Joe Scarborough is sensitive to any suggestion that he is too cozy with President-elect Donald Trump, so it is no surprise that the MSNBC host pushed back when journalist Sopan Deb wrote Sunday on Twitter that Scarborough had “partied” with Trump on New Year’s Eve. But Scarborough’s over-the-top response — specifically the way he sought to undermine Deb’s credibility — was exactly the kind of intra-media attack that the press doesn’t need right now.
The episode began when Deb, who recently left CBS News and will join the New York Times on Jan. 9, tweeted an excerpt from a Times article about Trump’s New Year's Eve bash at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. The piece noted that “Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski from MSNBC's ‘Morning Joe’ were also there,” a fact that Deb interpreted as evidence that the co-hosts had “partied” with the incoming president.
Scarborough, a contributor to The Washington Post’s opinion page, went off on Deb, accusing him of lying and “pushing fake news.”
Notably absent from Scarborough’s tirade was an explanation of his objection to the word “partied.” He didn't deny attending the party or say why he thought Deb’s characterization was unfair. He went straight to name-calling.
Only when Deb invited Scarborough to set the record straight did the former Republican congressman elaborate.
Based on Scarborough’s account, this seems like a simple misunderstanding. He and Brzezinski were at Trump’s New Year's Eve event, as the Times reported, leading Deb to conclude that they had partied with the other guests. But it turns out they were actually there to pitch an interview. Scarborough might have just said so in the first place.
And Deb might have let the squabble end at Scarborough’s belated clarification, but he couldn’t resist a sarcastic remark, which only provoked Scarborough further.
Then Maggie Haberman, the Times reporter who wrote the original story about Trump’s party, stepped in and got some additional details from Scarborough.
Scarborough’s acknowledgment that he spent a moment chatting with partygoers and that his interactions with Trump were not entirely private makes it even easier to understand why someone (like, say, Deb) might think that Scarborough and Brzezinski had joined the festivities. Again, this seems like a misunderstanding — not a lie or an example of fake news.
Rather than explain right away what actually happened, however, Scarborough blew up at Deb. He told his 685,000 followers that a reporter who covered the campaign for CBS and is about to join the New York Times simply makes stuff up.
That’s the sort of tactic employed by Trump. And while the president-elect’s attacks on the press threaten to erode public confidence in journalism, it can’t help to have similar bomb-throwing within the media.