Why Would MSNBC Bet So Much on Mark Halperin?


After several years of building a brand as The Place to Lean Forward for Liberal Politics, MSNBC has taken a sharp turn over the past year or so, a turn that’s no more evident than in the upward failing of Game Change authors Mark Halperin and, to a lesser extent, the tolerable John Heilemann, the Oates to Halperin’s Darryl Hall.

While they’re both longtime political journalists, the duo really shot to prominence with the publication of their McCain/Palin tome Game Change, which made for fine entertainment, but journalistically was little more than a vessel for anonymous score-settling. Before that, he pioneered and personified the sort of conventional narrative-setting that liberals deride as the Washington “Villager” mentality, a mixture of Jay Rosen‘s “view from nowhere” and Politico‘s “win the morning” philosophy. The trick is to adhere to notions of “objectivity” that always lead to the conclusion that both sides are exactly the same, while also somehow forming strong, “provocative” opinions.

You could make an argument for that sort of thing if the opinions involved weren’t always wrong, but we happen to be at a uniquely appropriate moment to test Halperin’s acumen. Mere hours ago, the New Hampshire primary pretty much ended the political hopes and dreams of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Here’s what Halperin had to say about Christie in November of 2013:

Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical, like our last three presidents.

The problem isn’t just that Halperin was wrong about Christie, but that he believes there is anything of value to be gleaned from comparing him to our “last three presidents,” that “leadership” is a virtue unto itself, utterly divorced from where it leads to.

This is also a moment in which political vulgarity has dominated the discussion for several days, which is reminiscent of one of Halperin’s other greatest hits.

The fact that Halperin called President Obama a “dick” at all is significant in assessing MSNBC’s decision to hitch itself to Halperin’s star, but punditry-wise, his worst offense was asking Scarborough if he had a seven-second delay, evidence that his remark was carefully considered. Faced with a showdown between the President and a congress that was ready to crash the entire U.S. economy, Halperin’s takeaway from that press conference was the President’s level of dickishness.

Halperin was briefly suspended by MSNBC, but since then, has remained a fixture on Morning Joe, and was recently rewarded with a promotion to MSNBC host with the debut of his With All Due Respect on the Lean Forward network, transplanted from Bloomberg TV. It was on that show that Halperin recently declared that a Donald Trump win in New Hampshire might not actually be a win:

If he wins by five or more, I think he could say, I won the New Hampshire primary. That’s historic. And he does go into South Carolina with a head of steam.

That was an absurd thing to say regardless of the outcome, but as it turns out, Trump didn’t have to worry. He smoked his nearest competitor by more than double, and can now safely say that he won the New Hampshire primary.

Not for nothing, Halperin has been handed the time slot that used to be occupied by PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, who has been shunted to Sunday mornings. It’s all part of an overall shift at MSNBC that’s supposed to be a move away from “opinion” programming, but has coincidentally resulted in a purge of black talent, and black audience, at the network.

That’s all well and good if you like Brian Williams and five days of Meet the Press, but Halperin doesn’t really fit so neatly into that move away from “opinion” shows, because Halperin’s show is nothing if not an opinion show, the only difference being those opinions are completely worthless. They’re not grounded in anything, no coherent belief system, and no expertise.

The move to promote Halperin is just another example of the undue influence exerted by morning show host Joe Scarborough, whose show is the closest thing that Washington villagers have to a living Bible, and from whose shadow Halperin has now emerged. For their trouble, what remains of MSNBC’s audience get an unwatchable show that’s the political equivalent of Seinfeld, but not in a good way. It’s a show about nothing that’s going nowhere.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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