Eleanor McManus: When I was just out of college, in a private informational meeting with Mark Halperin, he tried to kiss me and attempted a bit more
McManus: I'm telling my story now in hopes that when this happens again to another young woman, and it will, she will not fear speaking out
Editor’s Note: Eleanor McManus was a senior producer for CNN’s Larry King Live, and is the cofounder of Trident DMG, a crisis management and strategic communications firm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.
The first 10 years of my professional career were spent at CNN. Beginning as a production assistant, I worked my way up to senior producer for “Larry King Live.” I had the most amazing opportunities to work incredible news stories, and even met my husband at CNN. I loved everything about TV news – the excitement, the ability to be part of breaking a story, the adrenaline, and the camaraderie of the entire news team.
But my career at CNN – and in journalism, for that matter – almost didn’t happen.
When I was a 21-year-old student, I attended a political event in Boston. Present were several candidates running for president. It was interesting to see political leaders speak in person for the first time, but it wasn’t the speeches that intrigued me – it was the cameras in the back of the room. The media asking questions, trying to break stories, making their news reports – that was most exciting to me.
So I worked up the courage to go to the back of the room to speak with one of the journalists. That’s when I met Mark Halperin, who was at that time working for ABC News. He gave me his card, told me to give him a call and said he would help me understand how to get into the business.
Fast forward several months later to when I graduated and asked for an informational meeting. I reached out to Mr. Halperin and he asked me to come see him. I was thrilled that someone from ABC News was willing to meet with me – perhaps that was my way in the door. It was my first official meeting; I even had to buy a suit for the occasion.
I don’t quite remember what we talked about, but I do remember him asking me to sit down next to him on the couch. I thought it was awkward to sit on the couch when I was perfectly comfortable sitting in the chair across from his desk. But I complied, and I also remember him sitting a little too close to me.
At one point I felt a bit too uncomfortable, and I stood up to thank him for the meeting. That’s when he leaned in, tried to kiss me, and attempted to do a bit more. I didn’t want to offend the man in charge of political programming at ABC News, and I tried to be courteous and apologetic, and practically ran out of the office. I was upset not by his actions, but the thought that I did something wrong to encourage that behavior. Was my suit too revealing? Did I lead him on? Was this what I had to expect if I went into broadcast news or journalism? If so, I didn’t want any part of it.
Luckily, I was resilient back then and I didn’t let this situation detour my hopes and dreams. I moved to Washington, DC and studied journalism full-time. When I finally landed a position at CNN on “Larry King Live,” I booked celebrities, politicians, and all sorts of newsmakers. One person I vowed never to book on the show was Mark Halperin. If that was my only payback, then so be it.
Over the years I’ve told this story to several people, and only because it irritated me that someone like him became more and more successful and grew through the ranks, getting away with his behavior for so long. It only came to an end this week when CNN reported the accounts of five women who said Halperin had sexually harassed women while at ABC.
As difficult a decision as it was, I thought it was time to come forward with my personal story because hopefully other women will have the courage to come forward and tell their own stories, no longer remaining silent for fear of retribution.
Looking back, knowing what I know now, I should not have been so courteous and apologetic. I should have told him his actions were wrong and reported him to the ABC News HR department. But, as many have said before me, I was young and naive and didn’t want to ruin my career before it even began.
I’m telling my story publicly now because I hope that when this happens again to another young woman, and it will, she will not be so courteous and apologetic. I’m hoping women today will finally speak out in real-time – when this behavior happens. Women cannot stay silent for fear it will damage their careers, because that only allows the aggressor to continue his behavior with other women.
I don’t think this behavior will ever go away. But I do hope that from now on, women will finally speak out when it happens to them. Maybe it will empower others – both men and women – to stand up for themselves, and predators will no longer be able to get away with their abhorrent behavior.
A spokesperson for Halperin declined to comment, but pointed us to Halperin’s Wednesday night statement, responding to a CNN article detailing allegations against him by five other women: “During this period, I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me. 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.”
On Thursday, HBO, which, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner, issued the following statement: “HBO is no longer proceeding with the project tied to the untitled book co-authored by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann on the 2016 Presidential election. HBO has no tolerance for sexual harassment within the company or its productions.”
A spokesman for MSNBC, where Halperin has worked as a political analyst, said in a statement: “We find the story and the allegations very troubling. Mark Halperin is leaving his role as a contributor until the questions around his past conduct are fully understood.”