Thursday, June 30, 2011

Was MSNBC Right to Suspend Mark Halperin for his Remarks about the President?

President Obama was tough with Republicans during yesterday's White House news conference.  He said they "need to do their job" to make a deal on the budget and that they have to agree to end tax breaks for the oil and gas companies, hedge funds and others.  He also challenged them to delay their Fourth of July break in order to get the job done.

Hours later, at the start of Morning Joe on MSNBC, the discussion about the president's remarks got right to the point.

Joe Scarborough asked Mark Halperin from Time Magazine for his opinion on whether the president was using showmanship.

Halperin smirked and asked if he could be candid. Was the seven second delay in place?

Scarborough, seizing the opportunity for a hot discussion, challenged Halperin: "Take a chance."

His co-host, Mike Brzezinski said, "We have it.  Can we use it?  Alex? (asking the producer) Let's see what happens?"

So Mark Halperin, very deliberately, called the president of the United States a bad word used for the male anatomy.  You can see the whole clip here. 

The response from the hosts was shock.

Scarborough: "What are you doing?  I was joking.  Don't do that.  Did we delay that?"

Producer:  "I hit it.  I hope it worked."

Scarborough: "I'm not shocked by much, but I'm shocked.  You can't shock me!  My mother's watching.  We'll soon find out."

I don't think Halperin realized the repercussions right away because the discussion continued along  normal lines.  But later on there was contrition all around.  Halperin apologized to the president, to the office and to viewers.  Scarborough and Brzezinksi apologized as well and took responsibility for goading their guest and for assuring him he would be bleeped, which he wasn't.

Later, MSNBC suspended Halperin, a regular contributor to the network, indefinitely.

Should they have been so harsh?

No.  Halperin should have been suspended for a week because he did say something wrong, but it was minor and he clearly believed his remarks would not make it to air.

A larger point has been made about the tenor of the political discourse and how it has devolved.

That is certainly true and adjustments should be made by politicians and commentators alike.  The verbal blows have become too severe all around.

But I have been watching Mark Halperin for a long time as a regular "Morning Joe" viewer and I've witnessed that he is generally very collegial in his comments and in his manner. 

Anyone in broadcasting knows that you should never say anything untoward in a studio where microphones could be live at any time.  That was a big mistake and it's shocking that people on TV daily don't adhere to this decades old dictum.

And, certainly, political salvos from both sides of the aisle have become too strong and it is beyond time that politicians and commentators return to civility, but I don't think Mark Halperin is to blame and I don't think his punishment should be as serious as it is.

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