After NBC ousts Mark Halperin over sexual harassment claims, TV news executives wonder who is next

The swift downfall of political journalist Mark Halperin has the TV news business bracing for more revelations of sexual harassment.

Halperin’s contract with NBC News was terminated Monday, several days after allegations that he sexually harassed a dozen women during his tenure at ABC News from 1997 to 2007.

The incidents first reported by CNN on Wednesday have also cost Halperin deals with Showtime and Penguin Press, which was set to publish his next “Game Change” book on the 2016 presidential campaign, and HBO, which had planned a miniseries based on the tome.

The reports about Halperin follow the blockbuster allegations against former Weinstein Co. Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein, who has faced allegations of sexual harassment or assault from more than 50 women. The magnitude of the Weinstein reports has encouraged other women to speak out about their own harassment stories, and that has some TV news executives wondering — who’s next?

“A lot of women have been talking about it and remembering incidents that we have tried to forget in the past,” said Betsy West, a former ABC News executive who serves as the Fred W. Friendly professor of professional practice in media and society at the Columbia University School of Journalism. “It’s possible that other people might come forward.”

The Halperin scandal is another embarrassment for the TV news business, which has struggled with its own problems of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Fox News has been in the hot seat since former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the network’s former chief, Roger Ailes, in July 2016. The suit led to an internal investigation and more reporting that led to the ouster of Ailes and Fox News on-air personalities Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling.

The accusations against Halperin, which go back at least 10 years, could encourage more women from other networks to speak out about their experiences.

Eleanor McManus, a former CNN producer, went public about her alleged encounter with Halperin after that network broke the story. In a television interview with Megyn Kelly on Monday, she detailed how Halperin allegedly made sexual advances toward her during a meeting they had in the late 1990s when she was a Brandeis University student looking for advice on getting into the TV news business.

“I was angry because I was silent and because I was silent, this happened to other people,” McManus said. “And I knew right away that, that was when I was ready to come out and tell my story. Because these women — there are women that this happened to, who didn’t pursue their career in journalism because of this incident.... That made me so angry and so sad.”

ABC News has distanced itself from Halperin. David Westin, who served as its president from 1997 to 2010, issued a statement, saying no complaints were filed against Halperin during the time he worked at the network.

"During my time at ABC News, we vigorously pursued any allegation of sexual harassment involving our employees, investigating it promptly and taking action whenever warranted,” Westin said. “No complaint, formal or informal, concerning his actions ever came to me."

Several former ABC News employees who worked for the network at the time and spoke on the condition of anonymity said there had been cases in which other people were disciplined or fired over sexual harassment around the time of Halperin’s tenure.

A producer for “ABC World News Tonight” was dismissed after claims were made against him in 1998.

In 2008, former “Nightline” anchor Martin Bashir was suspended by the network for making a lewd, sexist remark about colleague Juju Chang at a conference for the Asian American Journalists Assn.

West said she was not aware of problems with Halperin but is not surprised his accusers remained silent.

“In those days women were afraid to say anything to their higher-ups,” she said. “So many of my colleagues have been talking about things that happened to them that you’d feel today emboldened to report. Back in the day you just thought this was the price you pay to work in the business you love.”

Halperin has apologized for his behavior at ABC, although he denied that he ever committed sexual assault or masturbated in front of his alleged victims, as one CNN report said. “I have recognized conduct for which I feel profound guilt and responsibility, some involving junior ABC News personnel and women just starting out in the business,” he said in a statement made on a Twitter account Friday.

After the NBC deal was dissolved Monday, Halperin’s representative referred to his Twitter statement.

An NBC News spokesperson said that as of Friday the company was not aware of any harassment complaints against Halperin. One executive at the network who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said Halperin was also known for being flirtatious, but there were no signs of the type of behavior described by his accusers at ABC News.

Halperin was not an NBC News employee. He did not have an office in the company’s headquarters. Most of his appearances were on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe.” His departure is not expected to disrupt the program, which draws on a wide array of analysts to discuss the day’s political news stories.

Television and movies are not the only media sectors to be swept up in sexual harassment scandals. New Republic publisher Hamilton Fish went on leave Monday pending an investigation of harassment claims by female employees at the magazine.

Leon Wieseltier, a prominent longtime editor at the publication, issued an apology last week after he was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate advances by employees.

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