As you probably know, I am very much on record about not being a fan of President Trump. I have also been extremely critical over the years of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, partly for his support of Trump during the GOP primaries, and also for suddenly becoming a liberal sellout back when he got the morning gig at MSNBC. In fact, it is difficult for me to think of two prominent people who refer to themselves (laughably) as Republicans whom I loathe more than these two frauds.
Consequently, I may have a somewhat unique take on the controversy which exploded late this week after the president took a dump on Twitter and went after Joe and his fiancé/co-host Mika Brzezinski in terms which were so inappropriate that they would be a fireable offense if they came from a non-celebrity blogger.
The number one thing that many people are missing in this sad saga is that Joe and Mika are mostly getting exactly what they want out of this episode. In fact, I’m willing to bet that when Trump unleashed his first Twitter tirade on Thursday that they both at least smiled widely, and maybe even popped champagne corks.
Sure, what Trump did was totally wrong and probably hurtful to Mika on some level. But the reality is that this duo has made it abundantly clear that they will do just about anything for ratings/attention, including going out of their way to continually publicly and privately kiss the ass of a guy they surely knew would be a horrible president.
In this bizarre modern media age where celebrity and ratings are everything, and victimhood is a desired virtue, this whole fiasco has been great for them. So good in fact that it has clearly provoked some jealousy from other media members who seemingly wish they had been the focus of this kind of spotlight.
But more important than the reality that this duo is hardly suffering from their alleged aggrievement, is how we actually got to this point. Joe and Mika have cynically benefited from the Trump phenomenon at nearly every plot twist (some have even suggested that there be a Special Counsel to investigate collusion between “Morning Joe” and Trump).
During the 2015-16 primary season, they gave Trump hours of free air time with hardly a negative word or difficult question being placed in his path to the GOP nomination, which they absolutely helped pave. They praised him numerous times, and Joe even laughed with him when Trump mocked a disabled New York Times reporter. Their claim on Friday that this Trump is somehow different from the guy with whom they fell in love in 2015 is just flat-out ludicrous.
What really happened was that they were enamored with the access, and ensuing easy ratings, they were getting from this “can you believe this is really happening?!” political story of a lifetime. They probably also figured that Trump could never beat Hillary Clinton, which is part of why liberal MSNBC put up with their embarrassing shenanigans.
Then, as soon as Trump became president, knowing that the MSNBC audience was no longer amused and was instead now horrified by Trump (look what just happened to Trump fan Greta Van Susteren there) they turned on him hard. With Trump no longer going on their show — and with them now having nothing to gain ratings-wise by supporting him — this decision was obviously based primarily on self-interest and not a sudden change in principles. Now that Trump has targeted them so dramatically, he has instantly given them back their “liberal street cred” and probably secured them at MSNBC through the duration of his presidency.
Now, as far as what really happened here with regard to their allegation that Trump used the National Enquirer to “blackmail” them into being nicer to him, the truth seems more complex. Here is the scenario that I think makes the most sense based on what we currently know.
Given that the Morning Joe duo had been romantically linked for some time before it was ever official, I can see Scarborough, as Trump suggested on Friday, using his pre-Inauguration Trump relationship to try to keep that out of the tabloid which everyone knows is in Trump’s back pocket. In Trump’s mob-boss-like mentality, this meant that he forever “owned” Joe. When, in his mind, Joe and Mika betrayed him by attacking him harshly, it was time to turn the tables.
With Scarborough having, in my theory, already telegraphed his vulnerability on this issue, Trump saw a weakness he could exploit, either to an on-air end, or just for an ego/power trip. The National Enquirer, perhaps on their own, and knowing that Joe and Mika were no longer on Trump’s buddy list, then decided to ramp up the pressure on them. Joe and Mika, however, with their engagement now public and old news, are no longer were quite as susceptible as they once were.
At this point, who called whom is both critical and is still apparently unknown. If the White House called Scarborough, then we have all the makings of “blackmail” (keep in mind the National Enquirer pulled a remarkably similar maneuver on Tiger Woods before his sex scandal broke). If Joe called his pal Jared Kushner, as the White House is implying, then this might be more a case of everyone seeing events through the prism of their own prejudices and self-interest.
It is important to point out that the White House version certainly seems, amazingly, to confirm that Trump at least wants people to think he is willing and able to spike stories in the Enquirer, even while also claiming that there was no actual “quid pro quo” involved. But if there wasn’t one at least implied, then why would Kushner suggest that Scarborough call Trump? And why did the National Enquirer only finally publish the story after it was clear that Joe and Mika were not going to pay off the mob boss… I mean placate the president?
All of these questions could be answered if Scarborough released the evidence which he claimed on Friday back up his allegations, but there is no sign that is actually going to be done anytime soon. Without a good explanation for why, it is very difficult to take any television infotainment host, especially one with the unprincipled history of Scarborough, simply at his word.
Ironically, there was a time not long ago that I would have instantly accepted a story like this from almost any major television host because the concept of them making such a serious charge against a sitting president without it being true would have been simply unfathomable. Conversely, I would never have believed it possible that any previous modern president (not even Richard Nixon) could have engaged in such a child-like abuse of their office.
In today’s screwed-up world, however, it is very possible that either one is lying. Heck, they probably both are. If it is true that we get the media and politics that we deserve, this episode has proven at least one thing for sure: man do we really suck.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a tip we should know? email@example.com