Mark Halperin’s widely panned interview with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was obsequious and didn’t yield any news, as many critics have pointed out. But it also failed Halperin’s own requirement that journalists who interview Trump ask him about his unprecedented refusal to release his tax returns in order to pressure him to follow presidential election norms.
Halperin, the host of Bloomberg News’ With All Due Respect (which also airs on MSNBC) and Showtime’s The Circus, interviewed Trump following the candidate’s October 26 publicity event for his new hotel in Washington, D.C. After portions of the interview aired on his Bloomberg show, critics called Halperin’s questions “truly laughable,” compared him unfavorably to Sean Hannity, and suggested he was seeking a job on Trump TV.
The full interview, later published on the YouTube channel for The Circus, does nothing to bolster that initial assessment. Halperin had a rare opportunity, for a mainstream journalist, to ask tough questions of the GOP nominee. Instead, questions included:
“But how does a building connect to your presidential aspirations and your qualities?”
“You’d be surprised to hear that Hillary Clinton’s already criticized the hotel?”
“But people who say this was a great Trump speech, as far as you’re concerned, they’re all great or?”
“You’ve redefined how candidates talk about polls. Some polls now you’re winning, some you’re behind. We’ve got a new poll where you’re up in Florida. What’s your general sense of where you are in the battleground states?”
Halperin’s questions not only fail as journalism, but they also fail the standard that Halperin himself has laid down for Trump interviews.
In May, Halperin declared that journalists are “obligated” to keep pushing Trump until he releases his “full [tax] returns” just like every nominee has done for decades. He specifically stated that “we have to all keep asking, as many of us have asked. I've asked him several times about it -- he gives roughly the same answer. He's going to have to put out the returns, I’m almost certain, and we should demand full returns, not just the summary.” His co-host John Heilemann has also suggested that journalists “try every time we sit in front of him make it clear to him that it's not OK that he violate what has become a norm in American elections over the past 30 or 40 years.”
The New York Times on October 1 produced three pages from Trump’s 1995 tax returns, which showed that he had declared a $916 million loss that “could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.” Yet Trump has continued to offer a series of excuses for why he won’t release any tax returns.
Halperin had the opportunity to follow his own standard and press Trump on his refusal to follow a decades-old requirement for presidential nominees. Instead, he asked the candidate if he agreed with the “people” who supposedly said that “this was a great Trump speech.”