Five more women have surfaced to say that “Game Change” co-author and journalist Mark Halperin sexually harassed them during his time at ABC News.
That brings the number of accusers to at least a twelve women, including four women who are now sharing their accounts for the first time.
The first accuser, who shared her account under anonymity to CNN (which broke the Halperin sexual assault story), is now speaking out on the record.
The new accusations from the four women include that Halperin masturbated in front of an ABC News employee in his office and that he violently threw another woman against a restaurant window before attempting to kiss her, and that after she rebuffed him he called her and told her she would never work in politics or media. The alleged incidents occurred while Halperin was in a position of significant authority at ABC News, while the women were young and had little power.
Halperin denies that he masturbated in front of anyone, that he physically assaulted anyone, or that he threatened anyone in the way described in this story.
In a statement provided to CNN Friday evening, Halperin said, “I am profoundly sorry for the pain and anguish I have caused by my past actions. I apologize sincerely to the women I mistreated.” Halperin said that in recent days, as he has read accounts of women he worked with at ABC News, he has felt “profound guilt.” He said that for several years, around his departure from ABC News, he “had weekly counseling sessions to work on understanding the personal issues and attitudes that caused me to behave in such an inappropriate manner.” He additionally said that his behavior had not continued after he left ABC News. (Halperin’s full statement appears at the bottom of this article.)
The first of the four new accusers, who was at the time of the incident an ABC News desk assistant in her early 20s, told CNN she asked Halperin if she could meet with him for career advice in either 1997 or 1998. It was after 10 p.m. when she went into his office, she said. During their conversation, Halperin began to masturbate behind his desk while staring at her, the woman said.
“I sat in a chair across from him,” she told CNN. “He was behind a wooden desk so I couldn’t see him from the waist down. As we had our conversation about my career he was masturbating. There was no question about it.”
“I pretended like I didn’t know what was going on and we talked a bit more and then he abruptly wrapped up the conversation,” she continued.
The woman told CNN it was clear what Halperin was doing. “There was an up and down motion,” she said.
“I don’t know if he made any sound at the end or how it was clear to me that he had climaxed,” she said. “But it was clear that he was satisfied — like he stopped making that motion and stopped staring at me.”
A longtime friend of the woman’s told CNN that the woman had told him her story years ago.
The second woman told CNN she met Halperin in the late 1990s while she was interning at the White House.
“At the end of my internship, Mark said to me, ‘When you graduate from college, if you’re looking for a job, call me.’ And I was super flattered and really excited. So when I graduated, I called Mark Halperin,” she said.
The woman told CNN that Halperin took her to lunch in Midtown Manhattan. They didn’t talk about her career or jobs at all throughout the lunch, but she assumed that he knew it was why he called and that the topic would be addressed later. At the end of the lunch, after they walked out of the restaurant, she said, she extended her hand for him to shake it. Halperin, she said, had other ideas.
“He put both hands on my arms and threw me against the window of the restaurant hard. So my head banged against the window hard, in a way I thought people inside were going to think something terrible had happened to me,” she said, adding, “This was rough, and hard, and violent. And not in a seductive way — in a way that telegraphs some anger and meanness.”
“And he lunged at me,” she continued, “with his body pressed against mine against the window and came at me with his open mouth.”
The woman said she was able to avoid his attempt to kiss her, get out from under him and walk away. About 10 minutes later, she said, he called her.
“I was really hoping he would be calling to apologize. And he said something to the effect of, ‘You are never going to get a job. You’re never going to be hired in politics or media. Why would anyone ever hire you?’ And that’s when I broke down and started crying,” she told CNN.
Two friends of the woman told CNN that the woman had told them about the incident more than a decade ago.
A third woman, who worked as a desk assistant on “World News Tonight,” told CNN that Halperin hit on her in the office during the Fall of 2006. The woman provided CNN excerpts from the journal she kept at the time that she told CNN referenced Halperin, although it only referred to the man as “an older man who is involved with someone else and has a powerful position at ABC.”
“He cornered me in the coffee closet, and introduced himself,” the journal said. “And knowing of course who he is, his national significance, and his importance in news, I squandered (sic) in nervousness. I noticed he had been eying me… he’s in the newsroom a lot… but figured he was looking at the monitors behind me.”
Later, the woman wrote in her journal, the man pulled her aside when she was alone and “He whispered — how old are you, do you have a boyfriend, and do you understand how important it is that we remain secretive? With that he told me he wanted to meet me in his office before I left for the night. Knowing perfectly well that his intentions were wrong, I went to him anyway — if anything to save my dignity and stand up for myself for seeming more interested or suggestive than I was.”
At that time, the woman’s account in her journal said, the man told her he was “extremely attracted” to her. The woman told Halperin it was best if they remained professional, but he didn’t listen.
“As I gathered my things to leave, he leaned in to kiss me. I turned my head away, but he would not relent,” she wrote in the journal. “So in the awkwardness and pressure of the moment, I let him put his lips on mine. It was nothing — not a kiss, just lips on lips. And he smelled like makeup. I went home, wanting to cry and vomit.”
The woman told CNN that what Halperin did was “part of the reason I didn’t go for an off-air position,” the term ABC News used to describe reporters who were embedded with presidential campaigns.
“I didn’t want to work with him,” she said, later adding the whole episode contributed to her decision to leave journalism all together.
The woman, at the time, confided in a close friend. The friend told CNN she had told him the story years ago.
A fourth woman, who was a 19-year-old ABC News intern in the summer of 1995, told CNN she was assigned to the political unit. She said she was working on a project when Halperin personally volunteered one night to assist her. He said he would go with her to a museum in New York City to review some archived CBS footage.
“I remember thinking to myself he’s got a million associate producers, so why is he going with the intern to do research?” the woman recalled to CNN, but said at the same time she was “very impressed” by him and thrilled he’d want to help her with the assignment.
The woman said the booths for reviewing footage at the museum were only meant for one person, but Halperin told her “he want[ed] to share” one.
It was a tight fit, the woman said, so “our cheeks [were] touching.”
“And then I look over and he has a massive boner. And our legs are touching,” she said. “And at this point, I just flew up and got up. And he said, ‘The night’s not over! We need to end it with a margarita.'”
The woman said she declined.
The four new accounts bring the total number of women who have accused Halperin of sexual harassment to at least one dozen. Five women made accusations in CNN’s original report Wednesday night, the Washington Post included an on-the-record account in an article it published Thursday night, journalist Emily Miller wrote on Twitter that she had been “attacked” by Halperin in the past, and on Thursday night a former CNN producer published an op-ed on CNN.com in which she accused him of sexually harassing her in his office at ABC News when she was just out of college, before she went to work at CNN.
In a Friday statement, an ABC News spokesperson told CNN that the company takes issues of harassment seriously and would like to encourage anyone who has been subjected to such treatment to “come forward so we can address them immediately.”
“While Mark left ABC News over a decade ago and no complaints were made during his tenure, we hold everyone at ABC News accountable for their behavior and how they conduct themselves,” the spokesperson said. “We know that our people do their best work in an environment where they feel respected, safe and supported. Harassment or retaliation of any kind is never acceptable.”
In addition to the new accounts, Lara Setrakian, who was one of the five women whose stories were included in CNN’s Wednesday night report without her name attached, is now going on the record, both with CNN and in an op-ed for the Washington Post published Friday afternoon. In CNN’s original article, she said Halperin had grabbed her breasts during an encounter in his office; he had denied doing so. She told CNN on Friday that Halperin’s denial is false.
“I understand why he feels the need to deny it,” Setrakian said. “But it’s not true. What he said is not true. … There’s absolutely no question of what happened in terms of unwanted physical contact.”
Setrakian said it “hurt to see [Halperin] rise and rise without any accountability.”
“It felt like the world was so stacked,” she told CNN. “It felt profoundly unfair to have feelings of anxiety as a woman in media while watching someone who was clearly misbehaving rise and rise in our industry with no apology, no thought as to how we felt before, no effort to apologize. No effort to reach out to us.”
Setrakian said now she is happy Halperin issued a form of an apology, but she wants to know what Halperin will do “to make it right.” She told CNN the incident changed her.
“It made me hyper-conscious. First, it made me much more skeptical of people’s intentions,” she said. “I think it made me hyper-sensitive to the idea that my career will depend on who finds me sexually attractive. And if the time comes when they don’t I will be at a massive disadvantage. That upset me tremendously. And it made me move away from television. It made me feel like I had an expiration date.”
Here is Mark Halperin’s full Friday evening statement…
I am profoundly sorry for the pain and anguish I have caused by my past actions. I apologize sincerely to the women I mistreated.
The world is now publicly acknowledging what so many women have long known: Men harm women in the workplace. That new awareness is, of course, a positive development. For a long time at ABC News, I was part of the problem. I acknowledge that, and I deeply regret it. As I said earlier in the week, my behavior was wrong. It caused fear and anxiety for women who were only seeking to do their jobs.
In recent days I have closely read the accounts of women with whom I worked at ABC News. I have not read these accounts looking for discrepancies or inconsistencies. Instead, in almost every case, I have recognized conduct for which I feel profound guilt and responsibility, some involving junior ABC News personnel and women just starting out in the news business.
Many of the accounts conveyed by journalists working on stories about me or that I have read after publication have not been particularly detailed (and many were anonymous) making it difficult for me to address certain specifics. But make no mistake: I fully acknowledge and apologize for conduct that was often aggressive and crude.
Towards the end of my time at ABC News, I recognized I had a problem. No one had sued me, no one had filed a human resources complaint against me, no colleague had confronted me. But I didn’t need a call from HR to know that I was a selfish, immature person, who was behaving in a manner that had to stop.
For several years around my departure from ABC News, I had weekly counseling sessions to work on understanding the personal issues and attitudes that caused me to behave in such an inappropriate manner.
Those who have worked with me in the past decade know that my conduct in subsequent jobs at TIME, Bloomberg, NBC News, and Showtime has not been what it was at ABC. I did not engage in improper behavior with colleagues or subordinates. If you spoke to my co-workers in those four places (men and women alike), I am confident you would find that I had a very different reputation than I had at ABC News because I conducted myself in a very different manner.
Some of the allegations that have been made against me are not true. But I realize that is a small point in the scheme of things. Again, I bear responsibility for my outrageous conduct at ABC News.
I hope that not only will women going forward be more confident in speaking up, but also that we as an industry and society can create an atmosphere that no longer tolerates this kind of behavior.
I know I can never do enough to make up for the harm I caused. I will be spending time with my family and friends, as I work to make amends and contributions both large and small.