Time's Mark Halperin: It's 'McCarthyism' to Blame Mitt Romney for Non-Existent Jeremiah Wright Ad

When the New York Times reported that a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC was toying with a proposal to attack President Obama by highlighting his connections to his former pastor, the controversial far-left Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the liberal media went predictably apoplectic, calling the proposed ad campaign “incendiary and racially-tinged,” ignoring of course the incendiary things Wright thundered from the pulpit for years.

That's why Time magazine's Mark Halperin's defense of Romney and his Super PAC on the May 18 Morning Joe program is striking by contrast. [Audio here. Video below the jump.]

Halperin questioned the news judgment of placing the story on the front page of the Times, noting that this was ad that was not going to be done, hence not as big of a story. Predictably, liberal ad executive Donny Deutsch rushed to disagree, saying that he was interested in the story “as a reader, not as a Democrat.” As a Democrat, Deutsch has been very generous to the Democratic party, giving thousands to candidates such as John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Chuck Schumer according to OpenSecrets.org. Deutsch also tossed in a predictable talking point against the left-wing bogeyman of the past few years, the Citizen's United ruling, calling the Court's opinion in that case, “the most frightening decision of my lifetime as far as a shot at democracy.”

Co-host Willie Geist asked, “Does Mitt Romney owe it to the media, does he owe it to voters to explain a story of a group to which he is not attached?”  Halperin jumped in, accusing the media of McCarthyism, saying:

The media tends to take associations of Republican candidates and make, tie them around the neck of the Republican and say Mitt Romney has to account for every Republican out there...Its McCarthyism to say Mitt Romney is responsible for everybody out there who he has a direct or indirect contact to.
 

The full transcript is below.

MSNBC
Morning Joe
May 18 2012
8:10 AM EDT


MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Okay. Yesterday was on the front page of the New York Times,  a proposal to attack President Obama linking him to controversial comments made by his former pastor. Now, that back fired before it ever got off the ground. The New York Times reported that a Republican leaning super pac was considering launching a $10 million ad campaign to target the president's ties to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Remember him? Whose racially tinged comments became an issue in the campaign four years ago. It was a 54-page proposal that the Times  was covering called "The defeat of Barack Hussein Obama.” According to strategists, the ads would, quote, do exactly what John McCain would not let us do, in going after the president's relationship with Reverend Wright. The proposal read in part, quote, the world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big attention-arresting way. Now, the Times report says the plan was just one of several commissioned being considered, meaning he asked for ideas to consider by billionaire Joe Rickets who founded TD Ameritrade. And it continues to report saying the proposal was presented last week in Chicago to associates and family members of Mr. Ricketts. The 54-page proposal was professionally bound and illustrated with colored photographs indicating, this is the Times Editorial insight here, indicating it’s far beyond a mere discussion. The strategists have already contacted Larry Elder, a black conservative radio host in Los Angeles about serving as a spokesman and the plan calls for a group of black business leaders to endorse the effort. The strategists have also registered a domain name character matters. Now by yesterday afternoon ricketts said he rejected the idea, adding it was only a suggestion for one possible direction to take. And the president of the super pac says Mr. Ricketts was not the funder of the plan and that he has, quote, focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy,  not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally. Mitt Romney also distanced himself from the story speaking to reporters at a news conference in Florida.

[CLIP]

MITT ROMNEY: I read the article on the aircraft. As I read the article I want to make it very clear I repudiate that–that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America. I've been disappointed in the President's campaign to date which has focused on character assassination.

BRZEZINKSI: Okay. So we're going to take a closer look at all of this. Impact of the story in itself. Mark Halperin, I'm just curious because you know the reporters, you know the Times, do you think this is a fair story?

MARK HALPERIN: Well, there are a lot of elements to this.

BRZEZINSKI: There is, I know.

HALPERIN: I think the biggest thing about this is there is extraordinary anger and frustration on the right from a lot of people who feel the president wasn't scrutinized enough in 2008. And so there's a lot -- and there is a lot of money out there and a lot of rich people, conservatives trying to figure out how can I have an impact in this race beyond doing what everybody else is already doing?

MIKA: Right.

HALPERIN: In this case it was a marriage between someone with a lot of money and a group of consultants who wanted to make some money and had an idea about how to do it. How to both make money and they thought try to affect the outcome of the race. I think the biggest effect of this is it's going to be much harder for anybody now to come forward with ideas to try to bring down the president based on character. And it takes a day away from Mitt Romney to talk about the economy. He's got a new tv ad out today that deals with the economy–

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.

HALPERIN: That's where they want the race. And so you saw the president's supporters jump all over this. I think I have great respect for the The New York Times, great respect for the reporters who wrote this story. I don't think it should have gotten the play that it did given the facts, given this was something that was going to be done and now won't be done for sure.

BRZEZINSKI: Ideas are ideas. I want to hear why you disagree. It was a proposal that was being sent to Joe Ricketts, it was not something Joe Ricketts had blessed.

HALPERIN: Right, although the Times, today in the followup story says when they asked on Wednesday the day before the story ran, is this something that's dead or alive in effect they were given the impression this is still something that's alive. And that's, for them, I think, a big part of their justification, that this was not just something the consultants floated out there but something still being considered according to The Times reporting.

DONNY DEUTSCH: It is definitely a story. Look, I would have been one of those guys. That proposal is called a deck in my business where you go in and you present your new business idea which theoretically it was. Fred Davis was someone invited to present that deck. Now, once again, that doesn't mean Ricketts is attached to it, but that is a very interesting behind-the-scenes story at how strategies and ad campaigns --

BRZEZINSKI: But wouldn't you want to present an interesting behind the scenes story about a Democratic Super PAC  well? Some of their incendiary ideas? Many of the ideas are bad.

DEUTSCH: Oh come on, who’s to say–by the way. Ys the New York Times left leaning? I think that's fair to say.

BRZEZINSKI: Okay.

DEUTSCH: Having said that though, there was nothing in the story that was not true. I found it fascinating both as somebody in the media and as a voter. And I think it also shows that in reality that is a path to your point that a lot of strategists and people would like to take so that was real story.

HALPERIN: A real story but with a real state of the New York Times above the fold, front page?

DEUTSCH : By the way, as a reader not as a Democrat, I picked up that paper yesterday. And  I couldn't not go to it. They have to sell newspapers also kids. Let's not kid ourselves, you know. It is not the same as TIME magazine with the Four-year-old breast feeding his mother.

HALPERIN: Three.

DEUTSCH: Three, whatever.

BRZEZINSKI: I think a day away from being 4 in my opinion. Steve Rattner?

STEVE RATTNER:  Well, I think we all agree it was definitely a story.

DEUTSCH: No, you're saying it didn't belong there.

RATTNER: No, he is saying it's a story. He’s just disagreeing about the placement of the story.

DEUTSCH: I'm sorry.

RATTNER: So let's talk about the placement of the story. I think you could have gone either way. The fact that it was exclusive always gives a story more import in terms of the eyes of the editors and where they place it,  having worked there for nine years, you're a journalist and you know how that works and where they place it.

HALPERIN: No question.

RATTNER: I think it was a legitimate proposal being considered, it could well have belonged on the front page above fold, below the fold. We can argue about that. But I don't think it was widely overplayed. I think it was in the zone of reasonableness.

WILLIE GEIST: This also raised questions, Mark, about the world of super pacs and how they're related to the candidate himself. This immediately was hung around the neck of Mitt Romney.

BRZEZINSKI:  Exactly.

GEIST:  David Axelrod and Bill Burton  were tweeting before we were even awake, most of us, at four o’clock  in the morning sending out tweets about how will Mitt Romney respond to this? Does Mitt Romney owe it to the media, does he owe it to voters, to explain a story of a group to which he is not attached?

HALPERIN: I think again, I want to be careful about all of this because there is a lot of complexity here. The media tends to take associations of Republican candidates and make–tie them around the neck of the Republican and say Mitt Romney has to account for every Republican out there, every conservative, every idea. I think there is less of that is done on the left. And I think in general it shouldn't be done. Its McCarthyism to say Mitt Romney is responsible for everybody out there who he has a direct or indirect contact to. That is what the Obama people did. They're raising money off it. They're wasting a day of campaign dialogue on it because it is effective for them.

BRZEZINSKI:  Is this a story though about the super pac and Joe Ricketts or about strategists Fred Davis and different tactics they would take?

HALPERIN: To project forward about the implications, again, i think it makes it harder for super pacs on the right to do certain things. That is probably a good thing. But it also gives you an idea. There will be a lot of rich people ready to write multimillion dollar checks that are going to want to say to their consultants I want something different. I don't want to be the 15th guy running ads saying the Obama economy is a failure.

BRZEZINSKI: Right.

HALPERIN: There is going to be a lot of stuff.

DEUTSCH: I also think that its  a demonstration of the only fight we have against the Supreme Court decision that allows these ads. And this is an over zealous media to put the truth out there to kind of start to get behind the scenes because that as I've said many times in the show is the most frightening decision of my lifetime as far as a shot at democracy, so.

BRZEZINSKI: All right.