By this point, assuming that you’re a follower of politics and media brigade which covers it, you’ve probably already seen the rather ugly airing of personal laundry surrounding a meeting the President Elect had with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night. Ed Morrissey covered the initial “scandal” in detail yesterday if you missed it, so I won’t rehash all the details here. Rather than fading from public view, however, the controversy has actually spread, spilling over into this week’s news cycle.
One result coming from this brouhaha is that Scarborough wound up sitting down for a lengthy interview with CNN’s Dylan Byers to hash it all out. This led to the following exchange which, in my opinion, begins to touch on the real root of the problem being exposed and it has a lot less to do with a brief meeting designed to set up an interview than how the Fourth Estate conducts their business these days.
BYERS: That hasn’t stopped criticism, not just from [journalists on] Twitter but even from, for instance, the tweet that Chuck Todd put out. Which, he clearly seems to suggest that what you’re doing does not reflect well on the media industry generally. Why, given the litany of examples that you’ve provided, do you feel like this is still a source of tension, even for folks that used to come on your show that are at your very own network?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I don’t know if Chuck Todd was directing that towards me or the other people that were attacking. In fact, I responded saying I know that Chuck Todd is just as disturbed as me that people are actually lying and misrepresenting what happened. And I’m sure that Chuck, being the good journalist that he is, doesn’t believe that, that reporters should misrepresent facts and not even pick up the phone, and call people who make sure they have the facts right. Some — I’m sure Chuck is on my side on this one.
While generally being viewed as only a sidebar in the larger conversation, Chuck Todd’s brief entrance into the debate is probably more telling than all the rest of sound and fury on display here. I’m not sure what prompted people like Callum Borchers to go on the attack against Joe Scarborough, but the underlying tone from a lot of these comments seemed to hint at a common theme. Keep in mind that Borchers chose to title his piece in a way which doesn’t accuse Scarborough of being a bad journalist so much as as saying that this, “Twitter feud is just what the media doesn’t need.”
With that in mind, let’s go back and take a fresh look at precisely what Chuck Todd tweeted when all of this was boiling over.
It really stinks to watch others continue help ruin the reputation of your industry. But fighting each other about only hurts the democracy
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) January 2, 2017
Yes, Chuck expressed concern that such unsightly arguments hurt the democracy but only after noting this was going to help “ruin the reputation of your industry.”
Let that sink in for a moment. This was never a question of whether or not Scarborough and Brzezinski were doing something inappropriate by building a relationship with a political figure they have to cover. (The facts are now in and obviously they weren’t, and Joe cites numerous examples of other broadcasters who do the same and much more.) What’s really upsetting the media apple cart here is that nobody in the traditional media wants to see it being discussed. And is it any wonder? By the time this election was winding down, American trust in the media’s ability to be fair and accurate had sunk to an all time low of less than one third. And guess what… that wasn’t Donald Trump’s fault.
As Scarborough goes on to point out during his interview with Dylan Byers, you didn’t see these same people complaining about media figures being “too cozy” with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or other Democrats. But as we learned from the leaked emails of the DNC and Podesta, the word cozy doesn’t even begin to describe it in some cases. The Democrats had their pet journalists who they knew were “reliable” in getting out their campaign’s talking points faithfully. The wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes was nothing short of obscene in some cases.
What really counts is results, however. For too many news outlets, that cordial relationship with the Democrats paid off significant dividends. One study after another revealed that by the final month of the campaign a whopping 91% of the coverage of Trump was either negative or hostile, while Clinton received a far more respectful tone.
So what about Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump after their supposedly “too friendly” relationship? Mika was always going to vote for the Democrat, to the surprise of nobody. But Joe Scarborough, in addition to hanging up the phone on The Donald on at least one occasion, declared well in advance of election day that he would not vote for Trump. When it was all over he reminded everyone that he in fact did not vote for Trump. Of all the commentary someone could make about a candidate, that is perhaps the most damning. I’ve heard you make your case to America but you didn’t convince me. You will not get my vote.
If that’s Joe Scarborough’s idea of currying favor with a political figure, well… he really sucks at it.
The problem coming out of all of this infighting isn’t about Morning Joe. It’s the media having a panic attack over yet another story which calls their nonpartisan credentials into question. Unfortunately, that ship has already sailed for far too many leading journalists in both the print and television worlds. Rather than lamenting the fact that this argument is “ruining the reputation of your industry” as Chuck Todd said, perhaps the various actors involved should break out a big old mirror and begin asking why their reputation is in tatters to begin with.
(The original article was edited to indicate emails from John Podesta, not David Axelrod, because the author is apparently growing senile.)