The heated national exchange about the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment and media industries took another unexpected, but not altogether unsurprising, turn Thursday when CNN reported that veteran political journalist and “Game Change” author Mark Halperin has been accused of sexual harassment by no fewer than five women with whom he worked during his tenure as the director of political coverage at ABC News.
Halperin acknowledged the accusations in a statement to CNN, saying he didn’t understand at the time that his behavior was inappropriate.
"During this period, I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me," Halperin said in a statement to CNN Wednesday night.
"I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain. For that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize. Under the circumstances, I'm going to take a step back from my day-to-day work while I properly deal with this situation."
Because of the accusations, NBC said it was suspending Halperin from his main gig as an analyst at NBC News, where he would make frequent guest appearances on “Morning Joe.”
"We find the story and the allegations very troubling," MSNBC said in a statement to CNN, which broke the story.
"Mark Halperin is leaving his role as a contributor until the questions around his past conduct are fully understood."
As CNN points out, Halperin is one of the most recognizable political journalists in the US, thanks to his frequent TV appearances and his Showtime show “the Circus” which covered the 2016 campaign and the early days of the Trump presidency. Halperin, 52, has, among other career highlights, been political director at ABC News; co-authored the bestselling book "Game Change," which was made into an HBO movie starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin; and anchored a television show on Bloomberg TV. He left Bloomberg in January, and was reportedly developing a project with HBO, though the fate of that venture remains to be seen.
CNN’s account of Halperin’s behavior follows a familiar narrative: A man in a position of power, importuning younger women at ABC for sex, or engaging in unwanted groping. Three women said he once pressed his erect penis up against the while they were both fully clothed.
But women who spoke to CNN say he also had a dark side not made public until now. The stories of harassment shared with CNN range in nature from propositioning employees for sex to kissing and grabbing one's breasts against her will. Three of the women who spoke to CNN described Halperin as, without consent, pressing an erection against their bodies while he was clothed. Halperin denies grabbing a woman's breasts and pressing his genitals against the three women.
The women who worked with Halperin and who spoke with CNN did not report to Halperin. However, Halperin made many decisions about political coverage at ABC News, and had a voice in some critical personnel decisions. None of the women have said, though, that he ever promised anything in exchange for sex, or suggested that he would retaliate against anyone.
Still, while they no longer work with him, Halperin continues to wield influence in politics and media. The women who spoke to CNN said it was for this reason that they shared their accounts on the condition of anonymity. Others also said they still feel embarrassed about what happened to them and did not want to be publicly associated with it.
ABC news confirmed that no complaints were filed during Halperin’s tenure.
"Mark left ABC News over a decade ago, and no complaints were filed during his tenure," ABC News said in a statement provided to CNN after this article was published.
Two of the women who spoke with CNN recounted how Halperin invited them to his office for casual discussions, only to try to kiss or grope them without consent. Both women reported being shaken by Halperin’s advances.
The first woman told CNN she was invited to visit his office in the early 2000s, when he was political director at ABC News, to have a soda, and said that while she was there with him he forcibly kissed her and pressed his genitals against her body.
"I went up to have a soda and talk and -- he just kissed me and grabbed my boobs," the woman said. "I just froze. I didn't know what to do."
When she did make her way out of his office, the woman told a friend at ABC News what had happened. That friend told CNN she remembered the woman telling her about the incident and seeing her visibly shaken.
The second woman, another former ABC News employee, described a similar experience in his office during the 2004 campaign cycle. This woman said she was around 25 years old then, and wanted to be a "campaign off-air" -- ABC News' term for one of the reporters who travel embedded with presidential campaigns -- so she reached out to Halperin, who was a part of the decision-making process regarding those assignments at the time.
"The first meeting I ever had with him was in his office and he just came up from behind -- I was sitting in a chair from across his desk -- and he came up behind me and [while he was clothed] he pressed his body on mine, his penis, on my shoulder," this woman told CNN. "I was obviously completely shocked. I can't even remember how I got out of there -- [but] I got out of there and was freaked out by that whole experience. Given I was so young and new I wasn't sure if that was the sort of thing that was expected of you if you wanted something from a male figure in news."
The woman said Halperin continued to express a sexual desire for her in subsequent visits, despite being rebuffed.
"It was more like him coming up too close to me and sort of along the lines of hugging me," she explained.
A third women recounted how Halperin propositioned her for sex without any provocation.
A third woman, also a former ABC News employee, told CNN she was on the road with Halperin when he propositioned her.
"I excused myself to go to the bathroom and he was standing there when I opened the door propositioning [me] to go into the other bathroom to do something," she said. "It freaked me out. I came out of the ladies' room and he was just standing there. Like almost blocking the door."
Halperin left ABC News in 2007 for Time magazine and joined Bloomberg in 2014 for a reported salary of $1 million. At Bloomberg, he co-anchored "With All Due Respect" with journalist John Heilemann. The show was simulcast on MSNBC for a period.
One of the women said she found Halperin’s success to be exasperating.
"For the last 11 years, I have had to watch this guy find success in every other news organization," one of the women who said she experienced harassment told CNN.
We imagine this isn’t the last expose about a powerful media figure attempting to leverage his position in pursuit of sexual favors. Earlier this month, Buzzfeed reported that a google doc was being circulated among female professionals in the media industry that included a list of men who’ve been accused of sexual improprieties ranging from harassment to rape. To date, none of the names on the list have been made public – and it’s unclear if Halperin’s was among them.
But with speculation surrounding the list's contents continuing to mount, and even some conservative bloggers threatening to publish all or some of the names, Halperin might soon have company.
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Perhaps the most trouble parallel between the allegations against Halperin in the allegations against Harvey Weinstein (which, it goes without saying, are far more serious) is that, in both instances, the behavior of the accused was reportedly widely known - and ignored. CNN senior correspondent Clarissa Ward said on Thursday that Mark Halperin’s alleged sexual harassment was an “open secret” at ABC News “for years.”
Ward, who was an international correspondent for ABC News from 2007 to 2010, took to Twitter to commend the women for speaking up.
Meanwhile, we'd like to draw your attention, dear reader, to the following tweet, published by Halperin shortly after the Washington Post dropped the "Access Hollywood" tape where President Donald Trump can be heard uttering his now famous "grab them by the p---y" line....
When people say some new Trump tape could have material that is WORSE than the @accesshollywood video, what exactly could be WORSE?!?— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) October 9, 2016
How about you tell us, Mark?