In one way, this is PR 101—express regret, focus on the future, set the terms of the discussion to suggest that no one can be a fair critic—but the spin cycle here is cleansing much more than bad press. This is how forgetfulness sets in. (In the uncanny dystopia of 1984, “the past not only changed, but changed continuously.”) The sharp facts get dulled; the other characters get written away; and soon the story about Mark Halperin becomes generalized in the haze. He merely “did things that were wrong and affected the lives of other people.” And should we really be in the business of taking someone’s life from him just because he’s not a perfect person? Isn’t it time to move on?
“He seems genuinely sorry for what he did,” Smerconish said, defending his decision to host Halperin on his air. “My view is that to not let him opine after two years would be akin to a professional death sentence.”
Comebacks are certainly possible. Forgiveness is an act of grace. The allegations vary, and so must the responses to them. What has become clear, however, since the phrase #MeToo comeback became an open question and an anxious refrain, is the lack of a common vernacular that might lend precision to discussions of what redemption could look like for Halperin and so many others. The richness and nuance embedded in the discourse of restorative justice have not scaled to the mass media that direct the national conversation. Instead, for the most part, the professional returns have come through side doors and back channels, often without full restitution or, it would seem, true reckonings—corporations and institutions deciding on behalf of everyone else what time, precisely, will be the time to move on.
The New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, reassigned to cover HUD and HHS after a Times investigation concluded that he had “behaved in ways that we do not condone,” has quietly returned to covering electoral politics. NBC’s Brian Williams, suspended in 2015 not for a #MeToo-related offense but for telling an invented anecdote on the air, made a gradual comeback that, as Politico put it, “has been so understated and seamless, that it would have been easy not to notice.” The comeback culminated this week in Williams’s appearance at the NBCUniversal upfront programming presentation—which heralded, as Variety put it in a headline summarizing the event, “NBCU to Brian Williams: All Is Forgiven.”
Al Franken, who left the Senate in 2017 after being accused by several women of groping and unwanted kissing, recently tested the waters of a comeback via an essay he published in late April on his personal website. The essay said things about Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Attorney General William Barr; it also said, between its lines, It’s time to move on.
And now Mark Halperin is back, marketing punditry that will try—just as it did in the 2016 election—to shape the conversations that will in turn shape, among so much else, women’s futures. He has done work with a charity in Queens, he says; he has not, three of his accusers told The Washington Post recently, apologized to them personally. He has apparently simply forged ahead, confident that he’s done enough, and that his right to opine outweighs the other facts—and the other people—of the matter. So has Louis C.K., who has been playing small clubs as part of his own creeping comeback tour. (“An apology probably wouldn’t have satisfied his detractors on social media or the handful of protesters who set up in front of Acme [Comedy Company] for more than an hour Tuesday,” the Star-Tribune noted of a set C.K. performed last week in Minneapolis. “They didn’t get one.”) Over the summer, one comedy organizer explained the market logic of C.K.’s “redemption” like this: “At a club, the owners are going to want to put him up because there’s still money to be made with him and he’s still a name.”