July 24, 2013

At the outset of his chat today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told host Mika Brzesinski, “It’s great to be here.” He may have changed his assessment after some back-and-forth with “Morning Joe” partner Joe Scarborough.

After Carney insisted that the country is focused on “phony scandals” in Washington, Scarborough stepped in and asked for a clarification on that point:

Scarborough: What phony scandals? Do you think the IRS scandal is a phony scandal?

Carney: What we have seen is inappropriate activity that the president came out and forcefully said he would not tolerate and that he installed somebody in the IRS to take care of. What we have seen from Republicans is cherry-picked information based on investigations that turns out to be only one side of the story. . . . The full facts show that the story is quite different. And I think you can — it’s demonstrated by the way the press has gotten extremely excited about the potential for a scandal and basically dropped it when the facts have come out. The president will not tolerate poor performance or inappropriate activity at any agency. . . . He’s focused on the economy, Joe, he’s not focused on pretend scandals that Republicans on Capitol Hill want to turn into partisan skirmishes.

Scarborough: I want to get to the economy, Jay, because obviously that’s the most important thing, we have to clean up this one thing, though. I mean, you say there’s cherry-picked information — let’s just take the IRS scandal. The fact is it’s far different than what you said. At the beginning, you said it was just the Cincinnati office and then we find out more people in Washington are involved. And then this past week we found out despite what any of us think of the investigations on Captitol Hill –, and I see you smiling, I don’t know that there’s anything to smile about — that it wasn’t a couple of crazy people in Cincinnati, that this information actually went up to the chief counsel of the IRS, which was one of two political appointees by the president of the United States in the entire IRS. So, doesn’t sound phony to me, Jay.

Carney: Joe, I greatly appreciate that that is the line being pushed by Republicans who want Washington to be focused on scandals instead of the economy.

Scarborough: Wait, wait — no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.*

Carney: The facts are, what we have said…

Scarborough: Is that the truth or not, Jay? Is that the truth or not? You said, Jay, that this was limited to Cincinnati. That wasn’t true.

Carney: No, what I.

Scarborough: I want to talk about the economy, but talk to me.

Carney: Give me a chance, Joe.

Scarborough: Don’t give me talking points ’cause that doesn’t work on this show.

Carney: Joe, Joe.

Scarborough: And you’ve been here long enough to know it doesn’t work on this show. So answer my question and then let’s talk about the economy.

Carney: When you get to the question, I’ll answer it, here it is.

Scarborough: I gave you the question and you decided to fight me, Jay, so stop your games with me; we’ve known each other for too long. I’m not playing your games. I’m not somebody you talk down to from your podium. Answer my question, Jay.

Carney then said that the government needs to focus on the economy. They both agreed that that was the important thing right now. Jobs! They just couldn’t agree on all that question-and-answer bravado regarding the IRS. Lesson: If you’re going to compete in the scramble for ratings, you cannot abide a boring discussion about the economy. Gotta punch it up somehow. Cable news strikes again.

At the end of the interview, Scarborough discussed a long-ago incident that may account for his feistiness toward Carney.

*Scarborough was spraying his “no’s” so quickly that the Erik Wemple Blog couldn’t get an accurate count without an audio slow-down feature.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.