- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2015

Analysts and journalists are still puzzling over the recent interview between Bloomberg News managing editor Mark Halperin and Sen. Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican and Cuban-American was subjected to a string of inquiries about his taste in Cuban food and music, his ability to speak Spanish and other matters that had no real place in the political discourse.

There was a price to pay however. Mr. Halperin has since issued an explanatory statement and an apology to the lawmaker, which is included verbatim at the end of this story. And Mr. Cruz? He too has offered a statement, also at story’s end.

Here is the background, and it is a cautionary tale about modern media.

During the interview, Mr. Cruz remained gracious and in good humor. Mr. Halperin, however, was taken to serious task by syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, who wrote, “Halperin made it personal, and the interview careened into a ditch … I kept waiting for Halperin to ask Cruz to play the conga drums like Desi Arnaz while dancing salsa and sipping cafe con leche - all to prove the Republican is really Cuban.”

Mr. Naverrette advised Mr. Halperin that he had been personally nauseated by the exchange, and stated, “You crossed the line. This was bad journalism, bad form, and bad manners.” Mr. Navarette also wondered this: “What if, instead of watching a Washington insider who is also an MSNBC contributor, I was watching Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly demand that one of the Castros say a few words in Spanish so O’Reilly could determine if he is legitimately Hispanic?”

Tim Graham, executive editor of the press watchdog Newsbusters.com, has the answer: “The left would go apoplectic,” he says.

Republicans and conservatives quickly took to Twitter to express their dismay over the interview, and fling back a few retorts via the hashtag #halperinquestions. Dozens of parody questions for other presidential hopefuls accumulated Sunday, including one for Democrat Jim Webb.

“Sen Webb, when with your W. Va Scots Irish clan you often fiddle, drink moonshine and punch outsiders, right?” tweeted Peggy Noonan in the aftermath.

“This piece of snark is about something much more serious: the notion that Hispanics, blacks or women who are conservatives, aren’t authentic members of those groups. We can expect to see a lot of it in the coming months as the liberal media copes with a breathtakingly diverse Republican presidential field and seeks to brand them as inauthentic,” writes Commentary Magazine columnist Jonathan S. Tobin.

“What Halperin did to Cruz was merely another example of the identity wars that are being fought in contemporary politics. Just as women who don’t support abortion without any restrictions are portrayed as not really female by the left, so, too are blacks and Hispanics who don’t toe the Democrat party line treated as somehow inauthentic minorities,” Mr. Tobin observes.

See the exchange here, courtesy of BuzzFeed, which deemed it “the most awkward interview of the presidential campaign so far.”

And here is Mr. Halperin’s statement, exactly as he issued it on Monday:

“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.”

And from Mr. Cruz, posted at his Facebook page:

“Mark Halperin is a serious and fair-minded journalist. Today he kindly issued an apology for some silly questions he asked me in an interview. The apology was unnecessary - no offense was taken, nor, I believe, intended - but is certainly appreciated.

I’m proud of my Cuban heritage, my father’s journey from oppression and prison in Cuba to freedom in America, and also my Irish-Italian heritage on my mother’s side. Both are integral parts of who I am today.

The 2016 Republican field is shaping up to be the most diverse in history, and I look forward to a robust and substantive conversation about how we work together to turn around our current stagnation and expand opportunity for everyone to achieve the American Dream.”


• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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