On May 18, "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz "should step down" because she had favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders throughout the primary. One week later, Brzezinski doubled down, saying, "My contention all along has been that [Wasserman Schultz] has been in the tank for Hillary from the get-go, and it's been quite obvious."
The repetition seemed like no big deal at the time, but now hacked DNC emails show that in between Wasserman Schultz and her staff flipped out, pressuring MSNBC to make Brzezinski and partner Joe Scarborough tone down their criticism. Clearly, it didn't work.
While the focus of WikiLeaks' release of DNC emails has rightfully been on any evidence that party officials tried to aid Clinton and hamper Sanders — evidence that prompted Wasserman Schultz to resign, just as Brzezinski said she should — the leaked trove of roughly 20,000 messages also offers a window into Democrats' relations with the press.
In some cases, the view of the media isn't terribly flattering. One email chain shows that Politico reporter Ken Vogel shared a full draft of an article with a DNC spokesman before filing the piece with editors — a journalistic no-no, even if the final, published product remained largely unchanged and critical of Clinton.
But other email interactions, such as those between the DNC and MSNBC, show a system working as it should, with a media outlet listening to the concerns of people it covers but ultimately standing its ground when justified.
"This is the LAST straw," Wasserman Schultz wrote to her communications director, Luis Miranda, on the morning that Brzezinski called for her resignation. "Please call Phil a [sic] Griffin. This is outrageous. She needs to apologize."
Phil Griffin is the president of MSNBC.
Wasserman Schultz also fired off an email to Chuck Todd, the political director of NBC News. Subject line: "Chuck, this must stop." In her message, Wasserman Schultz asked to speak with Todd by phone; Todd agreed. Miranda told Wasserman Schultz that since she had already reached out to Todd, he would hold off on calling Griffin.
In a separate email chain, Miranda complained to DNC press secretary Mark Paustenbach: "[Expletive] Joe claiming the system is rigged, party against him, we need to complain to their producer." Another press aide informed a colleague that Miranda was trying to set up a call between Wasserman Schultz and Brzezinski to "clear up some misperceptions of the DNC and DWS that she has expressed on the air."
It appears from the emails that only the Todd call took place. Under the subject "Following up," Miranda wrote this to Todd on the night of May 18: "Hey Chuck, per our conversation earlier today, I'd appreciate it if you passed along the following to the Morning Joe team. I understand Joe and Mika will say whatever they're going to say in terms of opinion, but at a minimum they should consider the facts on some of the key allegations they're making."
Miranda went on to cite examples of comments by Wasserman Schultz that he said proved her neutrality.
Based on Miranda's message, it sounds like Todd heard Wasserman Schultz out and agreed to relay her objections to Brzezinski and Scarborough. It also sounds like he defended his hosts' prerogative to "say whatever they're going to say."
Indeed, Brzezinski and Scarborough didn't back down. On May 25, Scarborough said, "It's simple, right? Debbie Wasserman Schultz has to go for the sake of party unity."
On Monday, the "Morning Joe" hosts discussed the emails and scoffed at the idea that they could be swayed.
"They're emailing and calling Chuck Todd saying, 'You need to get Mika to' — Chuck Todd couldn't even get us to pass the show over to him at 9 o'clock," Scarborough said, referring to the days when Todd's "Daily Rundown" program followed "Morning Joe" on MSNBC. "Chuck had to look at this, just laughing, going, 'You kidding me? Nobody can control those crazy loons.'"
For Brzezinski and Scarborough, the email leak is a double victory. Their criticism of Wasserman Schultz looks valid, and they look principled for sticking to it.