Editor’s Note: Eleanor McManus is co-founder of the strategic communications and crisis management firm Trident DMG. She is co-founder of Press Forward, an independent initiative whose mission is to change culture in newsrooms. She was formerly a senior producer for CNN. Follow her @eleanorsmcmanus. The views expressed here are solely the author’s. View more opinion articles on CNN.
This November the disgraced political journalist Mark Halperin is publishing a book on how to defeat President Trump in 2020. With help from his editor Judith Regan and Simon and Schuster, he is trying to regain a position of influence after being outed as a serial sexual harasser. There is a good chance he’ll soon again be back on the air, talking politics in an election year.
This November is also two years since, in these pages, I shared my unfortunate experience with Halperin. After graduating college, I interviewed at ABC News with Halperin, hoping to land my dream job in journalism. Instead, the interview was cut short after he behaved inappropriately toward me, altering the course of my career.
Since then, many other women have emerged – some publicly, some not – with their own terrible allegations about Halperin abusing his authority to prey on young women. The accounts span many years of alleged workplace abuse. Who knows how many hardworking, intelligent, and capable women he drove from the industry.
The question we face now is not just whether Halperin did what he did, it’s whether he deserves the opportunity to resume his public career, potentially influencing a presidential race.
As a public relations professional and former CNN producer, I have seen Halperin’s playbook before. It’s the basic redemption campaign, where you apologize (sort of), lie low (sort of), wait for a change in the narrative, and move onward, as if nothing happened.
Are we as a society going to allow this? If we do, what will that say about #MeToo, the momentous cultural reckoning that has been underway for the last two years?
If Halperin succeeds, who is next? Will Bill O’Reilly – forced out from FOX News – host another evening talk show? Will Matt Lauer – fired from NBC News – host another morning news program? Will Les Moonves – fired from CBS – be hired to run another media conglomerate? What about Charlie Rose – fired from CBS and PBS?
But here we are, two months away from Halperin going on his book tour.
We are entering an inevitable and necessary next chapter in the #MeToo movement: grappling with the potential redemption for those publicly shamed for their behavior. These men are resuming their careers and rebuilding their public profiles – or trying to. How should we respond? What should we demand of them?
I discussed this with Ari Wilkenfeld, an employment lawyer who has represented many women in harassment and abuse cases, including the woman whose complaint led to Lauer’s termination. We agreed that there are three main foundations of forgiveness:
1. Apologize genuinely: The first component of any forgiveness is an authentic apology that demonstrates an understanding of the harm caused. It does not have to be a public apology, but should at least be made privately to the victim or victims.
2. Acknowledge fully: Apologies are necessary but not sufficient. Former predators must openly acknowledge what they did wrong. Victims want to be confident the perpetrator knows what they did to them and the harm it caused. Acknowledgment of bad acts and the harm they caused goes a long way with a victim.
3. Advocate authentically: Former predators must prove they have changed not just by treating people appropriately. The must advocate by working with women’s groups, speaking at events, donating time, resources and money to fight this behavior and using this time as a living, breathing “teachable moment” around workplace culture.
Of course, some predators can never earn redemption – the harm they inflicted, the public trust they broke, is just too great. There is a spectrum of misconduct and we cannot treat every act equally.
Should Halperin have the opportunity to write a book and return to the public spotlight? He apologized through several public statements, most recently in a statement made to the New York Times: “As I have said before, I am sincerely sorry for the pain I caused to others. I had no right to behave the way I did, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
He has also denied that some of his actions were not consensual with the women who came forward. According to Press Forward, the organization founded by current and former journalists who say they were harassed by powerful men in the media, including Halperin, he has yet to apologize to victims who have come forward – including myself.
In my opinion, he has not shown any accountability or atonement for his actions. He has also not taken full responsibility or acknowledge his inappropriate behavior. He has chosen to simply ignore the past.
Listen to his “apology” comments to SiriusXM host Michael Smerconish from an interview just a few months ago: “I’d like to take the opportunity to again apologize to the women that I mistreated, who told their stories, and who were hurt by me. I wasn’t a perfect person when I made these mistakes. I’m not a perfect person now. I’m happy to be judged by perfect people.” (The italics are mine.)
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This November, instead of gallivanting around the country selling books and dispensing political advice, he should be working to undo the damage he did to so many women’s lives.
Unfortunately, it’s possible someone can be unremorseful and inherently broken; for those people, maybe they should just go away.