Iowa strategist Jeff Link: "I deeply regret" participating in Mark Halperin book

Iowa Democratic strategist Jeff Link regrets providing comments for Mark Halperin’s forthcoming book, he told Bleeding Heartland.

Politico’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer were first to report on August 18 that Link was among “more than 75 top Democratic strategists” Halperin interviewed for How to Beat Trump: America’s Top Political Strategists on What It Will Take. News of the book deal provoked outrage due to Halperin’s long history of sexually harassing and assaulting women, which became public knowledge in October 2017.

The founder of the Des Moines-based Link Strategies political consulting and public relations firm said in an August 20 e-mail,

There’s nothing I can say that will bring any comfort to the women Mark Halperin assaulted. I should have been more mindful when I responded to an email he sent me several months ago asking for my take on the 2020 race, plain and simple. I understand that to end this cycle we have to stop empowering abusers. I’m sorry for the pain that even seeing his name might cause both his victims and to victims of similar abuse. Reading the recent stories with quotes from victims was a poignant reminder.

I accept my share of responsibility for that pain, and I deeply regret it. Going ahead, I can only pledge that I will not make the same mistake again.

Some strategists have expressed similar regrets about cooperating with Halperin, while others defended their participation.

I was never a fan of Halperin’s campaign coverage even before I knew he abused his power. In a 2011 speech about “Why Political Coverage is Broken,” media critic Jay Rosen described Halperin as “a cardinal in the Church of the Savvy.” It’s bad enough that Halperin helped spread that “savvy” style throughout the political reporting world. Along the way, he derailed or ruined many women’s careers, sometimes threatening those who rejected him sexually.

Nor has Halperin made amends for those actions, Margaret Sullivan wrote in a superb column for the Washington Post.

forgiveness, second chances and redemption should be inconceivable without dealing honestly and publicly — and, in some cases, personally — with misconduct.

And even if that happens, it doesn’t mean that the perpetrators should blithely get to return to what they were doing before the fall.

In some cases, a return to previous roles is simply wrong. […]

we shouldn’t want Mark Halperin back in print or on the air in the name of forgiveness.

Especially because he hasn’t asked for forgiveness directly from the very women whose lives and careers he damaged.

I would go further. Even if Halperin sincerely accepts responsibility for his misconduct and apologizes to his victims, he does not deserve another platform for covering the 2020 campaign. As business editor Heidi N. Moore articulated well in this Twitter thread, he’s “not a good political journalist,” and his personal failings would be a fatal defect for analyzing the current field.

Rebecca Traister wrote one of the best commentaries about this problem shortly after Halperin was exposed in October 2017.

We see that the men who have had the power to abuse women’s bodies and psyches throughout their careers are in many cases also the ones in charge of our political and cultural stories. […]

Mark Halperin co-authored Game Change, the soapy account of the 2008 election (excerpted in this magazine), which featured all kinds of history-making candidates who were not powerful white men. Halperin’s view of Hillary Clinton in particular was two-dimensional: Through his lens, she was a grasping and scandal-plagued woman; her exaggerated misdeeds and the intense feelings she engendered were all part of propelling his profitable narrative forward. His coverage of Trump, meanwhile, in this last campaign cycle, was notably soft, even admiring: Halperin once argued that the sexual-assault claims leveled at Trump would only help the now-president’s brand. […]

And while it may feel cathartic for some women to finally get to say things they’ve been waiting years to say, this does not undo the damage. We can’t go back in time and have the story of Hillary Clinton written by people who have not been accused of pressing their erections into the shoulders of young women who worked for them.

We cannot retroactively resituate the women who left jobs, who left their whole careers because the navigation of the risks, these daily diminutions and abuses, drove them out. Nor can we retroactively see the movies they would have made or the art they would have promoted, or read the news as they might have reported it.

I’m glad Link recognizes his mistake and won’t repeat it.

For those who feel it’s unfair to end a journalism career over sexual harassment, I’ll give Moore the last word.

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  • Too little...and surely too late....

    I find it a tad disingenuous that he now regrets giving the cretin Halperin an interview. This information about Halperin’s past sexual harassment and abuse has been known for years. Haperin also never told me anything I didn’t already know or assume about politics in the years he was gracing us with his pontifications. I believe Halperin only rode coattails of other original thinkers. Now for Halperin to try to claim his national authoritative position as a political pundit, after a clear pattern of sexual harassment and abuse, only reflects Halperin’s lack of remorse or understanding of what he inflicted on others. For Link to be part of any project for Halperin to regain any national stature is insulting to women and thinking men. But perhaps, the allure of being quoted in a national political book was too much for him to turn down the interview.