By Bob Cesca: When we do the list of names that occupy the rogues gallery of political villains, Mark Halperin's name doesn't often make the cut. It's chiefly because Halperin doesn't shout or speechify at length like many cable news talking heads. Make no mistake, however. He should be on that list, and near the top.
He quietly sits around a desk on various NBC News shows with a totally lifeless/emotionless expression as if he was some sort of human-Romulan hybrid who recently time-warped around the sun in his emerald green warbird and landed in 2012 to observe our planet for possible colonization. So when he suddenly pops off with a line of horsecrap so egregious in its absurdity and so beyond the realms of what is accurate, insightful and right, it's difficult to believe that anyone this wrong and this off base would be as successful and ubiquitous as him.
Over the weekend, Halperin appeared on the Today Show to talk with Lester Holt about the campaign and, specifically, the issue of Mitt Romney's tax returns.
First he said that the only people who are interested in Romney's tax returns are "press insiders." Interesting. And wrong. Everyone is talking about Romney's taxes because they're inextricably linked to the ongoing debate since the recession about the income inequality. Is this candidate for president paying his fair share, given his massive annual income and considerable wealth? This is the question everyone is asking about the super rich.
Romney, as we've discussed before, is not only part of the 1%, but he's actually in the 1% of the 1%. I'm not making that up. He's among the top 3,000 or so wealthiest people in America and he's admitted to paying an effective tax rate of around 13%, which is on par with the marginal rate paid by middle class couples earning five figures. There's something seriously wrong with that. Not to mention the larger issue of simply vetting someone who could be the leader of the free world. But only "press insiders" care about this?
Next, Halperin said to Holt, "I think the press still likes this story a lot. The media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this."
The media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants.
Ah yes. The Liberal Media Is In The Can For Obama meme. How insightful! How knowing! How totally flipping wrong!
Which media would that be? Half of broadcast radio -- all of the AM dial -- which is occupied by thousands of hours of right-wing propaganda? Surely he can't be talking about the most popular cable news network, Fox News Channel, or its lower rating sister, Fox Business. Or what about its parent company News Corp, which owns multiple major market newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post? Let's talk about MSNBC where, other than several prime time shows, bends over backwards to paint each side as equally wrong. Are you talking about Drudge who you yourself claimed "rules [the media's] world"? This is "the media" that does what the Obama campaign wants? That's rich.
Over the past four months, researchers found news coverage of Romney was 39 percent positive, 32 percent negative, and 29 percent neutral, whereas Obama’s coverage was 18 percent positive, 34 percent negative, and 34 percent neutral.
Your liberal media.
It's utterly breathtaking how wrong Halperin is, regardless of what dimension or star-system he's visiting from.
And it's not the first time he said such a thing. In 2008, before the inauguration, he went so far as to say of the election coverage that year, "It’s the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war. It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage."
Yes, really. Not since the Iraq war.
So when the press spent two years reinforcing a false rumor that President Obama was secretly a radical Muslim; or that he was “the most liberal senator” (he’s not); or repeatedly calling him “Osama”; or airing the Rev. Wright tapes around the clock for an entire month; or wondering whether the president was “one of us”; or questioning whether or not the president was too "presumptuous"; or repeating McCain talking points that the president was a socialist (he’s not); or that the president will never be able to reconcile with the Clintons; or reporting that the First Lady hates America (she doesn’t) -- somehow this is proof that the media showed an “extreme pro-Obama” bias? By the way, most of this paragraph was culled from MSNBC. You know, the liberal cable network.
I'm beginning to think NBC actually pays Halperin to be wrong. Maybe they actually pro-rate his salary based on a wrong-per-day sum total.
The worst part about Halperin is the fact that he's regarded as a fountain of conventional wisdom and political zeitgeist in Washington. Press insiders and politicians alike actually look to him to determine what to watch for and how to talk about it. In fact, he used to do a video blog where he would literally dispatch little bits of information tagged with the line "watch for [insert nonsense here]." For example, "President Bush will fly in a helicopter today. Watch for that. Also watch for some laws to be passed out of committee today."
Likewise, he would write little lists -- little fart-size doses of Halperin hackery. First, they were called "The Note" for ABC News, then he moved the bit to TIME where he renamed it "The Page." As you might recall, one of Halperin's most notable (and since scrubbed) list included the following recommendation for the McCain campaign.
11. Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama’s unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.
If you're looking for a "patient zero" in the whole Birther thing, Halperin might be the one. At the very least, he mainstreamed it.
And throughout his history of serial wrongness, you know what finally knocked Halperin off the air for a while? He called the president a dick on Morning Joe. Word of warning for future pundits: be inaccurate all you want, but don't EVER say "dick" on television.
There are way too many pundits and analysts who are wrong -- why am I picking on doughy ol' Halperin? Halperin is almost exactly why so many pundits are wrong. He quietly and calmly spreads total hooey disguised as Very Serious Conventional Wisdom. He substitutes contrarianism and out-of-his-own-ass bullshitting with insightfulness. He mistakes flaccidity for seriousness. He's good at both so his colleagues tend to believe him. But unlike some pundits and analysts who are occasionally right, Halperin is almost always wrong.