Green Room

Joe Scarborough: Boycott me

posted at 8:10 am on October 1, 2012 by

The blog and Twitter universes will surely cover this today, but, since I saw it live as it happened, I have to jump in. My hackles have been raised, my ire stoked, my irritation ignited. Joe Scarborough, of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, made a fool of himself again while trying to prove he’d not done it last week.

Here’s the back story: MSNBC ran a clip of a Romney-Ryan event in which Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney supposedly instructed the crowd to chant “Romney-Ryan.” (Jazz Shaw has the clip here in a post about how too much was made of the whole incident.)

MSNBC’s piece, introduced by co-host Mika Brzezinski, was tied to a narrative about how vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is more popular than Romney himself, and that the crowd was chanting Ryan’s name when Romney instructed them to add his own. Subtitles on the MSNBC screen indicated the chant was “Ryan!” at first. But subsequent pieces have pretty convincingly pointed out that those subtitles were a stretch; the chant sounded like “Romney, Romney” to many observers, when the candidate urged the crowd to include “Ryan” to it. At best, the chant was murky.

And that leads to the controversy. Some suggest MSNBC deliberately edited the tape to make it appear as if Romney had to plead for inclusion in the chant. But that’s not the problem, folks. The problem is that MSNBC leaped to an interpretation of an audio to portray Romney as awkwardly beseeching the crowd to pay attention to him, too. They used that interpretation in introducing the tape. And they included subtitles on the screen that fit that interpretation.

Put me in the category of folks who don’t think MSNBC deliberately edited the tape itself but, rather, offered a false interpretation of the whole event to portray Romney as bumbling and unpopular with his own crowd.

So, this brings us to today. After a weekend of Tweets mocking Joe Scarborough’s reaction to the clip when it was shown (a double face-palm, accompanied by a murmured “Sweet Jesus” and followed by a condescending declaration about what a great guy Romney is in so many ways except as a politician), Scarborough felt the need to defend himself. My quotes below are from memory. I’ve not yet reviewed the transcript of this morning’s show.

On this a.m.’s show, Scarborough claims his reaction when the clip was shown was due to the fact that Mitt Romney sometimes looks “goofy”  and that those who suggest MSNBC edited the tape to “throw the election” to Obama should stop eating “Cheetos” and get “out of the basement.”

Nice straw man arguments there, Joe, but they don’t wash. You were being criticized by many respected writers who happen to write for blogs, some of which are associated with well-known magazines. Hardly the demeaning Cheetos-eating basement dwellers picture you paint (perhaps if they were Starbucks-sipping bloggers, you’d give them more respect?). Second, you claim this morning that the story was about Romney looking “goofy,” and that was why you had the reaction you did. If candidates acting goofy was criteria for news, MSNBC would be running wall-to-wall clips of Joe Biden.

No, the premise of the clip, as demonstrated by Brzezinski’s intro and the subtitles on the screen, was that Romney was being overshadowed by his running-mate and was reduced to asking a crowd to include his name in their cheerleading. That narrative proved to be false. A simple apology for that false interpretation would have sufficed.

Finally, in addressing his audience about this controversy, Scarborough boasted that some folks had threatened to boycott his show in the past and it only led to better ratings. He then urged viewers who didn’t like him to go ahead and boycott him.

Good advice, Joe. Maybe lots of those basement-dwellers and their families will start taking it.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

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