This post has been updated.
Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski lately have been combating a perception that they're too cozy with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
After winning the New Hampshire primary a couple weeks ago, Trump thanked the "Morning Joe" co-hosts for being "supporters" — or "at least, believers" — forcing Scarborough and Brzezinski to explain that Trump merely meant they took him seriously before the rest of the press.
Following a CNN report that Scarborough's "friendship" with Trump is an "increasing source of discomfort at NBC" and an Erik Wemple Blog post that ripped the hosts' "puff session" with Trump at an MSNBC town hall event in South Carolina last week, Scarborough and Brzezinski angrily protested the criticism on their show last Friday.
But their case just got tougher, with the leaking of what appears to be a recording of off-air conversations that occurred during commercial breaks at the same town hall that Wemple thought was so soft. Comedian Harry Shearer, host of a weekly public radio show and podcast, posted audio of the conversation Sunday as part of his newest episode. He didn't say how he obtained the tape.
Gawker re-posted it Monday afternoon, ensuring that it will be heard by a much bigger audience.
Nothing on the tape is face-slappingly damning, but it will only feed the buddy-buddy narrative. (The relevant portion begins at 21:25.)
At one point, Trump describes Scarborough and Brzezinski's portrayal of him in one particular case as "almost like a legendary figure." But Trump also has a pattern of seeing what he wants to see in the analysis of people who view him as a real contender.
At another point, Trump says, "Just make us all look good," and Scarborough responds, "Exactly." Later, Trump says, "Nothing too hard, Mika," referring to upcoming questions, and Brzezinski replies, "Okay."
But these exchanges sound more like slightly awkward small talk than a conspiracy to lob softballs. Should Scarborough and Brzezinski really have said, "No, Donald, we're going to ask super-hard questions and make you look awful?"
It's worth remembering that the "Morning Joe" co-hosts are analysts, not straight-news reporters; they shouldn't be held to the same standard of total neutrality. Scarborough is a former Republican congressman from Florida; he's on TV for his insight and also as a counterweight to MSNBC's often left-leaning roster of commentators. It shouldn't be terribly shocking or alarming that he and his partner seem friendly with the leading GOP candidate for president. (On the same recording, for what it's worth, the left-leaning Brzezinski makes clear to Trump that she thought he was losing it at the last debate.)
Still, anyone who objects to the rapport that Scarborough and Brzezinski have with Trump will surely find more to complain about in the recording.