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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Halperin, Unplugged

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The transcript of my three hour interview with Mark Halperin, ABC News’ political director and along with John Harris, author of The Way To Win is posted.  The audio will eventually be posted here.

Some favorite exchanges:

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…

HH: Okay.

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: 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.


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…

MH: Right.

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.

(Note: Terry Moran didn’t say “media hates the military,” but rather that there is “a deep anti-military bias in the media. One that begins from the premise that the military must be lying, and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong.” Mark Halperin is clearly aware of and agreeing with Terry Moran’s statement, not the idea that the MS  “hates” the military.)

On Rathergate:

MH: 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.

On Clinton:

HH: Do you think he was a liar?

MH: I don’t think that’s a subject of debat.

HH: Is that a yes?

MH: Yes

HH: Did he lie under oath?

MH: I…by almost any definition, and by my own, yes.

On various media meltdowns:

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?

HH: Yes.

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.

Last of my excerpts:

HH: 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.

Read the whole thing.  Marlperin’s a smart, though very liberal, MSMer who gets my admiration for answering some of the questions with candor.


One listener rejects Halperin’s rejection of the idea that the early call of Florida for Gore did not have an impact on the actual voting that day.  She writes:


I am listening to you and your guest, Mark Halperin. Back in 2000, I called you, and you took my phone call on the air, (I believe it was a day or two after the election. The subject was Republicans that stayed home because of the false projections for Florida. I told you at that time…that I had just come back to the phone bank, after taking an elderly gentleman in his nineties to vote. I got back sometime after 4pm California time. That was about the time, the networks were calling Florida for Gore.

I got on the phones even though a couple workers near me were dispritedly glued to the tv set there. I went down my list and got a few different folks who hadn’t voted least two told me words to the effect of “What is the point?” Now six years later…no, I can’t give Mr. Halperin the exact names he needs to admit he was part of the media that affected that election turnout. But if there had even been one account of anecdotal evidence like mine…regarding the disenfranchisement of a single black voter in Florida…there might be a made for TV film about that incident right now.

I know what happened in my case..and I am thrilled that in one case I convinced a guy to snap out of it..and just go vote…by saying something to the effect of “Get a grip no one knows for sure. But there were others that were very waffly and it was all due to those called for Gore Florida reports. I had a similiar experience with volunteers during the Zoby exit polls. I made it my business to check in at various phone banks to go in at the end of the day..and say keep calling, and turn off the TV and the radio! Keep calling.

However, an aside – the man in his nineties who I drove to the polls that day, said to me when I brought him back to his house, “Thank you young lady (I was in my 40’s, so who is going to forget that comment :)…he continued,” Thanks to you, I have gotten to cast what will probably be my last vote” Then I went back to the phones. I will never forget all the experiences that day…both frustrating and inspiring!


I wish I had been quick enough to bring up Jimmy Carter’s early concession speech in 1980.  I think Mark Halperin has to always demand evidence that cannot now be gathered, because the Florida early call for Gore was the worst bit of media meddling in an American election in modern times, and much of the polarization in this country can be laid at that incident’s feet. 



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