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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008

Mika Brzezinski doesn't mince words about what happened when CBS dropped her as a correspondent two years ago.

"Nobody wanted me," she says. "I spent a year looking for a job. You spend 10 years at a place, you gave your heart and soul and blood for it, and all of a sudden it's over? I was 40 and, quote, fired, and I'm sure people were thinking, what's wrong with her?"

No one is asking that now. Brzezinski has parlayed her role as co-host of MSNBC's morning show, with Joe Scarborough, into a syndicated radio show with the former congressman and a brand-new book deal. She is, for the first time, bursting with opinions.

"I've been in a box as a journalist for 20 years," she says. "That is a very safe and lazy place to be. You can hide behind objectivity. It is much harder to put yourself out there."

Brzezinski's comeback occupies the eroding line between news and commentary, but it reflects more than that. In a fickle culture that swoons over celebrities and spits them out, media people can be hot and then, suddenly, not -- particularly women who reach a certain age and are supplanted by younger rivals.

As the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, she found her name to be a mixed blessing. For years, she says, "people made fun of me and assumed doors were opened because of my last name. In some cases it was true, and in others it wasn't. I had to triple-prove myself and compensate for inbred resentment in newsrooms."

The move to radio seems a bit much, given that Brzezinski gets up at 3:30 a.m. for her three-hour stint, starting at 6, on "Morning Joe." Now the two move on to a separate New York studio for another two hours of blabbing at 10 a.m.

"We feel we've just got more to say," Brzezinski explains. "We're either at each other's throats or getting completely fired up." Even before the radio show launched two weeks ago, "we have not gone a day without continuing the conversation, sometimes on the phone, sometimes still fighting."

On Thursday they are dueling in a Washington studio, the morning dominated by a 5 a.m. incident in which the rail-thin Brzezinski was mugged by a man demanding money outside a Ritz-Carlton. Brzezinski had asked Scarborough not to talk about it, and she seems mortified when he returns to the subject again and again, ripping her for expressing sympathy for the robber -- whom she gave all of $6.

"This left-wing attitude of yours. . . . Isn't Mika responsible not only for her mugging, but for the mugging of everyone?" he asks one caller.

During a break, her father calls her cell. "I'm fine -- I'm on the radio. It's no big deal . . ."

"It's a huge deal, Doctor Brzezinski!" Scarborough shouts.


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