|Writer Mark Halperin|
And lest you wonder, no that's not a misprint and yes, I am decidedly sober.
Unlike our friends over at Fox News, I firmly believe in treating all political candidates with a basic measure of respect and decency; and I do my best to limit my contempt for a politician to his or her political stances or policy views rather than their race, ethnicity or sex.
As past blog posts will attest, I may not agree with Ted Cruz's obstinate brand of fiery conservative rhetoric, and at times I have no idea what the Hell he's talking about (remember his 'Green Eggs & Ham' filibuster speech?), but I do respect his right to express his own political beliefs.
So I think it's totally inappropriate for any reporter to use Cruz's heritage or racial identity like some kind of punch line during an interview.
As Ian Millhiser reported in an article on ThinkProgress.org, writer and former television news producer/correspondent Mark Halperin is catching serious heat for doing just that in a recent on-camera interview he conducted for Bloomberg Politics.
As Millhiser observed, "Though Halperin begins the interview by raising a legitimate topic — a speech Cruz gave to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — his conversation with Cruz quickly goes off the rails. “Your last name is Cruz and you’re from Texas,” Halperin asks Cruz. “Just based on that, should you have appeal to Hispanic voters?”"
It got worse.
Halperin had the temerity to ask Cruz if he identified himself as "Hispanic" on his application to Harvard before grilling the Texas Senator on substantive political issues like his favorite Cuban singer, and his favorite Cuban food.
And that was before he asked Cruz to demonstrate his mastery of Spanish by asking him to, "...welcome your colleague Senator (Bernie) Sanders to the race and I’d like you to do it, if you would, en Español.”
Halperin may as well have asked Cruz to do a Ricky Ricardo imitation for good measure.
Now I don't dislike Mark Halperin, in fact we both attended the same high school in Bethesda, Maryland, Walt Whitman Senior High School (Go Vikes!)
He's been around the ring of the political media circus, cut his teeth in the trench warfare of presidential campaign coverage and been a (mostly Democratic) talking head on television; during his career he's served in various roles as researcher, producer and correspondent for ABC and MSNBC.
But he's not blindly Democratic in the way most Fox News hosts tend to be about Republican candidates or politicians.
For example, according to a Wikipedia.org article, in 2011 Halperin was suspended from MSNBC for a month after saying that President Obama had come off as "kind of a dick" during a press conference on the program Morning Joe.
Halperin is supposedly earning seven figures for his current political analysis gig with Bloomberg but is perhaps best known as the co-author of the book chronicling the 2008 presidential election, "Game Change" - which was made into a highly-acclaimed HBO movie of the same name starring Ed Harris as Senator John McCain and Juliane Moore as Sarah Palin in 2012.
So while he's a fairly shrewd political observer, Halperin's particular brand of reporting and political commentary can land him in hot water.
Washington Post writer Phillip Lump wrote an interesting piece for The Washington Post yesterday chronicling Halperin's somewhat superficial political coverage/analysis of the 2016 GOP Presidential race with his curious report-card grading system; which according to Lump seems to have very little to do with substance and more to do with Halperin's own perception of their style.
Personally I thought "Game Change" was a brilliant movie (I've never read the book) but in my opinion, the substance of some of Halperin's Bloomberg interview with Cruz came off less the tongue-in-cheek casual interview he claims it was meant to be, than a buffonish, racially insensitive example of a poorly prepared interview.
It's hard to know what Halperin was going for in that interview.
Was it a klutzy not very well-thought-out attempt to juxtapose Cruz's Cuban heritage with the staunchly anti-immigrant position of the Tea Partiers who deify Cruz?
Was it a poorly planned effort to get Cruz to embrace his Cuban-ness to create some kind of usable sound-bite to serve as digital fodder for liberal social media?
Whatever Halperin intended it to be, it offended a lot of people. To be fair he did post a public apology, but that cat is already way out of the bag.
In fact the the interview itself was broadcast more than a month ago and might very well have gone unnoticed if not for a powerful op-ed piece that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on May 9th written by Reuben Navarette.
Navarette, himself of Hispanic heritage, is the real reason the story has blown up and while larger more mainstream media outlets have picked up on the story, Navarette's piece cuts to the chase and it's most definitely worth a read if you have a few minutes to click over and check it out.
As Navaretter observes, "Watching Mark Halperin of Bloomberg Politics interview Cruz recently, I wasn't just uncomfortable. I was actually nauseated."
What's ironic in all this are the various talking heads of conservative media getting all riled up at Halperin touching on Cruz's ethnicity in a way that's inappropriate.
Some of the same people who've spent eight years aping Fox News by calling President Obama everything from a radical Muslim, to a lying "uppity" so-and-so, to a gun-grabbing socialist are suddenly offended at the idea of a member of the media using a Republican candidate's racial heritage in ways that are inappropriate?
Maybe now they know how it feels to be "Foxed."