Once upon a time, the greatest sin journalists could commit was to make themselves a part of the story. On Sunday, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski did just that, soaking up the fluorescent spotlight on the cover of New York magazine and dishing about their “star-crossed relationship with the president” — and, of course, each other — in its pages.
During trying times, contentiousness between the press and the president has often morphed into spectacle, with anchors such as Sam Donaldson receiving flak from the public for seeming to enter the political arena rather than report or comment on it. With the advent of social media, the lines between reporting, commentary, analysis, and activism were blurred, and they’ve been obliterated by the crossover of celebrity into politics. First there was Al Franken. Now, there is Trump. Soon, there might be Senator Kid Rock. So it makes sense that reporters will become unwittingly entangled in the political fray. We saw as much with Megyn Kelly, who became a political lightning rod overnight following Trump’s deeply personal attacks on her moderation of the first Republican primary debate.
In all fairness — or depending on whether you believe that Morning Joe’s fluffy platforming helped him win the Republican nomination — Trump sort of started it. In his petty, derisive, unpresidential tweet-storm last month, he attacked Brzezinski’s appearance and Scarborough’s sanity, and immediately after the fact, the pair responded with a measured defense in the Washington Post. They seemed to rise above the pathetic occasion and take Trump’s bullying in stride. At first.
Earlier this month, Scarborough published a high-and-mighty critique of the GOP, notable only for what it unwittingly revealed about its author. No, the former Republican congressman did not object to Trump’s denouncing John McCain for being captured in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. He did not declare the Republican party shot when it chose Trump as its nominee. He reached his breaking point only once the personal became political.
The next stop on Joe and Mika’s media junket was The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in which the duo discussed the vicissitudes of journalism in the 24-hour news cycle, the ethics of sourcing, and their own relationship, making a few obvious Trump jokes along the way. At the end, Joe even got to debut a song from his new dad-rock album!
Their New York magazine cover, then, really shouldn’t be shocking, yet somehow, it is.
Each frivolous, mean-spirited Twitter rant from Trump gets wiped out of the minds of skeptically centrist Americans when they see the press behaving like Paris Hilton instead of Walter Cronkite.
It’s not that journalists and commentators should exist in the shadows, especially when Trump pulls them into the arena. Jake Tapper and Megyn Kelly have both recently been featured and glamorized in monthly magazines, but in each case they discussed their roles as journalists, not as the leaders of an opposition or resistance movement. Mika and Joe, meanwhile, used the opportunity to embrace their roles in the cheap soap opera of petty palace intrigue.
“At one point, Joe sent me a Snapchat and Donald was on top, and then he sent me another one and Melania was!” Brzezinski gushed about her pet bunnies, not-at-all-creepily named after the president and first lady, to Olivia Nuzzi, the magazine’s Washington correspondent. The nearly 6,000-word cover story is rife with such anecdotes. Scarborough makes sure to get in a plug for his album, discussing the process of writing a love song for Brzezinski. She makes sure to flaunt her “large diamond solitaire” and play with his hair in front of Nuzzi. They both express shock and awe that Trump remained, well, himself as he progressed from candidate to president. Barely half of the feature covers the pair’s dealings with the president. The rest reads like an incredibly nuanced analysis of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
You may be one of the five Beltway or Upper West Side residents interested in reading about Mika and Joe’s love affair or their pithy attempts to antagonize the leader of the free world. But the rest of the nation just sees reporters trying to be tabloid stars and picking fights with the president. Each frivolous, mean-spirited Twitter rant from Trump gets wiped out of the minds of skeptically centrist Americans when they see the press behaving like Paris Hilton instead of Walter Cronkite.
Reporters have a right to stick up for themselves when unfairly attacked, and they have a duty to cover the news with unflinching scrutiny. Brzezinski, who covered 9/11 as a CBS correspondent, and Scarborough, who has represented the people in the House of Representatives, should know better. The government is made more powerful and the people are made less so when the press loses its credibility. Given that said credibility is already at an all-time low, cover stories like this one simply do not help matters one bit.