Here’s One Theory Why Harry Shearer (of all people) Received That Audio of Joe-Mika-Trump
The hot mic story surrounding MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Donald Trump is a hot one in the bubble this week. As reported at Mediaite and elsewhere yesterday, Joe and Mika — two opinion hosts of a morning political panel program — were caught engaging in friendly chit-chat with Trump during a commercial break at MSNBC’s South Carolina Town Hall last week featuring the GOP frontrunner.
The audio comes as the pair has faced criticism over the past week of showing favoritism toward Trump. Said favoritism includes granting him tons of airtime (because no other program or network does that or anything) and for routinely insisting for months that Trump’s campaign was going to continue ride above the rest of the GOP field (basing their opinions largely on poll after poll stating such) while most pundits doubted Trump’s legitimacy and declared about 7000 times he would eventually implode. Many critics fail to mention, of course, that Scarborough and Brzezinski get paid to offer opinions and should never be confused with objective, traditional anchors. But why let inconvenient facts get in the way of a juicy narrative, particularly when Trump’s involved?
First, a quick note on the audio before getting to real meat of this column around where this audio ended up: Anyone who has ever been on a cable news set, and I’ve been on every kind regardless of format (straight news, opinion, panel) or network (Fox, Fox Business, CNN, CNNi, HLN, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, AJAM, etc), here’s what I know: There’s always small talk between host(s) and guest. I personally try to engage in it as much as possible to relax the set and to get the anchor/host out of his/her professional shell and into a more Happy Hour mood (without the booze). At the same time, there’s also a steady flow instructions/direction coming in to a host or hosts either over an IFB and/or floor director (the latter particularly during live events). Live TV ain’t easy, and when on location doing a special event with 100 moving parts, planning during each break becomes even more intense.
So when Mika is responding to a question on that audio, listen again for tone and volume. Because from this perspective, almost all answers sound like they’re being given to her EP (Executive Producer Alex Korson) and not Trump, who is simply trying to work the refs (watch the great movie Frost/Nixon sometime as an example of this, when Nixon — Frank Langella — asks interviewer David Frost right before they go to air if he fornicated the night before and completely throws Frost off his game… it’s great stuff and shows what Trump was doing is hardly uncommon).
Example: Here’s the exchange Twitter was particularly on fire about on Monday after the audio was released. On paper, it looks bad.
Brzezinski: “You don’t want me to do the ones with deportation?”
Trump (jokingly): “That’s right, nothing too hard, Mika.”
But the way it reads and the way it sounds are two very different things: From this perspective, based on her tone and quick one-word answers, it’s apparent that Brzezinski is not talking to Trump (she stated such exclusively to The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone). But when labeled being too cozy with the candidate/star as Joe and Mika are in some circles, the former becomes the automatic conclusion to those who want to believe it. To that end, should opinion hosts not engage in the kind of banter heard on the tape? Yes… because a mic is always live regardless of commercials or not. Nothing is private… just ask Mitt Romney or Donald Sterling. And Scarborough especially can’t be agreeing with Trump (jokingly or not) that events like last week’s Town Hall makes everyone involved on that set “look good”. A Washington Post headline on the optics of this captures it perfectly:
Again… do these kind of conversations happen on most opinion program sets during commercial breaks on other programs, other networks? Of course. And anyone out there who works at any of the cable news networks who’s reading this knows this is true (look forward to hearing from you, as always).
But here’s what I see as the most interesting question in this instance: Why did this audio end up in the hands of Harry Shearer? He’s not exactly a major political pundit or talked-about host in general. He’s not part of a competing cable news network. Instead, Shearer hosts a syndicated radio show (Le Show) that is a potpourri of satire, political commentary, sketch comedy and music. All of that said, the feeling here is the audio was likely recorded from someone directly inside the MSNBC control room that evening either in South Carolina or back at 30 Rock. From there, perhaps that person decided he/she wanted to embarrass Morning Joe but oddly went to Shearer, who isn’t even heard in New York City (correction: it’s on Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM on WNYC-AM), and again, isn’t exactly a known quantity despite having a radio show many of you never knew existed despite being on for
25 32 years. Whomever sent this to Shearer had to know him on some level already… because it’s just too random a selection otherwise. Shearer has not responded when asked to comment and we’ll update the story accordingly if needed.
Update: Mr. Shearer has responded via Twitter, and the mystery continues…
@JoeConchaTV As the CIA guys say, "sources and methods".
— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) February 24, 2016
So why Harry? Again, this is an opinion column and therefore only a theory, but here goes: As far as I can tell, Shearer has never appeared on Fox News (despite playing the voice of Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Smithers, Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Otto Mann, etc., on Fox’s The Simpsons for almost three decades). It appears he’s never been on CNN, either. If he has been on either network, it’s been a one-off at best. But there was one program he was a consistent guest on: Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.
Note: Olbermann hasn’t been on the network for five years, but his on-air feuds with Scarborough were notable (once telling Joe to “get a shovel” after a particular piece of commentary). It was no secret the two weren’t fond of each other, which isn’t surprising given Olbermann’s mostly-rocky relations with co-workers and management throughout his career. So if you’re looking for motive for recording and distributing off-the-air content and putting one’s career at risk by doing so, the target appears to be Scarborough given whom that tape was sent to. Again, it could have gone to Gawker, or CNN, Fox or even here. So why choose Shearer, whose only tie to MSNBC was through a relatively popular host in Olbermann… a guy who didn’t exactly get along with the current morning show host in Scarborough? Hmmm….
It’s the stuff grassy knolls are made of, but worth mulling over nonetheless.
Either way, if MSNBC is interested in finding out who inside its building is trying to sabotage Joe with Mika being the collateral damage, perhaps — and again, this is just a theory — it would be wise to look at any former Countdown with Keith Olbermann staffers who may have since migrated to a certain morning program since.
Follow Joe Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.