody I cover, and I dislike everybody I cover, and I try to do it in equal proportion. Here’s…think of this logically. If I were voting in a presidential election, if I were doing it conscientiously, I would have to reach some hard conclusions about who I thought would be a better president. That…if I were running for president, and I was being interviewed by a reporter who was making a judgment about whether to vote for me or not, I would find it disconcerting. I would know…and if I were a Republican, I would suspect they would be voting Democratic. I just don’t think it’s appropriate, if you’re covering presidential politics, to put yourself in the position, in both actuality in your head, and in appearance, that you’re going to weigh in. Plenty of other people in America vote, everyone should vote. I think the country can survive if the 180 of us who cover presidential campaigns understand the objectivity we must get to, if we’re going to restore faith and trust in these news organizations.
HH: We’ll come back to that vanity in a little bit. But first, let’s go back then before you were a reporter. 1984 is your first vote, if I’ve got this right. You were at Harvard at that time, so you were eligible to vote. Were you a Mondale guy or a Reagan guy?
MH: I didn’t vote.
HH: In 1984? This is before you were a reporter.
MH: I was unconscientious. A college student.
HH: You were a slacker?
MH: I was a slacker.
HH: Okay. 1988, I don’t know if…
MH: I was already working here.
HH: Come on. You didn’t vote in ’88?
MH: I just moved…it was a combination…I wouldn’t say that I didn’t vote in ’88 for principled reasons. By ’92, that was my principled position. In ’88, I had just moved to New York in January, and I wasn’t registered to vote where I lived, and I never got around it because I was so busy.
MH: Now I’m not proud of that, and I’m not saying I did it fully out of principle, but it was beginning to dawn on me that you couldn’t cover these things and also participate the way a normal citizen should.
HH: If you had voted in ’84, would it have been Mondale or Reagan?
MH: I just don’t take positions on candidates. And I think some people say you can’t…you must have an opinion. I see the strengths and weaknesses in both candidates. I’m willing to say that I think Ronald Reagan was a better president than Mondale probably would have been, based on what we know about him. But I have no view of those candidates, or any other match-up that you may ask me about.
HH: All right. Now let’s…then let’s put the plumb lines down on issues. Are you pro-choice?
MH: Hugh, it’s the same thing on issues as it is on candidates. I don’t think it’s appropriate, if you’re going to cover these things, to talk about views. I will say this, Hugh. I will say that many people I work with in ABC, and other old media organizations, are liberal on a range of issues. And I think the ability of that, the reality of how that affects media coverage, is outrageous, and that conservatives in this country for forty years have felt that, and that it’s something that must change. But what my views are, are not important, and just like I said on not voting, I think having views and expressing them is a dangerous thing. I have opinions and thoughts, but I think talking about them is only bad for America.
HH: Do you own a gun?
MH: None of your business.
HH: But I mean, that’s not an opinion. That’s just a fact.
MH: It’s still none of your business. You can ask me how much gin I have in my kitchen. I won’t tell you. It’s not relevant.
HH: How much gin do you have in your kitchen?
MH: (laughing) It’s not relevant to my book, or to my place in the public square.
HH: Do you play golf?
MH: I don’t play golf, I’m happy to tell you. I play miniature golf, and I play a mean game of miniature golf.
HH: The reason I bring up golf is if you play golf, you would understand my proposition, which I go through with every major political reporter who comes on here. And the variety of answers is interesting, which is you’ve written a book on The Way To Win, it’s full of opinions, cloaked and not so cloaked, but the ability of people to…
MH: There’s not much opinion in that book, I would say, but go ahead.
HH: Oh, we’ll go to them. I’ve got them marked out. The ability of Americans to evaluate your book, or even if they want to pick it up, will depend on a great deal on who Mark Halperin is. And if, in fact, you are a closeted left winger, or a closeted right winger, though I suppose it’s the former and not the latter based upon what I’ve read here, that they’re going to adjust their assessment of your advice as a result. I mean, that is a legitimate understanding of political…
MH: Well, my view of the world is people would be better off evaluating what journalists or historians or writers say based on their ideas, rather than whether they play golf or not. I know, although I don’t care for blogs all that much, I know that I’m attacked regularly by both the left and the right. I can tell you this. I’m certainly willing to say this, since I know you will continue to pursue defining me for the listeners to understand me. I have some views that I would say are very left wing by normal American standards, and some very right wing by normal American…
HH: Give us an example, and then we can perhaps move on. What’s a left wing view of Mark Halperin’s?
MH: No interest in talking about the specifics, but my point is, I’m neither…I cannot be pigeon-holed like so many people in the old media as very left wing, and I cannot be pigeon-holed as very right wing.
HH: But I mean, you can say that, but on what evidence can we believe that?
MH: You don’t have to believe it or not. I think if people are interested in the book, or interested in my reporting in general, they can evaluate it based on its quality and its fairness, rather than whether I play golf, or whether I own a gun.
HH: Obviously, it’s not about whether you play golf, it’s about the lie of the green. Let me try it this way.
MH: But let me say, I’m familiar with your work. I’m familiar with your outspoken views on some issues, but I don’t evaluate whether I think you’re making a smart point about the war in Iraq, or about what’s going to happen in the upcoming election based on your views on other issues. I evaluate based on the merit of your argument on any given instance. And I think that’s the way we need to get back to, Americans having a relationship with media.
HH: Now let me ask you, you’re familiar with Alger Hiss, right?
HH: Hiss was a communist, right?
MH: Best I can tell from the history books. I didn’t cover it contemporaneously.
HH: But you think he was? He was legitimately revealed as an agent of the Soviet Union?
MH: Based on all the evidence I’ve seen.
HH: All right. So he never, ever revealed that. Did that affect the way that he conducted his life?
MH: Oh, I’m sure it did.
HH: And so, if people have concealed agendas…obviously, I’m not saying you’re a communist. I want to make sure of that. But I’m talking about concealed agendas.
HH: The fact that they don’t reveal them doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. And so, I want to dwell a little bit on this, because I think it’s the problem with American media. And the most interesting part of your book to me was the last quarter of it, where you were talking about American media. I just, and I think vast majority of Americans don’t believe anything you folks say, because you won’t be honest with us.
MH: Well, the right in America has hated us for forty years, and believes we…our agenda is antithetical to theirs. And as we say in The Way To Win, there’s a lot of evidence for that. And news organizations putting their heads in the sand for forty years, and not caring that half the country thought we were too liberal and biased against them was an insane business decision. But it was also insane to do from the point of view of what we’re supposed to do as our core mission. The left now hates us, too, because they think we were too hard on Clinton, and too tough on Bush. They think we’re corporate, and easily cowed. They have a point as well. We need in this country strong news organizations that are not ideologically biased, that are not staffed by liberals, and that stand up to power of all sorts. Government, whether it’s Democratic government or Republican government, big labor unions, big business, that is a model that I believe in. It is not a model that works, if the organizations are either biased, or perceived as biased. I want to help change that. I’ve worked throughout my career to help change it, and that means getting liberals out of the newsroom, not replacing them with conservatives, but getting people who understand the ethos of being a journalist for an organization that is powerful enough to stand up to big interests, and earn the respect of the American people. We’re nowhere near there. That’s where I aspire to be.
HH: But why would anyone on the center-right side of the political spectrum…We’ll come back to this question.
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HH: Mark Halperin, in doing my research for this, I came across a fascinating piece by Lowell Ponte in Front Page Magazine, the ABC’s of Media Bias from October 14, 2004. Are you familiar with it?
MH: With Front Page? Or that piece?
HH: With that piece.
MH: It doesn’t ring a bell.
HH: In it, he attributes to you the political leanings of your father, Morton Halperin, whom he calls a famous radical left wing father, who shaped Mark Halperin’s political values. And I don’t know if that’s true or not. I know of your father, and his antagonism with Nixon and his senior policy positions in the Clinton administration. But given that you come from a liberal, or in Ponte’s view, radical family, doesn’t the American people have a right to know whether or not you share, for example, those opinions that permeated your household growing up before they absorb your analysis and your protestations of neutrality?
MH: Oh, Hugh, there’s so many ways to address that. I’ll start, you stop me when you’re bored. First of all, I don’t think people should be judged or assumed to be of the same ideological persuasion of their family members. Plenty of people have relatives, James Carville and Mary Matalin would be a good example, of people who don’t share political beliefs, but love each other and are part of a family. That would be one thing. Second, I would say, my father was head of Students For Eisenhower. He worked in the Nixon administration. He was close to Henry Kissinger. He’s worked in professional alliance with Oliver North…or Ed Meese, rather, and other conservatives. Probably that didn’t appear on Front Page. I don’t know if they solicited a view from Ed Meese about my father’s principled works on civil liberties issues with him. So that would be another thing I’d add to the equation. But I think the most important point is, I’m a journalist. And my views are not necessarily in line with many people who work in the old media. I believe, as I’ve said, I’ll say it again. I understand why conservatives think the old media is biased. I understand the ample evidence, and we give examples from the book. And I believe that they, conservatives are right to be skeptical of anyone who works in the old media, and of any story in the old media. But if people look at the balance of my work, and they look at what I’ve written with John Harris in The Way To Win, I think they will find that I’m part of solving the problem, of trying to build news organizations that the right doesn’t have to resent. And I will also say, not that it’s proof of anything, but you’ve chosen something from a right wing, right leaning website. You can go on plenty of left leaning websites, the Huffington Post and others, and I am attacked just as often by them with their own guilt by association, and circumstantial attacks, or selective reading of my work.
HH: Well, no, actually, it’s not where it comes from, it’s just simply the fact of who your father is. In fact, I tend to disparage this a bit, because it suggests…that’s where I got the idea you were with the Crimson. Ponte makes an error. He says you were the associate managing editor of the Harvard Crimson, and that’s just wrong, correct?
MH: Well, it’s wrong. I never wrote for the Crimson.
MH: But I’ll say, Hugh, you’re bringing up an article from the web, based on someone who you now know is sloppy at a minimum…
MH: …who you don’t really know about. Why are you listening to someone without checking out all of his background, to figure out what he believes? Why don’t you read what he says, see if in your judgment, anyone who’s in journalism has all the beliefs of their father. If that’s your position, more power to you. But there’s really no evidence of that. And as I’ve said, I think we should start to judge journalists, and bloggers if you wish, by the quality of their ideas, and the quality of their journalism, and the fairness of it, rather than saying well, this person won’t tell us if they’re pro 2nd Amendment, or this person used to live with this other person, and they’re liberal or conservative. I just don’t think that’s a winning way to understand fair and good journalism in America.
HH: Well, here’s why I find that curious. It’s not this article, it’s your father. And in The Way To Win, there’s quite a lot of bank shots in your analysis of George W. Bush, vis-a-vis his father, George Herbert Walker Bush. And so, the politics…
MH: Well, no, no. Which bank shots are you referring to? Be more specific, because the President’s father was president. He’s…41 is not very frequent in our book, so before you just throw out the parallel of a bank shot, I’d love an example.
HH: Well, does George Herbert Walker Bush have an impact on George Bush?
MH: Does he have an impact? Absolutely. I think any father has an impact on his son.
HH: And so what impact did George Herbert Walker Bush have on George Bush?
MH: Well, what we say in The Way To Win is…
HH: When it comes to politics.
MH: I’m sorry?
HH: When it comes to politics.
MH: What we say in The Way To Win is that George Bush happened…the first George Bush happened to be the most recent Republican president, that Karl Rove and George Walker Bush could study, and much of…that many of the lessons they learned about the way to win came in the inverse, and looking in the opposite, the negative of what George Herbert Walker Bush did. So they learned you’ve got to start running for re-election right away. They’ve learned you’ve got to keep the Republican base happy, they learned how to use the new media, they learned not to accept the liberal status quo in Washington, and sort of the permanent bureaucracy.
HH: And specifically, I’m looking for it, Mark Halperin. Didn’t you suggest that he carried some grudges into the 2000 campaign against members of the media which he concealed very carefully, because of their treatment of his father?
MH: We do say that in the book. That’s heavily reported out based on talking to people very familiar with George Bush’s thinking about those matters.
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HH: When we went to break, we were talking about how reporters, like political figures, may carry baggage from their parents’ conflicts into their political battles. Now Mark Halperin, your dad was very controversial. He had high profile conflicts with Nixon, and with Kissinger, though he worked with Kissinger. He is the ACLU director in Washington, D.C. He was policy planning staff. Are you telling the audience that that should not matter in our assessment of you whatsoever?
MH: Has anybody ever told you, as people…we were talking before the break, you were comparing it to our reporting about how George Walker Bush was influenced by his father. That’s based on reporting, and talking to people very familiar with President Bush and his campaign planning in 2000, 1999 and 2000. I’m a firm believer, Hugh, in the notion that parents affect their children, and I’m a firm believer in skepticism of the old media, and looking for bias. But you will look far and wide for someone who will tell you that my political reporting is based on anything having to do with my father.
HH: I’m not asking that. I’m asking do you admire your dad?
MH: I do.
HH: Do you admire his politics?
MH: I don’t have a public view on his politics. I don’t really have a private view on his politics, either.
HH: But do you think it would be natural for a reader to say oh, here’s Morton Halperin’s son, Morton Halperin is pretty hard to the left in American politics, pretty much a Clintonista, and as a result, that’s going to impact Mark Halperin’s coverage of politics. Don’t you…
MH: I think if that’s their view of how to evaluate ideas and the quality of ideas, for someone who was given an interview for the book by Dick Cheney, and multiple interviews by Karl Rove, suggesting…they knew who my father is, suggesting that they don’t think I’m biased. If that’s the way they want to evaluate ideas, I think they’re going to cut themselves off from a lot of quality ideas in America, from anybody, simply because of who their relatives are, or other people they know.
HH: Of course, that’s not what I’m arguing. Obviously, I think Cheney was right…
MH: You’re asking me should people be skeptical? I think anyone who’s conservative should be skeptical of anything the old media does. But if they look at what we say in the book about the old media, if they look at the quality of ideas, I think that they’d have no reason to be skeptical, that the book is not a straightforward and honest account of not just the right, but of the left, and of the media.
HH: But the old media is overwhelmingly liberal, correct, Mark Halperin?
MH: Correct, as we say in the book.
HH: And so everyone that you work with, or 95% of people you work with, are old liberals.
MH: I don’t know if it’s 95%, and unfortunately, they’re not all old. There are a lot of young liberals here, too. But it certainly, there are enough in the old media, not just in ABC, but in old media generally, that it tilts the coverage quite frequently, in many issues, in a liberal direction, which is completely improper. And it goes from the big and major like CBS’ outrageous story about President Bush’s draft record right before the 2004 election, to the insidious and small use of language describing Nancy Pelosi’s liberal policies and ideas different than they would Newt Gingrich’s conservative ones.
HH: And that’s what I’m getting at. Inside of ABC News political division, how many people work with you, Mark Halperin, in that division?
MH: You know, it’s hard to quantify it, because you’ve got people involved in a political year like this one, or during a presidential race, you’ve got hundreds of people who are touching our political coverage. There aren’t very many people, just a handful of us, are full-time political reporters.
HH: But with editorial control, a producer, an editor…
MH: It’s literally hundreds…
MH: Because again, you’ve got people on Good Morning America, people on World News Tonight, or World News, we call it now. So literally hundreds.
HH: Of those hundreds, what percentage do you think fairly, honestly, are liberal, and would vote Democratic if they voted?
MH: The same as in almost every old media organization I know, which is well over 70%.
HH: Isn’t it…Thomas Edsall, in an interview that I know you read, because you wrote me about it, he said 95…
MH: I think 95’s well overstated…
HH: He said 15-25:1 in the Washington Post, liberal to conservative. Do you think that’s fair?
MH: Absolutely. And again, I mean, look. John and I work for old media organizations. We write things in the book that most people in old media won’t admit. But we’re proud of our organizations, but I don’t want to say it’s singular to ABC. It’s in all these…it’s an endemic problem. And again, it’s the reason why for forty years, conservatives have rightly felt that we did not give them a fair shake.
HH: And so, given that we know that proportion is there, I don’t know the relevance that the fever swamp generates some antagonism towards you, that Daily Kos yells at you, doesn’t in any way, I think, not you personally, but media, doesn’t in any way change the basic underlying problem, which is that you’ve set up sort of castles full of liberal and hard left reporters, and that they’re criticized from the left doesn’t in any way diminish their left wing bias, does it?
MH: Not at all. It only adds to the current problems, or the previous problems of the left wing bias on a lot of issues. What it adds is, people feeling cowed from the other direction, and it adds to the general lack of respect, which we have brought on ourselves, because look, we are too weak, and we are too superficial, and we have failed to stand up to power, as we should, if we’re going to play a proper role in a democracy. So the left criticisms, I think, don’t diminish the liberal bias, but they do make weak organizations, already under siege, more under siege, taking fire from a different direction.
HH: Let’s get some terms into the art before we get into the second hour here, as we come to the conclusion of the first hour.
HH: Freak show and the gang of 500. First of all, does it help to repair the image of media that two of its prime practitioners from within the elite circle refer to politics as a freak show?
MH: We’re describing politics as it is today, not the way we think it ought to be. And I don’t think it helps make the country better to describe something without being honest about the terms of it. We believe that the current nature of our political media environment, because of all the unhappiness amongst the public, people in politics, people in political journalism, that freak show is a perfectly apt phrase.
HH: And how should it be?
MH: It should be…the media side or the politics side?
MH: Well, I think the media side, we should have strong, respected news organizations that are not liberally biased, that are strong enough to stand up to powerful interests across the political spectrum, and that care about the truth, rather than any sort of agenda, and that allow the country to feel that those organizations are honest and fair, rather than biased. On the political side, I think that extreme voices that…there’s room for partisanship, there’s room for, like George W. Bush and Karl Rove attempts to try to change the country, or move the country in one direction or another, but extreme voices who don’t believe in fact, who don’t believe in argument, but simply believe in destroying their opponents, should not be at the center of our political debate.
HH: Now going back to the idea of strong news organizations without bias, given that you’re setting yourself up as an example here, if you won’t ever answer questions about politics, issues, candidates, who you prefer…
HH: How could we ever know that their bias has been extirpated?
MH: Well, you couldn’t look into my soul, I know for sure, but you could look at the quality of my work and say does he, in his book, The Way To Win, from Random House, does he in his work on ABC News, does he in his dealing with sources, does he produce a product that is fair to everyone in America, not just to one side.
HH: You’re familiar with Dan Rather saying news is where you look, correct?
MH: I’m familiar with a lot of things Dan Rather has said and done.
HH: Well, news is where you look. The quality of your work isn’t going to tell us if the stories that you aren’t writing are impacted by the bias. I mean, I don’t know how…
MH: Well, if you see stories in other places, you can judge that.
– – – –
HH: Mark Halperin, on page 289 of The Way To Win, you quote David Shaw. And the way things have been going lately, the media may decertify itself. I think the media long ago decertified itself. Do you agree?
MH: I agree.
HH: And what does that mean?
MH: It means that the country lacks…look, the founding fathers? You’re a big fan of the founders, Hugh, right?
HH: Yes, I am.
MH: The founders saw the importance of a free press. What this country has now is a press that no one likes, and which is weak. And the reason George Bush and Karl Rove found the way to win in dealing with the old media, which Richard Nixon dreamed of doing, but couldn’t do, is because they recognized that we were seen as a spoiled, corrupt, biased, special interest that wasn’t interested in the public interest, and they’ve taken advantage of that. I deplore it, or I decry it in the sense that I wish everybody was helping build up the media, but I don’t blame them from a tactical point of view, because their supporters do not trust the old media, and do not like the way we behave in the briefing room, the output that we produce, and conservatives are trying to deal with an America more on their terms. And I understand why they’re doing that, and like I said, we are responsible for that, not George Bush and Karl Rove, not Richard Nixon.
HH: So here’s the conundrum. You quote David Shaw as a Pulitzer Prize winning Los Angeles Times media critic. Why should we care if he won a Pulitzer Prize, given the decertified nature of the media, given that nobody really cares?
MH: Well, because…I don’t know exactly why we included that he won the Pulitzer, but I…just to sort of make it relevant, because he’s not as talented of a writer as he was, wasn’t particularly famous. I think that’s why we put it in.
HH: Does it matter? Does the Pulitzer matter to anyone anymore?
MH: Probably not to real people, but within journalism, there’s some prestige associated with it.
HH: Is there still, even after this last round of really absurd awards to the New York Times?
MH: I think there’s at least some. But I think the point is that we think the quality of the argument Shaw was making was important enough that we quoted him at length, regardless of, I don’t know what his political views are, although…or were, but I do have a guess.
HH: What’s the guess?
MH: I think he was pretty liberal.
HH: Oh, yeah. (laughing) Way, way liberal.
MH: But the quality of his ideas, as we quote them, we think were powerful.
HH: Are there any main, big name journalists working today who’ve won a Pulitzer or not, or come in close, who are conservatives, Mark Halperin?
MH: I think…well, you know, in the new environment, Hugh, where you and Fred Barnes, and other leading conservative voices…
HH: No, I’m talking about the networks, CNN, ABC, the old media, plus the New York Times.
MH: There are some. There aren’t a lot, but there are some.
HH: Who? Names.
MH: I’d rather not name them, because they’re privately conservative, and I’m trying to get away from a world in which…I’ll say it again, because I don’t want anyone who tuned in late to misunderstand. The old media is filled with liberals. There are a few conservatives, but they’re just as entitled to their privacy as I am, but there are some.
HH: And these liberals…you know, Terry Moran on this program said…Terry Moran on this program from ABC, your colleague…
HH: …said that the media hates the military, has a deep suspicion of it. Do you agree with that?
MH: I totally agree. It’s one of the huge biases, along with gays, guns, abortion, and many other things.
[Editor’s note: Moran didn’t say that the media hated the military, but that there was a deep distrust of the military among the media. Halperin is in agreement with that statement, not the idea of “hatred” for the military among the MSM.]
– – – – – –
HH: We’re going to get into that this hour, but one more preliminary, Mark Halperin. The preliminary is the Halperin memo, dated October 8th, 2004. Allow me to read it for the benefit of the public. In your capacity as political director two years ago, you wrote, “It goes without saying that the stakes are getting very high for the country and the campaigns, and our responsibilities become quite grave. I do not want to set off an endless colloquy that none of us have time for today, nor do I want to stifle one. Please respond if you feel you can advance the discussion. The New York Times, (Nagourney/Stevenson) and Howard Fineman on the web both make the same point today: the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done. Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win. We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that. I'm sure many of you have this week felt the stepped up Bush efforts to complain about our coverage. This is all part of their efforts to get away with as much as possible with the stepped up, renewed efforts to win the election by destroying Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions. It's up to Kerry to defend himself, of course. But as one of the few news organizations with the skill and strength to help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest. Now is the time for all of us to step up and do that right." That occasioned enormous controversy. Was your memo understood?
MH: No, it wasn't. There's one debatable point in my memo, which I'm happy to debate. I don't believe a single critic that I have ever seen, raised the point that I believe is debatable, and subject to potential criticism. Everything else that I've ever seen written about it or heard said about it, described it in a way that's just not accurate. It's amazing to me that for people so passionate about how misleading the media is, that people could be that wrong.
HH: How was it distorted?
MH: People characterized it saying I supported giving Senator Kerry better treatment, even if he did things just as egregious as George Bush, that I was recommending to ABC News that we cover George Bush tougher than we cover John Kerry.
HH: And you were not?
MH: I was not. And I mean, the words are clear. You know, people write e-mails internally all the time, carelessly. If you read what I said, it's what I believe. It's what I believe today. And I'll say, this is not proof of anything, but I'll say, well after I read that memo, for The Way To Win, Karl Rove gave me multiple interviews for the book, Dick Cheney gave me an interview. I continue to put my sources in the Republican Party up against any of my competitors. I don't think they think of me as a biased reporter. I don't want to get off the context of the memo, but I'm just telling you that anyone who read it fairly, anyone who had a problem with it, there's one debatable issue. I'm happy to debate it and talk about it. There's one debatable issue. But nothing I've ever heard or read about what I wrote, addressed the actual point of the memo.
HH: What is the debatable issue?
MH: The debatable issue was whether at the time I wrote it, and at the time I wrote it, I believe this was true, although I also believe it was not true two weeks later. The time I wrote it, the Bush campaign's message, how they were trying to define the story of the day about John Kerry, contained exaggerations and falsehoods that were more egregious and more central to their campaign strategy, than what Senator Kerry was doing at that time. I consider one of the important roles of serious, strong news organizations, besides to not be biased, is to hold powerful interests accountable to the public interest. During a presidential campaign, voters need help, I believe, not in a patronizing or paternal way, but voters need help in understanding, as our friend Stephen Colbert would say, the truthiness of claims made by both sides. At the time of that memo, a critical point in the campaign, I believed that the arguments that the Bush campaign was making required significantly more truth squad'ing than the arguments Senator Kerry was making. Now two weeks later, Senator Kerry started saying George Bush was going to bring back the draft, and all sorts of things, and quickly caught up in message of the day that required truth sqad'ing. But at the time I wrote it, that was the single point. It had nothing to do with something I would never espouse, treating one candidate easier than the other...one candidate harder than the other. I would never be for that under any circumstances. And if I were, I certainly wouldn't write it down.
HH: Were you...what were the distortions that Bush-Cheney were peddling at that time, that were significantly greater than Kerry's?
MH: I wish I had prepared to answer that in detail. I can tell you...as I remember them, I'll tell you. One was regarding Senator Kerry's health care plan, and the cost of it, and the degree to which it was bureaucratic. That was one. Another was something he had said about international organizations. I don't remember the specifics. And a third had to do with what Senator Kerry was calling for, regarding tax increases, and who it would impact.
HH: Now in the memo, you write Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win. What examples of Kerry distortion were you referring to?
MH: At the time, you know, I can't remember. I mean, it's commonplace for any presidential campaign to take liberties like that. I think they're criticisms of the economy, and the war on Iraq at the time, if I remember correctly the context. But I don't think I was referring to anything in particular, just the run of the mill distortions made by any presidential campaign. And to make it clear, I don't think the Kerry campaign was some paragon of virtue, that didn't lie and distort all the time, just as I said in the memo. But at the moment I wrote it, they were not as central to the message they were trying to drive.
HH: Do people...were they justified in seeing this in the context of this campaign, after the National Guard story, as yet...and after Evan Thomas in Newsweek says, you know....
HH: We're going to give him 10 points...I can't remember what he said, 15 points, whatever it was.
MH: Yeah, right. I know what you are referring to.
HH: Doesn't this fit right into that narrative, and oh, here comes MSM ready to help Kerry?
MH: I know. I know. First of all, I never say MSM, because I don't believe the old media is mainstream. They're out of the mainstream on most of the issues I've been referring to. So I don't use that phrase. I believe that as I've said several times, happy to say again, that anyone who's conservative in this country has every justification to be skeptical about anything, an internal memo, or product that goes on the air, from the old media, because of a forty year or more history of liberal bias on a range of issues. And after what CBS News did in 2004, regarding the President's National Guard record, I would be...I am thankful that any conservative looks to us every for news and information, given how outrageous what they did was.
HH: Should Dan Rather have been allowed to stay on the air after that story ran?
MH: I don't believe he should have. And when his producer, Mary Mapes, wrote in her book that people didn't prove the documents were forgeries, and therefore, the onus was on them, that to me compounded it in a beautifully poetic and horrible way. No, I don't believe anyone associated with that should have been allowed to work at CBS News, and they should apologize not just to their colleagues and the President, but to the country for setting back any efforts that have been made to succeed in trying to prove to people that we are not bias. The bias associated with that is outrageous. That having been said, other examples I could give, examples we give in the book, which I'm happy to go through, I understand why people would be skeptical. But the problem with America today is that people willfully or stupidly misread what I wrote, never...I'm willing to debate the question were Bush's lies more central. I'm happy to debate it. If I'm invited to a debate, though, I'll have to prepare more for remembering the things you just asked me to recount. But I'm not happy to debate the point of am I like other people in the old media bias, or does that memo reflect a mindset of bias. It does not, because I am not biased on those ways.
HH: Do you read the blogs?
MH: I do some. I find them argumentative, and I find them often to be writing about things, getting facts wrong, and we've gone over some of them here, including one about me. So I don't have as much time to do it as I want. I read a lot of summaries, including an excellent summary prepared by the National Journal's Hotline every day. So not a day goes by when I don't know, have a sense about what's going on in blogs.
HH: You think the Hotline Blogometer is biased?
MH: I think it skews a little bit to the left, but...
HH: It skews way to the left in terms of just gross number of citations. It's just...anyway...
MH: It does in terms of citations, but I skim over the liberal ones more, because there's just too many of them. But in terms of old...they're not old media, because they're distributed on the web. But their sensibility is more establishment. They give more voice to conservative voices than most comparable things.
HH: Which ones do you read in their original?
MH: There's none that I read consistently. If there's a topic, like for instance, during the CBS News fiasco, I read the people who were leading on that, mostly conservatives. And I'll say that ABC News was happy to be very aggressive in going after CBS on that story. So I was reading those. If there's something about Iraq, I'll read people who focus on that. The main ones, like your own, Powerline, that deal with issues of the day, whatever's hot, I'm more likely to read if I'm alerted to the notion that the blogosphere is where the creative thinking is on a given story on a given day.
HH: So the bloggers are not part of the gang of 500?
MH: They are not. The gang of 500 is a fictional group of people that John Harris and I write about in The Way To Win, and we write about in our Note on ABC News.com, somewhat tongue in cheek, but there is an establishment, semi-bipartisan, although the gang of 500 is very much dominated by liberals, group, that makes a lot of decision within presidential politics, and sets the conventional wisdom of the storyline of the day, what's going to happen on election, what the status of a given presidential candidacy is, et cetera.
HH: Now that's what interests me, is that so much of Campaign 2000 was driven by people not in your definition of gang of 500, but were in fact driven by new media. And yet, you don't read them. The gang of 500 may be irrelevant.
- - - - -
HH: Mark Halperin, at the beginning of the book, and I'm going to jump to the back, Understand and Control In The Old Media. At the beginning of the book, it is clear to me that you have a very favorable impression of Bill Clinton, and that to some extent, you believe his presidency was successful.
MH: I have a favorable view of his political skills, and for the skills that you can learn if you're thinking about running for president in 2008. I think his presidency, like all modern presidencies, is a pretty mixed bag.
HH: But do you admire him?
MH: I wouldn't use that word.
HH: Do you think he was a liar?
MH: I don't think that's a subject of debate.
HH: Is that a yes?
HH: Did he lie under oath?
MH: I...by almost any definition, and by my own, yes.
HH: Okay. Now the reason I bring that up is this paragraph. "Bush skeptics might wonder why, if this book is about winning presidential elections, it does not celebrate Al Gore, who won more votes than Bush in 2000. Even Bush's unambiguous 2004 victory was achieved by coolly exploiting the advantages of being a wartime president. Now the same war threatens to sink his presidency. If Bush and Rove know the way to win, why can't they figure out how to do it in Iraq?" Now that seems to me to be almost perfect pitch, hard left critique of Bush.
MH: Now that sentence, as is much of the book...I don't have the copy in front of me. Is that in italics?
HH: No, it's not.
MH: That sentence, like some others in the book, that's a sort of rhetorical sentence of the point of view of the skeptics. And if you read within that section about Clinton and Gore as well, there's a skepticism, not our voice, although I don't think it's an unfair question to pose, which is Bush and Rove had incredible success for five years. In 1999 through 2005, beginning of 2005. So the question we're raising, although the tone and wording of the sentence you raise is more supposedly leaning towards people who are skeptical of that argument, rather than making it ourselves, is what happened to that great political skill? What is the theory that explains why Bush and Rover were so successful for five years, just as we talk about why did Bill Clinton have success? And again, our book is less about governing, and more about elections. Why did Bill Clinton have success in '92, '96, and '98 to some extent, but was routed in '94? Why did Bush and Rove have success in 2000, 2002, 2004, but look to be having trouble for the mid-term elections?
HH: But I'm curious. When you use the phrase 'to sink his presidency', what do you mean to convey by sinking his presidency?
MH: Oh, that, if you look at what...the record of incredible political success, we argue greater in some ways than Ronald Reagan, that Bush and Rove had, again, 2001, 2, 3, 4, into 5. Then you look at what happened in 2005, and into 2006, where he stopped achieving the major things, difficulty with immigration, but more to the agenda, difficulty passing social security reform, and also approval ratings significantly lower than he had in his first five years.
HH: And that's what I was wondering if you...you care about approval ratings.
MH: Well, again, we're writing a book about political strategy. This isn't a book about is the President's Iraq policy good, or did Bill Clinton's welfare reform work. We're not writing about policy, except as it relates to winning elections, and also, and also building political capital to get things done. We write ideas matter, for instance. We're not just political hacks here who are writing about them. But we're writing about winning. George Bush's chances in these mid-term elections, I think, would be greater had he not had problems with Harriet Miers, Dubai Ports, the war in Iraq, social security, and if his approval ratings were higher.
HH: But last hour, you argued that American politics needs to be fixed, and isn't focus on approval ratings one of the things that most undermines the ability to 'fix it', in your view?
MH: Well, we're not...we write in the book very clearly that if George Bush and Karl Rove look down on Bill Clinton, because they felt he used the presidency to try to get small things accomplished, rather than big things. And when you try for big things, as George Bush says regularly, it can hurt your approval ratings. We're not taking a position, as I said, on his policies, whether they're good for the country or bad. But as a matter of politics, the chances of George Bush achieving the remaining things on his to do list, from his initial campaign promises, those chances are lower, because his approval ratings are lower, and because his party does not appear to be ready to win the mid-terms the way George Bush and Karl Rove won their first three national elections. So I don't think...approval ratings are about popularity, just like polls. So I don't think there's anything evil about a president wanting to be popular, and I don't think there's any doubt that if a president is popular, he or she's more likely to be able to get something done. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
HH: Another quote. "Clinton politics is the politics of the center. Bush politics is the politics of the base. It holds that people are angry in the main, because the issues and values dividing America are real and consequential." Again, as a fan of Bush and his administration, I view that as a pretty obvious display of bias, because Clinton was no more of the center than I am. He's a partisan. He was a pretty liberal partisan, obliged, occasionally, to sign a welfare reform act he'd previously vetoed, or to go along with the defense of marriage act, because of the overwhelming possibility that his veto would have been overridden. But basically, a pretty hard left, in American politics, as far as you go, lefty. And when you describe him as centrist, I begin to suspect that maybe something else at work here, that you really don't see him for what he is.
MH: All right. Let's talk about that in a couple of ways, Hugh. First of all, was the President's prescription drug benefit the biggest entitlement extension of all time? Was that centrist? Liberal? Moderate? What was that?
HH: That was liberal.
MH: Liberal. So you're a fan of George Bush, but you're willing to say that in that case, he did something center or liberal, right?
MH: Okay. Bill Clinton, when we talk about him as a centrist, we're mostly talking about Clinton politics as we define it in the book, which is the politics which says go for high approval ratings. When Bill Clinton was at his most unpopular, he was like in the 40's. He wasn't down in the 30's. Clinton politics says do things that get broad approval, and that's the key to success. Now again, as I said before, George Bush and Karl Rove looked down on that. They didn't want to use the presidency to build consensus for school uniforms and V-chips. They wanted to use the presidency to change the country in a more conservative direction, and to have the national institutions, the academy, labor unions, even certainly the federal government, represent just how conservative the country is. Centrism, for Bill Clinton, as define it, is about looking for those issues that build broad approval, rather than saying was he very liberal on a lot of issues. Of course Bill Clinton's very liberal on a lot of issues. But on some issues, on some issues, he was to the right of George Walker Bush, Herbert Walker Bush, and I would say, he didn't pass the greatest entitlement expansion in my lifetime. So he did some things that were to the right...
HH: Did he radicalize politics by inventing the politics of personal destruction?
MH: I think what Bill Clinton did, we say in The Way To Win is, he helped usher in this freak show. The politics of personal destruction was part of it, but it was also making the office of the presidency undignified, wearing shorts into the Oval Office, answering boxers and briefs...
HH: That was hardly how he made the Oval Office undignified.
MH: Well, there's that, too. But we're talking about early on in his presidency, with the birth of the freak show, in the early 90's when he got elected. Obviously, he did more to further this along later on through his personal conduct. But the ability of this president, and certainly this first lady, as we write in the book, to restore some of the dignity, personal dignity to the office, has been quite an achievement in the wake of what Bill Clinton did, given the freak show environment in which we live. I wouldn't put the majority of the credit, or blame, rather, for the politics of personal destruction, or the advent of the freak show, on Bill Clinton's doorstep. There are plenty of other players who contributed. But he certainly deserves his share of the blame.
HH: I'm curious about that, because he brought Carville and Begala to town, and they own the patent, don't they?
MH: There are plenty of people in Republican politics who are just as tough as they are.
HH: No, but I'm talking about who brought it to town.
MH: You know, look Iran Contra, John Tower, there were plenty of people in both parties...
HH: Robert Bork. I mean, they borked...
MH: Robert Bork, yeah. I wasn't trying to be...what's the word, say everything...comprehensive. There were antecedents in the Reagan and Bush 41 years, a style of politics where the incentive, this is how we define the freak show, the incentives on both sides are for the culture of attacks, the politics of distortion. And Bill Clinton fed it and fueled it and moved it along, but it was already starting before he got there...
HH: Mark Halperin's my guest. I'll be right back.
- - - - -
HH: Special edition of the Hugh Hewitt Show, dancing with the media beast. Mark Halperin is the political director at ABC News. Along with John F. Harris, he’s the author of the new book, The Way To Win: Taking The White House In 2008. He is, in my view, almost perfect pitch MSM, though he rejects the term MSM, because it’s not mainstream. I want to go first…
MH: Hugh, I’ve got to stop you. Sorry.
HH: Go ahead.
MH: You say I’m almost perfect pitch MSM.
MH: I’d love for you, based on the conversation we’ve already had, to explain that.
HH: Well, you’re not candid.
MH: Name anything I haven’t been candid on. You mean, I won’t tell you my personal political beliefs?
MH: Do you want to live in an America where there’s media that’s just all based on being pro-Bush or anti-Bush?
HH: No, I want to live in an America where there’s a media that I can understand, and understand where they’re coming from, so that I can correct for their deep-seated bias, which distorts the news, so that it drives the country in bad directions.
MH: So you reject the model which says that there can be a news organization staffed by people who aren’t biased?
HH: Yes, absolutely. I reject that model.
MH: All right. Well…
HH: I’ve rejected that model forever. I think most of America rejects that model. I think you guys in Manhattan and D.C. have persuaded yourselves that eventually, America will accept you back after shattering your credibility, and it’s just never going to happen, because we don’t believe you.
MH: I think it’s a hugely uphill strike, because everybody’s against us. But I believe in, and I think the founders agreed with this, I don’t always think that what we should do is what the founders did, but I think we should aspire to have fairness. And I will tell you…
HH: Wait, wait, wait. Time out. You know, now you’re on my turf. Have you read the Hamilton biography about fairness? I mean, these guys did not believe in fairness. They believed in saying what they believed, and going at each other with pitchforks and clubs. And Jefferson and Hamilton hated each other, and you knew what they thought, and they brought their opinions candidly to every conversation.
MH: They wanted a free press that could influence reasoned debate.
HH: Yeah, but everyone knew what everyone believed, so if, in fact, it’s the letter from a Westchester farmer and Hamilton fires back in the course of…inciting revolution in Manhattan, everybody knows what people believe.
MH: Hugh, let me go back to the modern age, because I can’t compete…
HH: Yeah, you want to run away from the framers in a hurry.
MH: Exactly. But let me say this. If you want…I think the country should have strong news organizations that are fair. I agree, given the way the left, and particular the right feels about us, that it’s real uphill. But that’s what I believe America should aspire to. If, though, you want to in a casual introduction, lump me in with people in my business who are liberally biased and don’t seem to care about it, I think that’s doing your listeners a disservice. They should read the book and what we say in The Way To Win about how the media’s been liberally biased in presidential campaign coverage, what needs to be done to try to fix it, and why the current system may not be any better with new media. But to lump me in with everybody else, I think, is doing people a disservice, because most of my colleagues, as you know, are in denial about it, or blind to it.
HH: Well, actually, I’ve had Thomas Edsall on this program. I’ve had Peter Beinart on this program. I’ve had…
MH: I didn’t say everybody…
HH: …Joel Stein on this program. I’ve gotten all sorts of people on here, and nine out of ten refuse to be candid. And in that regard, I think it is the defining quality of modern elite media, is that they don’t trust their audiences, that you have to play…
MH: I trust my audience to look at the quality of my work, rather than knowing what political beliefs I might have.
HH: Well, let me digress, because this always gets to this point. If you have reporters, are they allowed to report on business in which they have an investment?
HH: Of course not. No one is allowed to do that. I think almost every political reporter has an emotional investment, or an ideological investment in the way that politics turns out, and more often than not.
MH: They shouldn’t.
HH: They shouldn’t, but they do.
MH: That’s what I’m trying to fix.
HH: But you’re not fixing it by not telling us what you think. If everyone in your newsroom…
MH: I work very hard to take whatever beliefs I have, and bend over backwards to make sure that no one is treated unfairly by coverage that I impact.
HH: Mark, if you’re all left-handed, you’re not going to be able to hit from the right side of the plate, all right? If you’re all left-handed, you’re not going to be able to cover pro-life politics the right way. If you’re all atheists, you’re not going to be able to understand…
MH: That’s why we need to have the newsroom not filled with people who are all atheists, or anti-2nd Amendment.
HH: But if we can’t figure that out, how in the world…
MH: We have to work on it, Hugh. We can’t give up. We have to work on it.
HH: But how do we know you’re working on it when you won’t answer the questions?
MH: Because I’m telling you that my views, to the extent I have them, and I’m very good at pressing them out of my brain, do not impact my attempt to be fair to everyone I cover.
HH: But Mark, was Mary Mapes fair?
HH: Okay. There are more Mary Mapes. Even if we believe for a second…
MH: Hugh, Hugh, Hugh. Stop going back…
HH: …and there’s no reason to believe you…
MH: Stop going back to the stuff we agree on, because we can talk less about the book if you do that. I agree with you that the Mary Mapes’ of the world are ruining it for the rest of us, and they are the dominant majority. We’ve got to fix it.
HH: I know that, but what I’m saying is, until and unless you begin to answer, and newsroom people begin to answer questions…
MH: No, Hugh, that’s not the paradigm that I’m going for. You and I disagree about this. The paradigm for me is not for everybody to have left wing or right wing bias, announce them, and then cover news that way. That’s not to me the way the country will be great and well served by news and information.
HH: Mark, have you…
MH: That’s what you think. That’s not what I think.
HH: Let me ask you. Have you been to Church or Synagogue in the last month?
MH: Again, it’s the same as asking me if I own a gun, or if I’ve ever had an abortion.
HH: Well, I know about the latter one. But my point of view is, that if there’s no one in ABC News who attends Church…
MH: I agree with your point of view on that, Hugh.
HH: Okay. So how do we ever figure out when to start trusting you again?
MH: By judging us based…if we can every produce a product that isn’t bias, you’ll know.
HH: But you can’t possibly believe that. We’ll come back from break.
MH: I do, Hugh. I keep saying it.
HH: No one will ever believe you.
MH: That’s a problem. I agree. It’s a big problem.
HH: No one will ever believe you.
– – – –
HH: Mark Halperin, page 213, one of your trade secrets, being nice helps you win presidential campaigns. Now explain, first of all, when you use the trade secret, these are the aphorisms, these are the pithy, little summaries that you and Harris have gathered after covering politics since ’92?
MH: Well, more specifically than that, we interviewed, as I said, Bill Clinton. We both covered him for a long time, but we interviewed him up in Chappaqua for the book, repeated interviews with Karl Rover over the years, including several for the book, interview with Vice President Cheney, and many of their associates, for the book. So it’s not our trade secrets or our advice. It’s what we’ve culled from them that based on what works. Now a lot of these things are things that worked both for Bill Clinton and George Bush and Karl Rove. Some of them, though, are more particular to one side or the other, or one side has excelled. A lot of liberals think you can’t learn anything from Karl Rove. He’s only succeeded because he’s tough and ruthless, and will do anything to win, and evil. And a lot of conservatives think well, you can’t learn from Clinton, because he’s just a lying guy and a politician of a lifetime, and slick. We approach it from a different point of view, and say again, a book about the sport of politics. We don’t reject ideas completely, but in The Way To Win, being nice is something that Karl Rove countered as an impression painted for him unfairly by the liberal media, is a really nice guy, and it helps him win elections.
HH: Do you think he’s evil?
HH: Okay, just checking. Now John Kerry…
MH: Let me say one thing we say in the book about Karl Rove, who I respect and enjoy…I enjoy his company. If you look at the allegations of Karl Rove that have been propagated in Texas and in Washington by the media, the liberal media, and by Democrats, and you look at the allegations, there’s…except for the useful indiscretions to which Karl has admitted, there is no evidence for the allegations against him. And the ability of the press to paint him as this evil guy, and say that accounts for his success, is fundamental and outrageous. Maybe he did the things he’s accused of, but to have this guy’s image portrayed and defined by things that are accusations that are unproven, we say in the book is really outrageous.
HH: Were the Swift Boat Veterans pursuing a legitimate storyline with John Kerry?
MH: Many of the allegations they made raised serious questions about Senator Kerry’s truthfulness and judgment, but not all of them.
HH: And I agree with that. Now do you believe that John Kerry was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968?
MH: You know, Hugh, one of the things we say in the book that Senator Kerry really messed up, again, from the point of view of tactics and strategy, is he does…I don’t think he knows. So many of the allegations against him about Vietnam, and particularly about his anti-war record, are things that if he knows the answers, he’s keeping them a secret from his own staff. On that one, my guess is he was, just because there seems to be more evidence that he was than he wasn’t. But from a political point of view of professional competence, the fact that he couldn’t just nail the answer is absurd.
HH: Do you believe he has his magic hat that the CIA gave him on a mission to Cambodia? Do you believe that thing?
MH: I’m about 60/40 against, but I don’t feel strongly about it. But again, it goes to the pattern of A) not knowing the facts, and B) not being truthful about the facts.
HH: Was Al Gore a victim of the same serial exaggeration?
MH: Gore is an interesting case. Many of the things that Gore did, was accused of exaggerating about, were unfair. The press, and in particular, the new media allied with the right, really did an excellent job from a point of view of campaign tactics of blowing…
HH: Have an example?
MH: Of blowing him up? Yeah, I think he didn’t really say he invented the internet, for instance. He didn’t say that he was the model for the character in Love Story. He didn’t say that he discovered Love Canal. All of those things, I think, were exaggerated. However, we have some campaign memos, not from 2000, but from 1988, that had been previously reported, in which Gore was warned, you are going to lose this election if you don’t stop exaggerating, because this is the image the press has of you. So he was warned 12 years out. When he was running in 2000, they warned him again, and I think there’s something about Al Gore that makes him exaggerate things. But as I just said, some of the examples that were used, and became media firestorms, were not fairly handled.
HH: Which one was fairly handled?
MH: Let’s think of some good ones. Well, some of the ones from ’88 were. I think his discussions about the role he played in…what’s the thing called? Reinventing government, and how successful it was, I think were terribly…
HH: How about from ’92, though?
MH: Say again?
HH: How about from ’92? What sticks out in your mind?
MH: You don’t mean ’92, do you? You mean when he was…
HH: I mean 2000.
MH: From 2000?
MH: Well in that campaign, he made lots of claims about what he’d done. I think his description of letters he’d…at least one letter he’d written about being pro-life, and explaining whether or not he’d every been pro-life, I think he handled that poorly.
HH: How about his dog’s arthritis medicine?
MH: Same one. He just didn’t have his facts straight. He was factually wrong when he said he traveled with James Lee Witt on a particular trip to Texas. I think he was wrong about that, but I don’t think the severity of misremembering a trip is that extreme. So let me be clear what I think about this. While many were blown out of the proportion, the guy had a long-running tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments, and to get facts wrong. And he paid a price for that.
HH: Now this is a hard question, but I’m hoping for candor on this.
HH: Gore and Kerry, relative to, say, Clinton in terms of intelligence. Are they lightweights? Or are they equally gifted?
MH: Well, they’re not equally gifted as politicians.
HH: I’m talking about intellect.
MH: It’s hard to define. I think Gore is, in terms of just pure intellect, like here’s a problem, go solve it, Gore is one of the smartest people I’ve met in politics. Clinton’s smart in his own ways. I’d say Kerry is smart, but not in the class of the other two.
HH: Okay, how about this famous one.
John Kerry: I actually did vote for the $87 billion dollars before I voted against it.
HH: Was it unfair what Rove did with that?
MH: Absolutely not.
MH: Because in politics, if you say something that is not just open to ridicule rhetorically, but demonstrates your inability to be constant and unwavering in a time of national security crisis, the public can and should see that.
HH: Okay, now I’m going up to the…the most fascinating part of this book begins on page 285, Understand and Control The Old Media. This is advice to candidates on how to win to the presidency. And it begins with this premise. I want to quote this. “When he became a presidential candidate, George W. Bush shrewdly hid his fury. He understood that as long as the old media held substantial power in the electoral process, it was not a candidate’s interest to challenge its members directly.” You go on to write that, “Bush and his political team determined to live a double life during the 2000 campaign. In private, they shared much of Richard Nixon’s critique of the old media, while in public, they were doling out pet names, harmlessly chatting on the campaign plane, and staging fun to choreograph events.” You know, that’s a little psychological analysis going on there.
MH: No, it’s not psychological at all. It’s based on heavy reporting, knowing the Bush people from the late 90’s onward, and talking to them about what they thought of the media, including President Bush.
HH: Where do you have any evidence of President Bush’s fury?
MH: From reporting in Austin, Texas, with people very familiar with what George Bush thought about the press.
HH: I don’t see any quotes here, though. Are there any quotes about his fury in this chapter, because I…
MH: Do you disavow, do you denounce the legitimacy of background interviews, where you learn what people say, but don’t quote them directly?
HH: Yes, I do.
MH: You do? Well, we’ll have to disagree about that, because sometimes, that’s the only way to know the truth.
HH: So you’ve got a secret source?
MH: I’ve got many sources.
– – – –
HH: Mark Halperin, did you applaud the New York Times’ decision to publish the story about the National Security Agency’s surveillance of al Qaeda conducting communications with their operatives in the United States?
MH: Hugh, can we go back? Can I exercise the guest prerogative and to go back to something we were finishing up on when we had to go to break?
HH: You bet.
MH: We were talking about some reporting in the book about what President Bush, then Governor Bush, thought about the media. Are you equally troubled by things in the book where we characterize what the Clintons thought without direct quotes?
HH: I don’t like direct quotes…
MH: You don’t like the absence of direct quotes.
HH: I don’t…I do not like the Woodward infection that has spread throughout the media, where we’re supposed to take it on…it doesn’t work in the law, it doesn’t work in any other field except journalism.
MH: Well, that’s a different view of journalism than what many people have, but I recognize that that can cause some skepticism. On the particular point you raised, I urge you to talk to your friends in the Bush administration. Read them that and ask them if they disagree that that was George Bush’s…
HH: I just think the choice of fury is an interesting one, that it attempts…
MH: Hugh, you know what? Ask them about that specific word, and see what they say.
HH: All right. Now, how about the NSA story? Did you applaud the New York Times?
MH: Did I think they should have published it? Is that what you’re asking?
MH: I would want to know more about the conversations that the management of the Times had with the administration, and what arguments they made. I think one of the hardest decisions any news organization has to make is when they’ve got a story they believe is in the public interest, and a matter, right for public debate, but the executive branch argues that there are national security concerns that should warrant them holding a story. I think often, as a principled matter, news organizations should do that at times. My news organization has done it. I think as a matter of history, we often see cases where the executive branch waives the notion of national security around in order to inhibit a controversy or a debate about something they don’t want to debate. In this case, without knowing the arguments that were made, it’s hard to know which it is. But I do think it’s important in a free society, regardless of which party is in power, for the press to be skeptical of that claim, but to give it a fair hearing.
HH: Is it possible that that story assisted terrorists in eluding capture?
MH: Is it possible? Sure.
HH: Is it possible that the story about the SWIFT banking system that the Times ran, and the L.A. Times ran, assisted terrorists in eluding capture?
MH: That one is less likely…
HH: Doyle McManus said it was, from the L.A. Times.
MH: Well, he’s a smart man, but he may not be right. That one’s less likely, only because it appears that the program and its outlines had been written about, and terrorists probably thought that was happening anyway. But that doesn’t go to the question, again, I think responsible news organizations need to hear out the executive branch, understand the balance between aiding our enemies and fostering a public debate. But without knowing the specifics, you just don’t know if the balance was struck right or not.
HH: Was CNN right to air the sniper shooting an American Soldier film?
MH: I confess ignorance. I know about the issue, but I haven’t seen the footage. I just don’t know.
HH: And did Eason Jordan and CNN, cooperating with Saddam all those years, violate your understanding of what journalism is supposed to do?
MH: I know the specific case you’re talking about. I will say tentatively, it does violate it, but I don’t know the facts. At the time of the story, I was too busy to wade into it. But based on what I know about it, I’ll give it a tentative yes, but I don’t know for sure.
– – – –
HH: Mark Halperin, what you’re doing right now is selling book on an AM talk show, syndicated across a hundred different stations…
MH: And an outstandingly respected one.
HH: And fifteen hours a week, and it’s part of a lineup that begins with Bennett in the morning, and goes to Laura Ingraham, and then Rush is on, and Dennis Prager, and Michael Medved, followed by me. And there are a bunch of others, Sean Hannity out there who are good at what we do. Actually, I think we matter so much more than old media now, but what’s your assessment of the relative influencing of the culture that goes on between old and new media.
MH: Well, as we say in The Way To Win, the trend line is clearly towards old media being less influential. But you know, look, 25 million people a night still watch the three evening network newscasts. That’s a lot of people. 2 million listen to, watch Bill O’Reilly’s program, for instance, far and away the most successful show on cable. So in terms of eyeballs, the old media still has a dominant position in the upcoming mid-terms and Senate and House races. Voters are going to get a lot of their information from paid television ads that go on broadcast television. So the old media is a relic, and it’s lost a lot of influence and economic market share, but it’s still pretty influential, and still the most influential. The rise of the new media, though, precedes a pace. Cable, internet, talk radio, reaching a lot of people, reaching an audience of people who care about, in terms of programming like yours, public policy. And as we say in The Way To Win, largely dominated by conservatives, conservatives who feel, have felt, with justification for forty years or more, alienation from the old media, liberally biased, such as it is, and who have been better, more efficient, more provocative at using new media…
HH: Better informed?
MH: In terms of the content of liberal old media versus conservative new media?
MH: There’s…well, I’ll say two things about that. Probably, but there’s so little quality liberal new media content, there’s almost nothing to compare it to. They’re barely on the playing field. So I don’t see much liberal new media. I see a lot of liberal old media. But…so I’d say yes, but they’re almost not in a big enough sample space to compare.
HH: Are we more fair, new media, than old media?
MH: Well, by the definition of a Hugh Hewitt, master of the universe, you are, because you’re open about your views, and because you don’t leave very much doubt in the mind of your listeners, viewers or readers about where you’re coming from.
HH: But we also bring on opposing viewpoints, and we give them full opportunity to air that.
MH: Well, you do, but not every conservative voice in new media does.
HH: Well, I think O’Reilly does, doesn’t he?
MH: I didn’t say no one but you, Hugh, but not everybody does. I mean, Rush doesn’t, for instance, and he’s incredibly influential. Matt Drudge, who we write about incredibly…in great detail in The Way To Win, is someone who has played a huge role in the last two presidential elections. We say he’s the Walter Cronkite of his age, because of his influence. He heavily works with Republicans much more than he does with Democrats, so…
HH: And is the Republican base, my audience, more informed, more sophisticated, better educated, more attentive to detail, than the left wing base, in your opinion?
MH: I wouldn’t be able to generalize. I mean, there’s certainly a lot of informed conservatives in the country, but I just don’t have any research on it, nor do I have any gut opinions.
HH: On page 297, you write, “One of Rove’s skills was knowing how to capture the vitality of the party’s right wing base without the energy spooking the center. Note the difficulty that Democrats have had matching this minuet, with groups such as MoveOn.org, seen as by some in their party as embarrassing and extreme albatrosses.” I think that actually conveys a truth that the left is nutty, and the center-right is rather contained and cautious and carefull.
MH: Is Ann Coulter careful, cautious?
HH: No, no.
MH: All right. Well, she’s part of the radical right.
HH: Oh, we’ve got Ann Coulter, they’ve got Michael Moore. But that’s about it.
MH: Well, there you go…well, no. I mean…
HH: What’s our MoveOn.org?
MH: There’s some groups…you want to associate yourself with everything Reverend Falwell has ever said?
HH: No, but I don’t think Reverend Falwell is out there like MoveOn.org is, organizing daily. And I don’t think…
MH: Well, how about Pat Robertson when he used to do that.
HH: I know, but it’s old. That’s over. They’ve been co-opted. We’ve got Mehlman versus Dean. How do you like that comparison?
MH: There’s a reason why Howard Dean has yet to agree to do a debate with Chairman Mehlman.
HH: What is that reason?
MH: I don’t think…I assume the reason is he doesn’t think he would do well in the comparison. Here’s something we say in The Way To Win, Hugh. The country is conservative. There’s a reason, if you look at campaigns around the country, you don’t see any Democrats, let alone Republicans, saying I’m a strong liberal. You see a lot of Republicans, and many Democrats, saying I’m a conservative. It’s a conservative country. When I was covering George Bush and Karl Rove in 1999, and I said Bush is very conservative, they said you bet he is conservative. He’s going to change the country in a more conservative direction. That is why you cannot imagine a presidential candidate easily winning on the Bush-Rove model from the left, because there just aren’t enough liberals to do it. That having been said, I think MoveOn is overrated, and I think part of why they get so much coverage is liberals in the old media find it sexy and fascinating. But I haven’t seen any evidence that they’ve actually influenced the outcome of any elections.
HH: Do you see any evidence of superior brainpower in places like Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha, as opposed to Rove and Cheney?
MH: Those specifically?
HH: Are they on the same playing field?
MH: You want me to compare those specific four people?
HH: Yeah, because you’ve got two leaders…
MH: If I were running for president, I’d hire Rove and Cheney over Pelosi and Murtha.
HH: And how vast the gap?
MH: How can I measure? Vast.
HH: And so why is she…I think this is going back to media again. I think my giant unified field theory here is that liberal media has destroyed the necessity of the left having to debate, having to reach a message across, because you guys have always papered over the weakness of their arguments. And so, in essence, by creating an echo chamber, and by allowing them to get away with saying silly things, you’ve destroyed the incentive to be smart and facile.
MH: I agree.
HH: (laughing) That’s too easy. I’ve stormed the castle.
MH: Hugh, you and I have agreed on a lot during this show. For the purpose of jacking up your already sky-high ratings, occasionally you pick fights with me where they don’t exist. But you and I agree about that basic premise. I’m keeping notes here on the things we disagree on.
HH: Let me go to one. I think probably the most unfair paragraph in the book…
HH: Should we go there? Page 288-289. “Once in the White House, Bush authorized Rove and his associates to empower and take advantage of more friendly media, and protect his Republican administration from the depredations of old media.” Fair. Here comes the unfair part. “Hardball tactics included secretly paying conservative commentators such as Armstrong Williams to spread their message…
MH: Stop. That happened.
HH: But did Rove and Bush authorize that?
MH: Well, they authorized people to do things like that, yes. I don’t know if they authorized that particular case.
HH: They did not.
MH: I’m not so sure about that.
HH: I thought this was a heavily reported book.
MH: It is a heavily reported book. Read me the sentence again.
HH: This is the context.
HH: The paragraph begins, “Once in the White House, Bush authorized Rove and his associates to empower and take advantage of more friendly media, and protect his Republican administration from the depredations of the old media. Hardball tactics included secretly paying conservative commentators such as Armstrong Williams to spread their message.”
MH: What page are we on? I’m going to the text.
HH: Page 288-289.
MH: I totally agree with that sentence. I’ll stand by it. They authorize people to do it. That was the ethos that they authorized. Totally fine with that.
HH: Are you suggesting Bush and Rove told Armstrong Williams…told someone to pay…
MH: No, what it says is, what it says is, they authorized, Bush, Rove and his associates, to empower and take advantage. That’s what the people who made that decision did. They were empowered to do that, and they did it.
HH: All right. That’s where we disagree. I think that’s fundamentally unfair, and I’ll let the audience decide.
MH: No, let’s go back. Do you think that the people who made the decisions to pay Armstrong Williams and others, do you think they were acting in opposition to the ethos of how to deal with the old and new media, set forth by Bush and Rove?
HH: I think Rove and Bush would have said are you out of your minds? We don’t pay journalists.
MH: Oh, I agree that they wouldn’t have approved the specifics.
HH: Well then, you’ve left the impression that they did.
HH: That’s what I think is unfair.
MH: That was consistent with the ethos, as it says here.
HH: I just…again, I’ll leave it to people to decide that one.
MH: Okay. I understand what you’re saying. You know what? I understand what you’re saying, and I could see how people might have the impression that we’re speaking that they authorized that in particular. I’ll change it in the paperback, maybe.
HH: All right. “Now the Bush administration seemed not to care about keeping these channels open, old media channels.” We’re on page 292. In the last month, I’ve seen Matt Lauer in the White House, I have seen.
MH: As we say in the book, that changed when things started to go bad in the fifth year, in 2005, when they hired Tony Snow. This was covered in the book. You’ve read the book so closely, I can’t be all that critical that you missed that. But that’s a change.
HH: Do you mean that he did not do any major media…
MH: No, he did some, but the strategy was to do much less than his predecessors had done, in order…because he has outlets like conservative radio and conservative television shows to go to.
HH: And so the question is, why is that…is that a bad thing, in your view?
MH: No, and conservatives like Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and Gerald Ford and Nixon, who didn’t have a choice, they should have fought harder to create these alternative outlets, so they wouldn’t have to go to biased venues. I think it’s rational and understandable why they would do it, and my hat is off to them as someone who evaluates the skill of people in politics, for going around forums in which they would not feel they were reaching their audience, or getting a fair shake.
HH: And so, it is a good idea, if you are a center-right person in politics, to avoid the old line liberal media like Helen Thomas and…
MH: Look, I think…I am a strong proponent when I’m talking to my friends in Republican politics. I say do not go on programs that are biased. Do not deal with reporters who either are liberally biased, or professionally unethical, because they shouldn’t be rewarded.
HH: Is George Stephanopoulos liberally biased?
MH: No. Evaluate him by the quality of his work.
HH: George Stephanopoulos was Bill Clinton’s communications director.
MH: Evaluate him by the quality of his work.
HH: Is Chris Matthews liberally biased?
MH: I don’t watch enough of him to know.
HH: He’s Jimmy Carter’s speechwriter.
MH: I know what his resume is, but I also know that people should be evaluated as I said throughout the program, by the quality of the work. I will say this. The people in old media should stop hiring people from Democratic politics. It’s just…it is not conducive to moving us in the right direction.
HH: Is Keith Olbermann a liberal?
MH: I don’t know enough about him to say.
– – – – – –
HH: We’re talking about the end of the book. There’s lots of great stuff in the book beforehand. It’ll give you heartburn, because it’s very complimentary to Clinton, but could read it anyway, because it’s fascinating stuff. ABC, where you live…
MH: Hugh, I’m sorry. I’ve got to stop you.
HH: Go ahead.
MH: I’ve got to correct two more things. Number one, I don’t really watch Keith Olbermann, but from what I’ve heard, he does seem liberal. I don’t want to leave the impression that I didn’t think he was. Number two, you keep saying how much nice stuff there is in the book about Bill Clinton. The book writes at length, in fact, half the book is about Karl Rove and George W. Bush, and I would believe is one of the most favorable, in terms of judging them, and not treating them as evil, things that have been written about Karl Rove since he came to Washington.
HH: Well, I agree there’s a lot…
MH: So please don’t give people the impression that it is a pro-Clinton book, because it’s not.
HH: Well, I think it is a pro-Clinton book. I think it’s a pro-Beltway book. I think it’s pro-people who you like.
MH: No, it’s pro-people who have won the last four presidential elections, in terms of evaluating their competence, and suggesting that if you want to win in 2008, the guys who are the chief strategists for the last four wins are pretty smart people to look at. And if you say the book is pro-Clinton, then you must thing it’s also pro-Bush and Rove, because more than half the book is about them, and what a job they’ve done.
HH: It’s very fair to them in some respects, except in that one respect, which I thought was a most unfair thing, suggesting that they had authorized…
MH: But Hugh, do you accept the…I understand what you’re saying about that, but that’s one sentence. And I’m not minimizing the lack of clarity. But do you accept the notion that the book is at least as favorable to Karl Rove as it is to Bill Clinton?
HH: No, not in the least.
MH: Oh, but Hugh, that’s a ridiculous position, with all due respect.
HH: No, I don’t. I just don’t. I read the whole thing. You know, I know what it says, and my impression is…
MH: What are the three nicest things or best things it says about Bill Clinton, and what are the three best, most favorable things it says about Karl Rove?
HH: The most favorable thing and accurate thing about Rove, which I’ve got to find here, is that he’s a tremendous student of American history. And that’s true.
MH: That’s one of…if you think that’s the best, you just like it because you like history. There are…
HH: Well, I know. But you asked me for an example. I gave you…there are lots of nice things in here.
MH: The three most important. In other words, if you were grading the book on its favorability to Clinton, and its favorability to Rove, and you were listing the things that we said…
HH: Your favorability to Clinton is that you continue the myth that he was a centrist, and that he governed from the center, in pursuit of not the base, and contrasting it with Rove, saying Rove is a base politician.
MH: In terms of his approval ratings, he did.
HH: Well, that’s what I think is just more agitprop for Clinton. And I think he’s a hard left guy, as he’s been proven. But that’s…look, they hear me talk about this all the time. I want to get back to what you do, and what you write.
HH: ABC News where you live, you’ve got Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning, opposite Russert, opposite Bob Schieffer. Here’s what people on the center-left, center-right look at this, and they say everybody in television not on Fox News is an old-line Democrat who comes from the left, or comes from Harvard-Yale-Brown, from the East Coast elites…
MH: Are you anti-Harvard?
HH: No, of course not. I love Harvard.
MH: Okay, just making sure.
HH: But I’m not in mainstream media.
MH: I agree with their skepticism and their concern, and we should stop hiring people from Democratic politics.
HH: Why’d you fire Kristol?
MH: I’m not in senior enough management to give you the answer, but I don’t want people like Bill Kristol here, either. I want non-partisan, fair journalists.
HH: There aren’t…who do you have, who is your ideal?
HH: I know. But other than you?
MH: And John Harris.
HH: And working today in a high-profile…is Katie Couric your ideal?
HH: Why? Is she liberal?
HH: She sure is.
MH: I’ve answered many questions straightforwardly. I believe I understand why conservatives have looked at things she’s said and done, and understand why they think she’s liberal.
HH: Of course. But is she objectively liberal?
MH: I want to see the research.
HH: But I’m just asking your impression.
MH: I don’t…I barely know her. I’ve never heard her express a view directly to me. I understand why conservatives think she’s liberal.
HH: Why do conservatives think she’s liberal?
MH: Because she’s said and done some things that I can’t currently quote chapter and verse, that have given them that suspicion.
HH: And Dan Rather was a lefty, right?
MH: He certainly, with the National Guard story alone, gave up any pretense that he was scrupulous about being fair to Republicans.
HH: Did the coverage of the election on Election Night in 2000…this is the litmus test. This is the acid test, Mark Halperin.
MH: This is Hugh Hewitt’s acid test.
HH: When you called Florida…
HH: …for Gore…
HH: …did you fundamentally affect the election in 2000?
MH: We fundamentally affected the election both when we called Gore, and when we called Bush.
HH: But when you called Gore, how did you affect the election? What did that do that night?
MH: Well, it created…if you’re going to tell me the people in the Panhandle didn’t vote, we’ll have an excellent debate. But what we did was, we created the impression that the projections were not scientific or careful.
HH: Did you reduce turnout in the Panhandle?
MH: You find me…this is the challenge I’ve delivered to Karl Rove and others, and they’ve never come back to me. You find me a single person in America who said they heard the projection, and then didn’t vote, whereas they otherwise planned to vote. Either they left the polling place, or they were going to vote but they didn’t go. You find me one person who will make that claim, and then I’ll discuss it.
HH: Did the networks reduce turnout west of Florida, say…
MH: Find me one person who says that, Hugh, and I’ll discuss it with you at length. But no one has ever met my challenge.
HH: Did you reduce the GOTV effort of the Bush people in California?
MH: Oh, Hugh, you’re going to keep asking me the same questions. Listen to what I’m saying. Debate me on the terms I’m trying to set here. I understand in the abstract that you all might be right, and I take it incredibly seriously if we influenced the process that way. All I want is one real human being who says I was in my polling place, and I was going to vote, but I heard a network projection, and I went home.
HH: And have you ever heard of the people who left their GOTV efforts after seeing Pennsylvania and Florida were called for…
MH: None of them have ever called me and told me that they did it. I’m ashamed that they would, but…that they would leave based on that.
HH: Why? People don’t work for losers. I don’t go to Oakland Raider games. Nobody works for a loser.
MH: Because there were important races. If they were really political volunteers, I hope they stayed and worked on the important state races. But find me someone…
HH: Is it possible…
MH: Find me someone, not the mythology. Find me a voter who didn’t vote, or find me a GOTV person who said I quit, and let me talk to them, and then I’d love to debate it.
HH: What was wrong with the exit polls in 2004 that you relied on?
MH: What was wrong with them? The…here’s the problem with, amongst the problems with the exit polls is, the networks shouldn’t be paying for them. They’re really expensive, and we don’t get as much use out of them as historians and academics.
HH: But they were dirty, weren’t they? They were lousy.
MH: They were flawed, because we don’t spend enough money on them to make them bullet-proof, and train people to do it right.
HH: And who did they help?
MH: Well, I don’t think in the end, they helped anybody.
HH: Oh, you don’t?
MH: I don’t.
HH: In the course of the day, you didn’t see the roils of panic, the impact on the…
MH: Well, how did that help someone? I mean, it’s an embarrassment to us. But had that helped someone? Are you going to tell me people didn’t vote again?
MH: Find me one, Hugh. 2000, or 2004. Just one human being.
HH: All right. Okay.
MH: Have them call me.
HH: And so how come all of the mistakes that are made tend to run in your guys’ direction in terms of the left?
MH: Well, I don’t think that’s true. I think we made mistakes covering Al Gore that hurt him quite a bit.
HH: Do you cover Hillary hard?
MH: Yes, very hard.
HH: Does Hillary have to answer questions, for example, when the New York Times leaks these stories, and Hillary does not end up being asked about it…
MH: Wait, wait, wait. Which stories do you mean?
HH: Why is that? Oh, the NSA story, the Swift Boat, and no one tracks her down and says what about this. Is that giving her a free pass?
MH: I’m not playing dumb. I just don’t know what you’re trying to say.
HH: Well, she’s never put…whenever there’s a tough controversial issue, Democrats aren’t put on the record. The media does not seek them out to ask them tough questions…
MH: You mean, even if she’s got no direct connection to it, we should just get her opinion?
HH: Yes, because she’s the United States Senator running for president.
MH: Well, there’s a couple things about that. One is, we do need to ask her more tough questions, just as we need to ask everybody in public life more tough questions. Number two, Hillary Clinton has adopted the Bush-Rove strategy of dealing with the old media, because she recognizes that you can stiff-arm the old media, and not pay much of a price for it. So we get less of an opportunity to question her than we’d like.
HH: Did you watch the Russert debate between Santorum and Casey?
MH: I did not.
HH: Russert did not bring up the abortion issue directly with Casey. Does that not suggest leaving Democrats a free pass on their hardest issues to answer, while zooming in on Republicans most difficult…
MH: I’ll say two things about it. I didn’t see the debate, so I don’t really know. But I don’t know that Mr. Casey thinks abortion is a bad issue for him in that race, so…
HH: But it has to be asked the right way.
– – – –
HH: Mark Halperin, is David Gregory a buffoon?
MH: Define buffoon for me.
HH: Oh, just use your own operational definition.
MH: I wouldn’t use that word, no.
HH: Is he a journalist?
MH: He’s definitely a journalist.
HH: Does he make you proud of being a journalist?
MH: I think that the relationship between the Bush White House Press Corps, and the Bush White House press staff has not produced a pretty picture for either side.
HH: That’s what I’m getting to. There’s a fascinating discussion in here, and you seem to carry forward the writ of injury on behalf of the White House Press Corps. But they’re buffoons, Mark Halperin. They don’t ask serious questions. They pose…
MH: One of the many ways that political journalists have completely abrogated any claim to being respected, or to living up to our responsibilities as journalists has been the conduct of the White House Press Corps in the briefing room over many years. And the Bush White House was smart enough, for their own purposes, to take advantage of that. That is one of the many things we need to change, to not be focused on scandal and controversy, but holding powerful interests accountable to the public interest, if we’re every going to get back to having a free, strong press that holds people accountable.
HH: Does Helen Thomas make you proud?
MH: She…the questions she asks, that represent a point of view, have no place in the briefing room.
HH: And so, what should that place look like, Mark Halperin?
MH: It should be filled with unbiased, experienced journalists, who have as their responsibility not showing off, not trying to make a point, but holding powerful interests accountable to the public interest, the most powerful interest in the country, the White House of the United States.
HH: Now I’m going to come back to this, because I’m fascinated. This is a conversation I’ve had with Nick Lemann for hours, in this studio when he was out here, and you folks have this ideal. But if you won’t ask questions, if you won’t answer questions, how are we ever supposed to know by virtue of what you write, whether or not it’s impacting what you write.
MH: By the quality of our work, and the fairness we display in our news gathering, and in what we put out.
HH: But Alger Hiss was a communist, and nobody knew until Whittaker Chambers came along. We can’t judge these things, unless we know what you believe.
MH: Of course you can. Hugh, if you and I had an e-mail exchange about points of public interest, you could judge, without knowing my identity, the quality of my ideas. You read bloggers all the time. You talk to people, callers all the time. You evaluate what they say without even knowing anything about them.
HH: Let me give you an example. Brian Ross works with you, does he not?
MH: He does.
HH: Now Brian Ross had these IM’s given to him in the Foley scandal, correct?
HH: We don’t know where they came from.
HH: We don’t know how long he had them for.
HH: Why should we believe that he was not part of a drop, like the Bush DUI drop?
MH: I’ll go right back to the broken record, which is I understand why conservatives, not liberals, but why conservatives would be skeptical of anything the old media did that might impact the outcome of an election. Evaluate the work of Brian Ross, me, and anyone else, by the fairness of the work. We have a lot of work to do. Conservatives, not in any time soon, should trust us, or will trust us. And by us, I mean the old media overall.
HH: Should Brian Ross tell us who the IM’s came from?
MH: Hugh, you’ve got these views about journalism, no blind quotes, no sourcing material without direct quotes, revealing who your sources are, that just don’t accord with my view of how a free press operates in a complicated society.
HH: Okay, let me back into it in this way. Do you think Woodward made up the scene in Veil with Casey?
MH: I’m certainly open to that, and I think there’s some evidence that he might have. But I don’t know…I haven’t reported it out, so I don’t have a strong opinion about it.
HH: Once you find evidences of big names in journalism at least being open to suspicion, I think that’s beyond suspicion, as Thomas Edsall said, and once you find people making up quotes and distorting sources…
HH: …and you have a Mary Mapes in there…
HH: …no one can be believed.
MH: Well, Hugh, don’t conflate two issues. There’s bias, which we’ve talked about throughout the program, and is prevalent, and a big problem.
HH: And there’s dishonesty.
MH: Well, and there’s carelessness, and a lack of professional standards. The Washington press corps has displayed both. We have to fix both, not just one.
HH: Well, how can you fix a Mary Mapes-like suspicion of Brian Ross’ motives, unless Brian Ross answers questions about not…I mean, these are facts. The IM’s was given by someone.
MH: Because Hugh, you look at the body of Brian Ross’ work, and the negative stories he’s done…he did a story, not negative, but with a negative impact, he did a story on Howard Dean on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. Was that to secretly help some more liberal candidate in the race? No. Brian Ross…
HH: But that does not in any way go to whether or not he’s been used and played.
MH: Well, it depends on how you define used. If you get a story before an election, you always have to weigh carefully. Frankly, we didn’t have any idea that that story would have an impact on the mid-terms. We thought it was going to be about one Congressman. But if you don’t do the story, you’re potentially benefiting the other side.
HH: Does Fox News put out a good product?
MH: Define good.
HH: No, you tell me. The equal of other news organizations…
MH: They don’t spend money the way, on things I think a serious news organization that’s interested in holding powerful interests accountable to the public interest would.
HH: Do you watch Special Report?
MH: With Brit Hume?
MH: I do.
HH: Do you admire it?
MH: Do I admire it? I like it. It’s an entertaining program.
HH: Why do you think Brit Hume has the trust of the center-right?
MH: Because the center-right is looking for voices who are experienced journalists, who aren’t liberally biased. And Brit is not liberally biased.
HH: Coming right back. That’s exactly right.
– – – –
HH: The reason I spent so much time about this is that Halperin actually matters a great deal to the day to day governance of the United States, because of The Note. The Note, Mark Halperin, has achieved sort of an iconic status inside the Beltway, and in American politics. Is it a good thing…I know it’s good for you, but is it a good thing that the casual, the off, the bank shot, has become a replacement for a serious reading about serious issues?
MH: No, and if anyone thinks that they can be an informed citizen, and contribute to our democracy by reading nothing but The Note, I’d ask them to think again. It is a niche product that we think is fun, and provides some revenue here in the free market world in which we live, entrepreneurial spirit thriving within the Walt Disney Company. But it is not mean to be a substitute for serious policy debate.
HH: Okay. The most important pages in the book, 334 and 333, are what Hillary Clinton and Karl Rove know about the way to win the White House in 2008. I want to go to one in particular. “Figure out what the press and public like about you. Note the press won’t like much about anything about you, unless your last name is McCain. And emphasize the events and statements that exhibit those positive traits.” Why does McCain get most favored politician treatment from the media, Mark Halperin?
MH: I don’t know, but I think one of the great failings in my career is the way, the disparity in the coverage of George Bush and John McCain in 2000, 1999. The Gore people will incredibly frustrated by how, what they felt the disparity was, and there’s some argument for that. But George Bush was not treated fairly, vis-a-vis McCain in 1999 and 2000. Senator McCain is very open, he’s charming, he refers to the liberal media as his base. They reward him with favorable coverage. I am not the McCain camp’s favorite reporter, because I have said I think we’ve got to hold him to the same standard as everybody else. For the reasons I listed and a few others, he gets much friendlier coverage, although in the last year, he’s had some bumps, some unaccustomed bumps.
HH: But why do you think that is?
MH: I’ll repeat what I said before. He gives reporters a lot of access. He’s good copy. He’s got a compelling life story. And he’s not afraid to engage on topic. So from a reporter’s point of view, human frailty, we like the attention. We like the access. We like the good stories. We do not scrutinize him nearly as much as we should, compared to other candidates, because of those things. I am not defending it by any means. I’m a critic of the unfairly favorable treatment he’s gotten. We shouldn’t go overboard and treat him too unfairly, but we should treat him equal as everybody else.
HH: You can’t have too much staff loyalty. Who is more loyal? Rove or Bruce Lindsey?
MH: Let’s see. I would say it’s about a tie, but I’d probably give Rove a little bit of an edge.
HH: Okay. Bill Maher – do you respect him?
MH: Bill Maher the comedic host?
MH: I respect his ability to make people laugh. If you’re asking beyond that, I don’t have a view.
HH: Do you think he’s intelligent?
MH: His jokes are sophisticated, so I’d say yes.
HH: Do you think he’s well read and reasoned?
MH: I don’t know. I’m not familiar enough with his oeuvre to say that decisively, one way or the other.
HH: How about Stephen Colbert?
MH: Very talented comedian. Skews left, if you’re going to get to that direction, but he’s very talented.
HH: Jon Stewart?
MH: Same thing. But I’ll tell you a difference between Stewart, which we write about in The Way To Win, John Harris and I…
HH: Yes, I know. And that’s what we’re getting to.
MH: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert skew left, but they are very open to criticizing Democrats, often because they think they’re weak or inefficient or ineffectual. They are leading figures in the new media of the left, but they are not as partisan or as loyal to the tribe as leading new media figures are, most of the new media figures on the right.
HH: Are they good for politics?
MH: For politics? You know, it is what it is. I can’t say…the genie’s not going back in the bottle. I think they’re part of a trivialization of our political media culture that I don’t like, but they’re entertaining, and they’re not going away. So I don’t know whether that it really much matters whether they’re good or not.
HH: Is Bill Maher entertaining?
HH: You do? You think so?
MH: Yeah, I don’t watch him as much…
HH: He’s as thick as a box of bricks.
MH: I’m sorry?
HH: He’s as thick as a box of bricks. The guy doesn’t know anything. In any event, moving on. Given that complex issues are difficult to reporter, and that Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and The Note have taken up positions of commanding influence in modern America, are we ever going to have a serious conversation about anything again?
MH: I think it’s incumbent upon serious people involved in public life to look for opportunities to lead Americans into forums, like on the internet, like on this show, where serious topics can be discussed. The problem is, the freak show culture, which takes voices like Ann Coulter and Michael Moore, and puts them not on the fringes of our discussion but at the center, that’s pretty powerful. And the trend lines are towards reinforcing the freak show. So I’d like to be optimistic. We write in the book about the freak show, hoping to shed some light on it, and get people to be open to the importance of a more reasoned debate. But it’s hard to be optimistic on the current trend lines.
HH: Three books, The Looming Tower, America Alone, and Imperial Grunts by Lawrence Wright, Mark Steyn and Robert Kaplan. Have you read any of them.
MH: Not a one.
HH: Does media read widely?
MH: No. We say in the book that reporters are more likely to write books or steal them from book parties than to read them. And I’m not an exception to that. I’m constantly in the midst of covering a presidential campaign, and for the last year, finishing my book and promoting it. So I tend to not read serious books as much as I should, and that I’m not an exception amongst reporters.
HH: How about…you just answered that. How about in television? Are they even less well read than the print media?
MH: Oh, yeah.
HH: And so…
MH: Though not everybody. Not uniformly. I have plenty of colleagues who read serious books all the time, and sometimes write them. But compared to the responsibility that we have to be informed and help inform, we should read more.
HH: And so, it’s basically a very ill-informed group of very influential people who are driving modern media coverage of politics.
MH: Not to a person, but certainly that’s more true than it should be.
HH: A lot more true than it should be.
MH: It’s a lot more true. But I mean, for instance, you mentioned Terry Moran before, a very educated, very…
HH: A very good interview, by the way. And his brother is a superb blogger over at Right Wing Nut House.
MH: Say again?
HH: His brother is a superb blogger.
MH: Yes. Terry is a very smart intellectual guy, and there should be more people in television news like him.
HH: But there aren’t, right?
MH: There are not enough. And there are nowhere near enough. If you’re pushing me to say that, there are nowhere near enough.
HH: And so, I want you to finish off by telling me about your project…Nick Lemann’s got a project where he’s going to add another extra year of power skills, and it’s not going to work, because everyone who enters the place is a hard lefty. You’ve got an ambition, but you’re not transparent. The media keeps hiring from the Harvard Crimson. It keeps self-perpetuating from self-elected elites.
MH: Can I introduce you to my interns from Bob Jones University?
HH: I’m glad that you have one. They must feel like a stranger in a strange world.
MH: No, because within my unit, we’re all about being fair and non-partisan.
HH: And so, how many people have you hired permanently in the last year?
MH: I think one.
HH: Where’d they come from?
MH: He used to be our intern. He was in law school.
HH: And where’d he come from before that?
MH: He was in law school at Catholic University, where former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie went.
HH: And what did he do as an undergrad? Where’d he go undergrad?
MH: I don’t know. I should know, I suppose, but I don’t.
HH: It’s mostly an Ivy League place, isn’t it, Mark Halperin?
MH: Are you going to bash Harvard again?
HH: No, I’m just asking. Is it mostly…
MH: No, they’re actually not as much as it used to be.
– – – –
HH: Mark Halperin, thanks for an excellent three hours. I want to give you the last word, but I also want to go to page 180. “The mindset of modern journalism descends from a progressive era tradition. The progressives believed that most policy questions could be solved through rigorous analysis by experts, if only the problems could be divorced from the clamor and irrationality of politics.” You know, our last segment, what I was getting at is you people don’t read, you don’t get out much, and you’re very, very poor at analysis. I don’t know why you claim the progressive tradition. They would vomit modern media out.
MH: Well, I think overall, our society needs to be better educated, better read. But people like…in my business, who have a responsibility to help educate people, and elucidate the truth, should be better educated and better read, although you say we’re all from the Ivy League, so it’s a bit confusing there. But I will say…
HH: Not since grade inflation arrived. Go ahead.
MH: Exactly. All right. I will say that I think that the book, The Way To Win, John Harris and I did, describes the way the world is, not the way we want the world to be. And there’s some truths in there about the media, about Bill Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses, about Karl Rove and George W. Bush’s strengths and weaknesses. As I said, there’s a reason why Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton all cooperated with the same project. They see us as fair journalists. We do not take a position about a Clinton presidency or the Bush presidency. We’re writing about the way you win in politics today. And we have a chapter which we didn’t talk about, I’m surprised and sorry to say, called Ideas Matter, which is about the central role that ideas play in Bill Clinton wanting to be president, and George Bush wanting to be president, and in Karl Rove’s skill at helping George Bush get elected. These are guys who care about ideas significantly more than your average presidential candidate, or your average presidential strategist.
HH: Last question, Mark Halperin. Is this the best, most comprehensive interview you’ve done about The Way To Win?
MH: Well, Hugh, it’s the longest. So that gave you a bit of a leg up. But it was certainly one of the most illuminating, from my point of view, and one of the most focused on the press, rather than a lot of the political stuff in there. We didn’t talk as much about Hillary Clinton, who’s a big part of this book, as I have in some other interviews. But Hugh, yes, as I say to all my interviewers, this is the best interview I’ve done.
HH: Well, I’m just looking for the truth, but I guess I won’t get that transparent answer…
MH: Well, you got three hours, Hugh. I mean, you know, the other interviews are like five minutes.
HH: That points to the strength of new media. That’s the point.
MH: I’m all for that. Vice President Cheney talks just about that point in the book, that a lot of new media allows for the longer discussions. You mentioned Brit Hume’s show. It allows for a long discussion. There’s a lot of strength in new media. It’s not a perfect system, just like the old one wasn’t.
HH: Who’s going to be the president in 2009, Mark Halperin?
MH: The person who has the best ideas about how to change the country in a positive direction. And you?
HH: And do you have a prediction on that yet?
MH: I think right now, not what I want, what I’m predicting, or what my analysis is, is that John McCain on the Republican side, Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, are the front runners, because they know the way to win. It will be difficult to beat the front runners, but it can happen.
HH: Mark Halperin, a pleasure. Thank you, sir, for a great opportunity. Come back again in the course of the political season. We’ll hash it out. The Way To Win: Taking The White House In 2008. Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News, John F. Harris, New York Times bestselling author of The Survivor: Bill Clinton In The White House. Whatever you do, America, you get the best here.
End of interview.