In the fall of 2017, Mark Halperin’s career looked like a terminal case. A celebrity, at least by the standards of the journalism industry, Halperin was known for the Game Change books he’d co-authored with John Heilemann, and for mastering a reporting style that relied more on his access to important people than the profundity of his insight. Multiple women told CNN that the political journalist had pressed his erection against them without their consent. Others said that he had masturbated in front of them; another told the news channel that he “violently” threw her against a window in order to kiss her, and later threatened her journalism career. Halperin reportedly abused the women during his time at ABC News, where he had power and his victims had little. The Daily Beast then located other victims; some were college students when they encountered Halperin’s unwelcome lechery. And people knew about it years before CNN ever published a word. His misconduct was, in the Beast’s words, “an open secret” among his peers.
When Halperin lost his commentating gigs and Penguin canceled his publishing deal with Heilemann, he lost access to his hunting grounds. #MeToo, which was then in its infancy as a mainstream movement, had delivered overdue justice — again. In October alone, credible accusations of misconduct took down Halperin, Harvey Weinstein, and my own boss: Hamilton Fish, then the publisher of The New Republic. But as #MeToo gathered strength, it inspired commensurate worry from critics, who feared it would one day go too far, that anonymous accusations would tip into mob justice. That for every Mark Halperin, there would be an innocent victim, a man unfairly ruined because a woman had exaggerated or even manufactured a claim.
Like the people who populate them, movements are fallible. But women have a great deal to lose by advancing even minimal accusations of misconduct, a fact that #MeToo’s antagonists tended to ignore. In a similar turn, the last two years haven’t provided much credence for the fear that vigilante justice would take over. Weinstein is still persona non grata, but other men’s careers remain remarkably resilient.
Halperin is back. On Sunday, Politico reported that he’s signed a new book deal with Regan Arts. His magnum opus, How to Beat Trump, is planned for November; in a statement, his publisher, Judith Regan, condemned Halperin’s behavior, but added, “I have also lived long enough to believe in the power of forgiveness, second chances, and offering a human being a path to redemption.” And dozens of Democratic strategists seem to agree. Seventy-five professional liberals, including Donna Brazile, David Axelrod, and Jim Margolis, granted Halperin interviews for the book. Axelrod has said that he regrets speaking to Halperin, but in a statement to the Beast, Brazile, who is now a Fox News contributor, sounded less apologetic. “We are still angry at him and will never cease to admonish him,” she said, but added, “After a lot of emails, tough times for sure, I wanted to go on the record with my answers about how to defeat Trump. Many of my friends today are disappointed that I answered Mark’s call, but I did so after he understood where I was coming from.”
Washington runs on shamelessness. This is beneficial for people like Halperin. Remora-like, he attaches himself to mightier fish and, protected from danger, devours their leavings. It’s the sort of dynamic that #MeToo’s supporters had hoped to change, but sycophancy is a powerful skill and Halperin has always known precisely how to wield it. His resurrection has been building for months. He appeared first on Michael Smerconish’s Sirius XM show in April; then he launched his newsletter and a website, where you can peruse his insights at your own risk. “The fact is, in the era of Trump, the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same,” he recently observed. Nothing — not even the absence of talent — can keep a bad man down.
Halperin isn’t the only man to survive a recent brush with justice. Al Franken is back in public life, if not public office, buoyed by a few powerful loyalists. At the New York Times, Glenn Thrush is back on the White House beat less than two years after Vox first published accounts of his sexual misconduct. As reported by Laura McGann, multiple women journalists accused Thrush of groping, unwanted kissing, and inappropriate advances during his time with Politico. McGann recalled her own distressing incident: Not only did Thrush place his hand on her thigh and kiss her against her will at a bar, he told their colleagues at Politico that McGann herself had initiated the encounter. In response, the Times suspended Thrush for the duration of an internal investigation. It then demoted him to covering welfare, as if poverty is a menial beat, and this turned out to be a temporary punishment. Thrush’s endurance is uniquely repugnant in light of his response to McGann’s story. The journalist later told Jezebel that the day before her article ran, Thrush’s attorney sent a letter to Vox urging the company to ask her “about her own relationships in the workplace while at Politico.”
#MeToo’s critics seem to fear the whisper network’s uncontrollable qualities. It exists externally to any institution and it’s difficult to police. It’s conceivable that these qualities could lend themselves to a form of vigilante justice. But two years into our post-Weinstein world, it is obvious that this is not the case with #MeToo. In the order of things, money and influence still rule.