How bad does a mainstream media reporter have to screw up to get Think Progress to defend Ted Cruz? Actually, TP doesn’t defend Cruz other than to say that his Cuban heritage may be newsworthy in the context of actual policy positions, which is still a little questionable, but not whether he can identify Cuban cuisine on a menu. They call this the most racist interview of the 2016 cycle, but it’s still early yet:
Late last month, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin conducted a cringe-worthy interview with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). The interview meandered from questions about how Cruz plans to appeal to Latino voters to what appeared to be a series of requests that Cruz, who is Cuban American, prove that he is really, truly, authentically Cuban. By the end of the interview, when Halperin asks Cruz to say a few words “en Español,” one can’t help but think that Cruz had unwittingly wandered into a minstrel show, with Halperin demanding that Cruz perform for an audience.
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?”
Halperin’s suggestion that Hispanic voters may base their vote solely on the ethnicity of a particular candidate is actually a relative high point of the interview. The next question begins with Halperin telling Cruz that “people are really interested in you and your identity,” before Halperin asks whether Cruz listed himself as “Hispanic” when he applied to college and law school. Over the course of the next five minutes, Halperin demands that Cruz identify his “favorite Cuban food” and his “favorite “Cuban singer.”
Halperin concludes the interview with what appears to be a request that Cruz prove his Spanish-language skills: “I wanted to give you the opportunity to welcome your colleague Senator Sanders to the race and I’d like you to do it, if you would, en Español.”
That’s not the only unflattering attention Halperin’s getting. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump uses the Cruz interview to launch a rant about Halperin’s 2016 reporting in general, ripping the contrived use of his “report cards” on candidate appearances in particular:
There’s no correlation between a candidate doing well in Halperin’s assessment and doing well in the polls. Which: Of course not, since so few people see these performances, and because presidential preferences are shaped by much large forces. Nor do the grades offer any insight even when fleshed out. Halperin scribbles a sentence or two to justify the grades — a brevity that even reduces the “substance” to a veneer. Here’s him on Jeb Bush, at CPAC: “Substance: No abundance of new policy ideas, but reminded the audience that he can talk fluidly about domestic policy, and showed off a keen familiarity with congressional proposals and the central questions on foreign policy.” What were the new policy ideas? Who cares, didn’t you see the grade?
So why do it? Wang theorized that Halperin, perhaps chastened by the 2012 data-versus-anecdote debate, was trying to introduce some quantifiable metric to his analysis. Maybe. Or maybe Halperin is simply exercising his own little primary system, a system in which his inexplicable grades are the ones that count and in which if he wants to ask a guy to say something in Spanish, he’s going to ask a guy to say something in Spanish.
Bump all but accuses Halperin of mailing it in after getting a big contract from Bloomberg:
When Halperin joined Bloomberg, it was reported that he was earning seven figures for the privilege, largely on the strength of his “Game Change” book recaps of 2008 and 2012 with fellow Bloomberg recruit John Heilemann. It’s the sort of stamp of approval that could make anyone overestimate the usefulness of their insights. It’s hard to believe that this isn’t hat’s happening here.
In summary: We give Halperin a D on style and an F on substance. But there’s always another grading period, and, besides, that’s still a B overall. Bueno.
Ouch. That was the Washington Post, not a conservative blog or a progressive activist organization. That’s a verdict from one of Halperin’s colleagues in the media, not just on the Cruz interview but on Halperin’s work overall. It’s remarkable for its broad rebuke.
Update: Those who want to read a substantive interview with Cruz should turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Salena Zito spoke with Cruz for an hour last week, and Cruz talked about the need to inspire voters, not just chat about Cuban food and music:
Pittsburgh could be considered “ground zero for the working men and women who have been hammered by this economy, who are seeing their values, religious liberty and their constitutional rights under assault,” Cruz said, “and we need to reach those voters to win.” …
“As I look to the rest of the field, I look to a lot of good people who I like and respect — senators, governors who are talented friends of mine,” Cruz said, but “I don’t see a lot of candidates who are likely to energize and mobilize the millions of conservatives who are not showing up. If we don’t do that, we lose (and) Hillary Clinton is the next president.”
Cruz believes he’s the candidate who could win over conservatives. He wants to be president “because our country is in crisis.”
“What we are doing isn’t working,” he said. “The Obama economy is a disaster. Millions of Americans are hurting. The federal government is daily assaulting the constitutional rights of Americans, and the Obama-Clinton foreign policy abroad has made the world a far more dangerous place. Leading from behind doesn’t work, and today our friends and allies don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us.”
Be sure to read it all. I sat in on this interview as the photographer, but due to a mix-up at the PTR, my photos don’t accompany this story. They will be seen in a column by Salena two weeks from now, though. Here’s one photo that I took of the interview:
Update: Mark Halperin issued an apology this afternoon:
We wanted to talk with Senator Cruz about his outreach to Latino voters the day after he spoke at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. My intent was to give the Senator a chance to speak further about his heritage and personal connections to the community through some casual questions. I rushed through the questions, and that was a mistake — it led to poor tone and timing. I also understand why some felt the questions were inappropriate. As for asking Senator Cruz to welcome Senator Sanders to the race in Spanish, that was meant to be the type of light-hearted banter that he’s done with us before on the show. In no way was I asking Senator Cruz to “prove” he was an “authentic” Latino. I apologize to those that were offended, and to Senator Cruz. I promise that I will work to make the tone and questions better next time.
The Cruz campaign has been pretty quiet on this, and I suspect they’ll briefly accept this apology and move on.