Halperin: Media shouldn’t be ‘combatants trying to beat the people we’re covering’

Getty Images

NBC Senior Political Analyst Mark Halperin says that the press “should not be combatants trying to beat the people we’re covering.” 

The 52-year-old author, political analyst and “Morning Joe” staple spoke to The Hill ahead of the premiere of the second season of the Showtime series, “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth,” stressing that the Fourth Estate needs to get back to four basic things if it hopes to win back public trust currently at an all-time low.

“One is not be biased. Two is just have fidelity of that core mission to hold all powerful interests accountable to the public interest. Three is recognize that we are not seen as fair and we need to have consistent performance,” Halperin said. “We can’t have seven days of being fair and on the eighth day be unfair. You got to be consistently living up to the highest ideals of our profession.”

“And lastly, I think we have to do all of this with a smile on our face,” he concluded. “I think with the current administration, too many people in the media have decided that we’re going to be warriors in some kind of hostile confrontation with the people we cover, and we have to be aggressive and unyielding in what we do.”

“But I don’t think we should be players, we should not be combatants trying to beat the people were covering. We should really be thinking about the public interest, in an optimistic way, not in a dark way, but in an optimistic way about the country and our role in it.”

{mosads}The former editor-at-large for Time magazine and Bloomberg managing editor will once again be joined on “The Circus” by “Game Change” and “Double Down” co-author John Heilemann, as well as longtime political adviser Mark McKinnon, who will serve as producer and periodic guest.

The critically acclaimed first season of the political documentary series focused on the unpredictable and stunning 2016 presidential campaign and election.

Unlike most of the punditry and analysis of the race from afar in television news studios in New York or Washington, the documentary was on the road speaking not only to the candidates and strategists, but to voters as well.

Halperin faced some criticism leading up to the election for being more bullish than others on candidate Donald Trump’s prospects.

“When Donald Trump complains that he is not getting favorable coverage in the mainstream media, he has not been listening to you this cycle,” MSNBC anchor Brian Williams said to Halperin on the air Oct. 25. “I think you’ve gone out of your way to find the path, argue for the path, forge the path for him in an argumentative way.”

“Brian Williams dissed Mark Halperin’s Trump coverage. Big league.” read a Washington Post headline the following day.

Halperin’s analysis, however, was based on what he was hearing from voters on the ground living in key battleground states from Florida to North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Michigan to Ohio.

“Everybody’s saying ‘do more of that,’ ” Halperin tells The Hill. “I thought that was the whole point of going out on the campaign. So I’m a little surprised that this kind of emotion is a revelation that one of the things you’re supposed to do when you go out with a campaign. You’re supposed to talk to voters.”

Season Two of “The Circus” will focus on President Trump’s first 100 days in office.

“This season’s going to have the same production, technique and same people behind the scenes… and the same attempt to bring people into spaces that they haven’t normally had access to,” explains Halperin.

“The challenge now is to document how it is a new administration that has all the normal chaos and uncertainty with a new president, with the added element that the new president is Donald Trump.”

The first episode of the second season will include Halperin’s trip last Wednesday with Trump to Nashville, where the president held a rally to drum up support for new Republican legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Halperin sees danger in trying “to solve the Rubik’s cube of passing healthcare” in terms of the Republicans’ approach to getting a law passed that is staunchly opposed by Democrats and is facing resistance from the more conservative flank of the GOP, a story line he believes is under-covered in terms of potential implications for the Trump presidency.

“[Trump’s] doing this all with Republican votes,” Halperin explains. “He didn’t even attempt, as President Obama did, for months to try to craft something that could win support from the other party.”

“And so, one of the big premises of his candidacy was ‘I’m not beholden to either party, I’m not going to govern in some kind starkly ideological way. I’m going to bring the country together.’ And instead, he’s chosen with his first major legislative act is to do this simply with Republican votes,” he continues.

“And there’s a certain political logic to that. But I think that after three straight polarizing presidents that someone come in and seemingly — because of the reaction of the Democratic left to the administration in general and to the healthcare proposal specifically — it seems very difficult to imagine now that this isn’t going to be just four more years of abject partisanship and polarization.

“And that is under-covered because the implications of that is pretty big not just to the Trump administration but to the country.”

Halperin will mark his 30th year in media next year, having started in the business as a desk assistant at ABC News back in 1988. 

In addition to “The Circus,” Halperin and Heilemann will also be co-authoring a book on the 2016 election.

HBO will follow the book release, slated for early 2018, with a mini-series directed by Jay Roach and executive produced by Tom Hanks. Roach was also behind the award-winning movie adaptation of the John McCain-Sarah Palin aspect of “Game Change.”

Halperin shared that in addition to the 2016 election HBO mini-series, there is talk of another “Game Change” movie, this time focusing on the other half of the book regarding the contentious race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“The story of the Obamas and the Clintons is a great story, so don’t be surprised if we double back to that,” Halperin says.

As far as casting for the 2016 election miniseries, Halperin has learned that the selection process of who would play Trump, Steve Bannon or Kellyanne Conway is a complex one.

“I learned from the last time that Hollywood casting is significantly more complicated and fraught than anything in politics,” Halperin jokes.

Season two of “The Circus” premieres on Showtime Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. ET.

–This report was updated at 2:02 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John McCain

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video