[this post has updates below—19 Sept. 2017]
Reliable journalists aren’t looking for friends—we’re searching for stories.
We’re also tasked with setting our partiality aside to report in an unbiased way, without inserting ourselves in the narrative. Not always an easy task, to be sure. In today’s political media, however, we see many examples of on-air journalists who openly coddle sources so that they might better their chances for a next interview. And a next.
Morning Joe on MSNBC has become the poster child of access-driven media.
Chris Christie was once the darling of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski’s program, and it’s been reported that the three had become friends. The bond quickly turned to kryptonite when the Bridgegate story went mainstream. Other news channels, including sister MSNBC programs, took the Bridgegate ball and ran, uncovering all sorts of subplots that included alleged extortion in Hoboken and mafioso arm-twisting in Fort Lee. Two of Christie’s staff are due to go on trial this spring.
RELATED: JOE & MIKA ‘HEAD OVER HEELS‘ FOR THE KOCH BROTHERS
Christie subsequently took MSNBC to task, claiming the network was engaging in a “gleeful assault” of his character. That assertion doesn’t pass factual muster given all the gauzy, chit-chat visits by Christie on Morning Joe in the past. Brad Woodhouse put it best on CNN late last year: “they adored Chris Christie. Part of the persona of Chris Christie was developed on Morning Joe.”
As Christie’s reputation and state approval rating fell off a cliff, it put Morning Joe in the awkward position of having to cover a sinking politician with whom they’d developed a personal connection. Christie stopped going on the program and even reportedly snubbed them at a party they were all attending. (The frostiness has thawed, though, and he’s been back on the program since then.)
MSNBC’s STATEMENT ABOUT TRUMP AND BYERS’ REPORTING IS HERE
In another cozy connection, the anchors’ association with Charles and David Koch has drawn scrutiny—and scorn. Their interview with the conservative-libertarian activists has been called “softball” and “worshipful praise.” After Joe and Mika visited the Koch’s retreat in Palm Springs, they had nothing but effusive praise.
The Koch Brothers are two of the most divisive and radical figures in modern political history, promising to spend nearly $1 billion of their own fortune to elect the folks they see fit for office. (Spoiler: it didn’t work out so well in 2012.) Just on Citizens United alone, there’s no way that Morning Joe can remain agnostic now that they’ve vacationed with the folks that should be regularly scrutinized.
Donald Trump is the most recent example of how the Morning duo have nuzzled up to a figure they’re supposed to be covering objectively. Trump recently called them “supporters” and “believers,” having appeared on the program more than any other MSNBC show. From a CNN Money post:
Scarborough and Brzezinski also have a personal history with Trump that has been palpable in those interviews. Last month, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt even floated the possibility of Scarborough serving as Trump’s running mate. Scarborough shot down the idea.
Between Christie, the Koch Brothers and Trump—and, to an extent, disgraced former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell—Joe and Mika have not just blurred the line of objectivity. The firewall has been obliterated, and they’ve fully comingled themselves with the people they’re supposed to be challenging. Like cashews in a nut mix.
When news about a source you’ve cozied goes sour, you end up neutered as a journalist. Hapless, without a rudder. Your ratings may be strong, but your reputation is as thin as a cheap paper napkin.
I’m a big fan of Willie Geist and religiously watched his baby—the spunky and informative Way Too Early—which would bleed in to the start of Morning Joe. I’d nibble on MJ a bit, but as soon as this overt source bias presented itself I now I have a ban on the show, full stop.
I wanted to go on and talk to Mika about my fresh-food-positive Pizza for Good, but that’s unlikely to happen now given all I’ve documented. I’ll take my dirt-to-table evangelizing elsewhere, at least for the moment.
RELATED: CHRIS CHRISTIE SUSPENDS 2016 PRESIDENTIAL BID
We’re all human. Who doesn’t want to be liked, respected, or to be granted regular access to something or someone? In this case, it’s harmful to the craft of journalism, and cements the assertion that mainstream media is only about access, not about information.
UPDATE: Joe & Mika announce town hall with Donald Trump, furthering questions about the relationship between source and reporter.
“YOU HAVE ME ALMOST AS A LEGENDARY FIGURE, I LIKE THAT.”
UPDATE 2: Actor and comedian Harry Shearer posted a leaked-audio clip of Joe & Mika talking casually to Trump off-camera. Harry says it’s from Le Show‘s “found objects department.” Not exactly sure what that means, but I’ll ask him via Twitter. (comment on Reddit)
Harry replied to my tweet; here’s our conversation:
According to CNN’s Dylan Byers, MSNBC declined comment on the tape; they’ll have to address it at some point. The nut sentence: “You have me almost as a legendary figure, I like that.” Here’s the clip:
UPDATE 3 (6 October 2016): Keith Olbermann takes Joe Scarborough to task for being an “enabler” of Trump from the beginning of this election cycle. In reality, Trump and Scarborough have had an on-again, off-again relationship—but Keith takes it a step further. Watch:
UPDATE 4 (7 January 2017): The fact that there are so many updates to this “Morning Cozy” story says it all—the controversy swirling at MSNBC has bubbled up repeatedly over the course of a year. But when Joe was spotted at a Trump event about a week ago, things got a skootch testy between New York Times journalist Sopan Deb, Maggie Haberman and the Twitter-forward co-host of Morning Joe.
Scarborough is a bit like Bill Maher in that he doesn’t appreciate being disagreed with, which is obvious in the defensive nature of his replies. Alleging a mainstream journalist to be disseminating “fake news”—when that problem has nothing to do with his situation—is disingenuous at best.
I’m proud to say that since writing this post, I’ve seen numerous mainstream outlets use the word “cozy”—including the WaPo‘s Callum Borchers. It’s absolutely the correct term and the exact wrong way to conduct yourself as a journalist. FWIW, Joe could’ve scored the interview without attending the party. Video below is a great synopsis of the rollercoaster soap opera that is Morning Joe & Donald Trump. Watch:
I’ll continue to update this post as events develop. Based on the past year there will for sure be more to come. Watch this space.
Update 5 (19 September 2017): On the show’s 10th anniversary, the Morning Joe crew continued their ‘Cozy’ Chris Christie Love Affair with this lovely nugget below (h/t Crooks & Liars on twitter). Not only are they back being chummy-chummy again, but Joe & Mika declined to defend their MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow. Rachel was among the first to cover “Bridgegate” and exposed Christie and his minions for acting like mafia cretins. Worse still: we’ve apparently we’ve learned NOTHING since last election cycle; I’ll continue my boycott of the show despite Rob “Reenage” O’Connor’s urgings to get me to tune in. “All three of us put our faith in a man who neither earned it nor deserved it,” David Wildstein told the court.
Solar customers have a bone to pick with the state of Nevada.
What should be a slam dunk—hello, sun energy in Nevada?—has turned out to be anything but, with lawsuits filed and accusations flying. The nut graf from the Las Vegas Sun:
With no discussion, state regulators voted to slash the value of credits rooftop solar customers earn for generating excess energy.
The three-member Public Utilities Commission adopted a proposal that would reduce by 75 percent the amount NV Energy pays customers for excess power their panels produce and change the flat rate for customers with solar panels.
The exact amounts of the changes haven’t been decided, but solar companies say they expect their customers’ base service charge to ultimately double or triple.
Let it sink in that there’s a governor-appointed, three-person panel deciding *anything for an entire state, let alone setting the agenda for energy usage. That, in and of itself, is astonishing. Moreover, private energy-infrastructure companies now say Nevada is so inhospitable to solar business that they’ll close up shop there entirely. The sector has already lost 550 jobs and may lose more.
“There’s probably about 5-6 thousand solar jobs in the state, and most of those jobs are going to get laid off,” Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, told ThinkProgress. “We just laid off 550 people in Nevada. At the stroke of a pen, three people can decide the fates of millions. We’re going to fight it — we think it was unethical.”
RELATED: SCOTUS SETS ASIDE PRESIDENT OBAMA’S ENERGY PLAN
Saying “Nevada has some sun” is like saying Lake Michigan is “kind of wet.” Governor Sandoval, get off your ass and make this right. You should be leading the way on alternative energy, and with this Nevada is going in exactly the wrong direction.
One final postscript: have a look at Vox’s post on the Duck Curve and what it means for solar-energy administration. Fascinating.
Shameless (but definitely related) plug: my book, Leaving Triscuit, documents my journey in mining the emotional awareness of my rescued rat terrier—making being away on long trips easier on my beloved pup and me. (read more)
This is one of the most unexplored areas of animal behavior: our furry children know more than we give them credit for. If you’re the owner of a dog, cat, horse or another mature animal, do your part to learn more about how to engage them.
In other news: Einstein was right: gravitational waves have been discovered and we’re one step closer to a Star Trek existence… The family of three murdered college students in North Carolina—likely the result of a hate crime—are doing great things in their community… I’d pay twice this amount to have Rob Gronkowski at my birthday party.
Next up in the halls of LOLville: Joe Santagato, who is now officially my spirit animal. I don’t know how I didn’t know about him until this week, but better late than never. I want to take a bath in his one-liners [NSFW]:
Before Joe Santagato, Jack Danyells was my original spirit animal. Here’s why:
I was a bit skeptical of Lady Gaga singing the National Anthem, but holy crap was I wrong. Everyone was agog over the dress, the hair, the shoes and the nails… but I was, of course, obsessed with the musical arrangement.
I can’t find a citation for it anywhere, so I took it upon myself to ask (it may be Gaga herself). I’ll report back if I hear anything.
Your Calming Capsule comes to us from my pal and prolific ARTvision Artist, Leesa Brown. Her “Great Egret” will heal all of your woes:
That’s it from me this week, Cranker Darlings. See you right back here next Thursday at 2.
Will Pollock is a crabby New York City escapee living in Atlanta. He’s a freelance multimedia journalist and author of two books (Pizza for Good & Leaving Triscuit), with more on the way. Sign up for the mailing list, follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram—and check out the book links below.
Don’t forget to comment below. Cranky loves company.