Democracy Dies in Darkness

Erik Wemple

An awkward Joe Scarborough protests that he's not, in fact, a 'supporter' of Donald Trump

By Erik Wemple

February 10, 2016 at 1:46 PM

Joe Scarborough, host of “Morning Joe,” on the set at MSNBC studios. (Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)

It wasn't an unusual scenario for "Morning Joe": After a big political night, the crew on MSNBC's famous breakfast show executes a rollicking interview with Republican presidential phenomenon Donald Trump. So it went on this morning's edition, as various "Morning Joe" regulars broke down Trump's New Hampshire victory and asked him about the future. Then co-host Mika Brzezinski asked how Trump's family was handling things. "Everyone's great," responded Trump. "It was great seeing you, and you guys have been supporters and I really appreciate it."

At that point, Trump appeared to catch himself a bit. "Not necessarily supporters, but at least believers," said the real estate mogul.

Thus started a great "Morning Joe" debate on how to phrase the role of "Morning Joe" in the campaign triumphs of Donald Trump. Name partner Joe Scarborough sought to define the gist of Trump's little slip-up: "Well, I will tell you what, when you say supporter, you're obviously — you're talking about how actually — you're talking about Bob [Costa of The Washington Post], Mika, myself, also [Mark] Halperin [of Bloomberg Politics], Willie [Geist of the Today Show] and those of us around the table," said Scarborough. "There were a handful of people who for six months have been saying what happened last night could happen and the rest of the media world has been mocking and ridiculing exactly what he's done."

Also alarmed by Trump's statement, Brzezinski decided she, too, could play message-meister for the candidate: "But let me clarify what supporters mean," said Brzezinski, who played up the everyone-else-underestimated-Trump theme.

Shortly thereafter, Trump got off the phone.

This notion of the "Morning Joe" cast serving as supporters of Donald Trump, however, outlasted Trump. The group had more rebutting to do, including Scarborough himself, who blew through a commercial break to stay on topic: "No, we're not going to go," he said. "People keep yelling in my ear. No, we're not going to go. Just stop." After some back-and-forth with Geist, Scarborough said, "I've heard advocacy from people before. Or support — Donald said support. It's not support … and I would dare say that I am the only person who has hung up on Donald Trump on live television. And the thing is we've been very critical of his approach toward Muslims, we said he went too far on John McCain, we said he went too far on you name it," said the host.

Bolding added to highlight something of a weak credential. Yes, Scarborough and Brzezinski grilled Trump in a December interview following the candidate's call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Rather than listen to Trump's bluster, Scarborough cut off Trump and ordered up a commercial break — which is perhaps what the host is referencing when he says he "hung up" on Trump. Well, after that commercial break, the interview resumed in a far less combative fashion. (We've asked MSNBC if that is indeed the moment Scarborough was referring to.)

"Our job … is to be an analyst and say whether we support him or not, whether we're gonna vote for him or not, whether we agree with him or not. Our job is to talk about how this race is going to look," argued Scarborough this morning, in something of a journalistic mission statement.

There's no question but that "Morning Joe" has filled hours and hours of airtime figuring out "how this race is going to look." Yet late last year, the Erik Wemple Blog rewatched a great number of Trump appearances on the show. There's a reason Trump once opened a phone interview with the "Morning Joe" crew by saying, "Good morning, darling" — and it's because Trump has enjoyed a tremendous degree of warmth from the show. As we described it in an earlier post, Trump-on-"Morning Joe" feels like a cozy social club, and there's video to back up that claim:

Watch more!
"Morning Joe" hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski took a tough line with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Dec. 8, in an interview following his anti-Muslim comments. But that's not how it's been during Trump's numerous appearances over the last few months. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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

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