On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski alighted on one of the great low-hanging-fruit debates of modern media: whether MSNBC and Fox News are merely mirror images of each other on opposing sides of the country’s ideological divide. The discussion between the two MSNBCers began after they mentioned Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’s attack on CNN and NBC for planning specials on Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Brzezinski talked about getting Priebus on MSNBC to chat about things, but she said that he already had his proprietary outlet in Fox News. Then it got going:
Scarborough: What about MSNBC?
Brzezinski: Well, what about it?
Scarborough: I mean, if you’re looking at the prime time for both networks.
Brzezinski: If you’re asking CNN to quote balance things out and you have a network that basically feeds your candidates, I mean, it really does. And airs them and puts them on and then hires them. I don’t know. There’s a whole other conversation that nobody’s having here. Having said that, I think they’ve generated a really good conversation about the blurred lines.
Scarborough: You bring up Fox, you gotta bring up MSNBC. I think in this case, though — we disagree on the CNN front. For me… CNN — that’s what news networks do. They do documentaries on big political figures. I don’t see the CNN problem. If there’s a problem, it’s actually — yuh-oh — it’s actually more with NBC as far as, if they do this splashy biopic. And it’s a beautiful biography of Hillary Clinton. That’s a bigger problem. Now, you and I and everybody on the set knows NBC Entertainment and NBC News are completely separate. NBC News probably doesn’t want NBC Entertainment to do this. But NBC Entertainment, they want viewers, they want ratings. And guess what — a lot of people will sit and watch a biopic on Hillary Clinton. But there’s a big difference, though, between hiring actors and actresses to play that role than there is CNN doing a documentary on it. I mean, that’s at least my opinion. The RNC has every right to….
Brzezinski: I think it’s a very interesting discussion…but I think the elephant in the room is Fox, that Reince is sort of leaving out.
Scarborough: I’m so confused by that.
Brzezinski: Why doesn’t he come on?
Scarborough: Well, Reince will come on, but I don’t understand: Every time you bring up Fox, you gotta bring up MSNBC.
Brzezinski: Not really, ‘cuz…I don’t see MSNBC going after Democratic presidential candidates and trying to hire them or trying push them into forefront. And everything you read is that Roger Ailes gets behind Republican candidates, he hires them, he puts them on the air. It is a mouthpiece for the Republican Party and the conservative — it is.
Scarborough: OK, so here we go, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t be quiet here. I can’t be quiet here. What do you think MSNBC is at night?
Brzezinski: It’s not the same at all.
Scarborough: It is exactly the same.
Brzezinski: I don’t think so.
Scarborough: Well, of course you don’t think so, because you’re a Democrat. Whereas I am fair-minded and down the middle and in so much trouble right now I really need to be calling my agent.
Here’s a one-paragraph, punctuationally liberated assessment of this Fox News-MSNBC equivalence argument:
Roger Ailes has long been a player in Republican Party politcs, in a way that MSNBC President Phil Griffin clearly is not in Democratic Party politics. Every time you turn around, Ailes is recruiting candidates — heck, he once sent an emissary to feel out Gen. David Petraeus on a possible 2012 presidential run — or signing up contributors who have clear political plans, none of which means that MSNBC doesn’t dabble in politically inclined commentators. Think Obamaites David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs. When a study last year alleged that MSNBC had gone to negative extremes on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney just before the 2012 election and that Fox News had done the opposite — essentially making the case that they’re both ideological outlets — Griffin vented to The Erik Wemple Blog, “Whatever metric they use for this study is absurd….There is no equivalency in the way we do our analysis and reporting. I am not saying this about all of Fox. They do some good work but in prime time and in tone, they have an agenda.” MSNBC’s agenda tends toward grand thinkiness, which so often translates into support for the Obama administration’s initiatives and wall-to-wall scorn for the latest Republican Party initiative. It has taken heat for instances of agenda-driven editing/news presentation gaffes. What about Fox News? That would be less-grand unthinkiness wrapped in a daily story selection precision-targeted to cause trouble for President Obama. Griffin’s assertion of a Fox agenda finds its most powerful case study in a Fox News exclusive investigative bombshell on Benghazi, which alleged all manner of scandal in the response to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack. The story landed just less than two weeks before last year’s presidential contest.