It’s getting to where you can’t keep track of the lechers, gropers and sexual abusers without a scorecard. Once one of these sexually-tinged moral panics we have so frequently gets going, there’s no telling whose squalid little sins will be exposed to public view.
If nothing else, they start a lot of titillating conversations. Shouldn’t there, for example, be a general immunity for office Christmas parties? OK, that’s a joke. But hold the phone.
Certain details are hard to assimilate. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly personally paid a $32 million settlement to a woman he sexually harassed? Yowza! That sounds like a lot more than unwanted kisses and pats on the fanny to me. And then he did it some more? That sounds downright pathological.
For that matter, if even half the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein are true—which few doubt—the man belongs in prison, although it’s doubtful he’ll be convicted. But he’s finished as a public figure. No more Oscar red carpet appearances for Harvey.
Closer to my own profession, I won’t deny a degree of pleasure seeing certain of the moral scolds who professed outrage at Bill Clinton’s sins brought low. NPR editor Michael Oreskes, who resigned after evidently making a career of fondling, tongue-kissing and propositioning unsuspecting young job-seekers, was Washington editor of the New York Times during the Monica Lewinsky era—herself an eager volunteer, you may recall.
Jill Abramson, then Oreskes’s respected second-in-command, now regrets not confronting him or filing a formal complaint. The author of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas,” (how’s that for irony?) Abramson says, “If I had to do it again, I would have told him to knock it off. . . .Maybe confronting him would have somehow stopped him from doing it to another woman.”
Or maybe not. What often struck me during the Lewinsky scandal was the number of politicians and pundits (myself included) who kept their own intimate lives of spotless rectitude secret while berating Clinton. By offering payola, Hustler’s Larry Flynt gleefully took down a number of congressional hypocrites, most notably GOP House Speaker Bob Livingston. But journalists—not a particularly virtuous cohort, in my experience—remained unscathed.
Which brings us to ubiquitous political commentator Mark Halperin. Essentially the Hedda Hopper of Washington journalism (that’s a gossip columnist, kiddies), Halperin co-authored Game Change, a best-selling book about the 2012 presidential campaign. It became a well-reviewed HBO movie. He was everywhere on cable-TV—a regular on Morning Joe, Today, etc. He had a lucrative contract for a book on the 2016 campaign with an HBO tie-in.
Halperin first made his bones in 1992, pressing Bill Clinton about (you guessed it), Gennifer Flowers—the Little Rock chanteuse who earned an estimated $500,000 pretending to be the 42nd president’s longtime mistress. (Clinton eventually admitted a lone encounter with Flowers in the back seat of a car.)
More recently, Halperin expressed initial shock at Donald Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” remarks. “When people say some new Trump tape could have material that is WORSE than the @accesshollywood video,” he tweeted, “what exactly could be WORSE?!?” Good question.
But Halperin quickly regained his balance, urging viewers to be skeptical of women accusing Trump of actually doing what he bragged about. He was widely regarded as Trump’s favorite non-Fox News pundit. Halperin and his longtime girlfriend recently bought a multimillion dollar summer home on fashionable Nantucket.
So now it turns out that Halperin allegedly enjoyed pressing his erect penis against unwilling twenty-something women who came to him for career advice—and that, once again, everybody pretty much knew it. CNN reporter Clarissa Ward tweeted that “I’d been warning young women reporters about Mark for a long time.”
College girls too. No sooner had CNN’s original expose of Halperin’s on-the-job behavior appeared than a lawyer named Katherine Glenn accused him of groping her under the table in 2011 when she was a 20 year-old Tulane undergraduate. The event took place at the home of James Carville and Mary Matalin, who’d hosted a dinner party for fifteen students and the distinguished visiting lecturer.
Anyway, goodbye Nantucket.
Halperin denies the lurid details, but he’s also apologized and resigned. No more book contract, no more HBO. You’d think they’d learn, these leg-humping dogs with the mad ambition. A successful rake like Bill Clinton waits for the woman to make the first move. Apparently, he rarely had to wait long. That’s why it took a federal sex investigation to catch him.
Does that strike you as cynical? OK then, I’ll also say this: The national conversation regarding these episodes strikes me as an unfortunate throwback to Victorian-era fainting couches. Women are properly standing up for themselves. However, you’d think there were no such things in our world as groupies, mistresses, courtesans or trophy wives.
Not all sins are crimes, and it’s important to maintain the distinction.