NBC: Halperin suspended after CNN harassment exposé; Update: Morning Joe reacts

It didn’t take long for NBC News to react to a CNN exposé by Oliver Darcy on its top on-air political analyst. Five women have accused Mark Halperin of unwanted sexual advances, including groping, during his tenure as ABC News’ political director. Halperin admitted on the record of pursuing “inappropriate” romantic relationships with subordinates, but denies assaulting anyone:

“During this period, I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me,” Halperin said in a statement to CNN Wednesday night. “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.” …

The stories of harassment shared with CNN range in nature from propositioning employees for sex to kissing and grabbing one’s breasts against her will. Three of the women who spoke to CNN described Halperin as, without consent, pressing an erection against their bodies while he was clothed. Halperin denies grabbing a woman’s breasts and pressing his genitals against the three women.

The women who worked with Halperin and who spoke with CNN did not report to Halperin. However, Halperin made many decisions about political coverage at ABC News, and had a voice in some critical personnel decisions. None of the women have said, though, that he ever promised anything in exchange for sex, or suggested that he would retaliate against anyone.

The stories share some elements, suggesting a pattern of behavior. Darcy reports that his first source reported Halperin’s behavior to a “mentor at ABC News,” which apparently resulted in no action. ABC News will have a lot of explaining to do about that. The other four women told friends about the harassment contemporaneously, which confirmed those stories in whole or part to CNN. That sounds like another high-profile case in the news lately, even if the acts alleged do not approach the same level of egregiousness as Harvey Weinstein’s.

There is one other point of commonality — none of the women worked with Halperin at NBC, where he’s worked since 2010. His network isn’t waiting around for women in its own organization to start coming forward, however. Halperin told CNN that he would “step back” from his public duties to “properly deal” with this burgeoning scandal, but NBC made it sound less than voluntary:

Halperin has other gigs, too. He is one of the central figures on Showtime’s The Circus, and he has been a board member on the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire for almost a decade. Presumably Halperin will take a voluntary break from all of the above, but it remains to be seen whether that will remain voluntary.

Now that he’s out at NBC — temporarily, at least — any potential victims now have a window of opportunity to emerge. The dynamics of harassment scandals has become all too familiar in that sense; once a few victims come forward and the alleged harasser has been put on public notice, suddenly more women feel empowered to tell their stories. It would be strange, although not impossible, to have had that pattern of Halperin’s behavior at ABC News and then suddenly stop seven years ago.

The pattern of reporting will pick up speed, too. These scandals have been exposed by eager reporters who have diligently and carefully pieced together sources and corroboration before publication, and there are an almost endless supply of such reporters looking for a chance at a national story. No media outlet, no industry can assume it will be immune from scrutiny. However, reporters had better make sure to be as careful and thorough with future exposés, and consumers of these reports should keep a sharp eye on those qualities in the feeding frenzies to come.

Update: Mika Brzezinski provided a short statement on Morning Joe, one of Halperin’s main gigs for NBC (via Instapundit):

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” paused Thursday morning to address a potentially awkward situation: Mark Halperin, the well-known political reporter and frequent contributor to the morning program, has been accused of sexual harassment by five women in a report posted Wednesday night by CNN.

“Now to a story that broke overnight involving someone you see around this table every day. CNN is reporting allegations regarding our friend Mark Halperin during his time at ABC News over a decade ago, unnamed sources detailing unwanted advances and inappropriate behavior. Halperin apologized for the pain his actions caused and said “I will take a step pack from my day-to-day work while I properly address the situation.,” said co-host Mika Brzezinski, facing the camera. “We are going to be following this story as it develops I’m sure we are going to be talking about it again when we know more about it.” She did not address whether NBC News had taken any action regarding Halperin’s status as a contributor to the program.

Meanwhile, Emily Miller has added a #MeToo to the Halperin story:

More to come, surely.