MSNBC must address recent reports that President-elect Donald Trump “often seeks out” political advice from network host Joe Scarborough. If true, the reports call into question Morning Joe’s Trump coverage and present an ethical dilemma for the network.
On November 19, The New York Times reported that Trump “still maintains the routine that sustained him during the campaign,” which includes “often seek[ing] out” advice from Scarborough. CNN media reporter Brian Stelter referenced the Times report on the November 20 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, stating that Scarborough "has been giving Trump advice.” Scarborough failed to address the allegations during the November 21 edition of Morning Joe.
Scarborough has repeatedly attacked those who claimed he was supporting Trump on-air. In November, Scarborough lashed out at the “really disgusting” people who suggested he favored Trump, adding that he doesn’t want viewers to believe “that anybody [on Morning Joe] is rooting for Donald Trump because we’re not.” Similarly, when conservative columnist Bill Kristol called out the Morning Joe hosts for “rewriting history” on the show’s coverage of Trump during a guest appearance in October, Scarborough and his co-host Mika Brzezinski devolved into a screaming match, calling Kristol “bitter,” and claiming he was “practically crying.”
Despite the hosts’ defense of their Trump coverage, they have repeatedly fawned over Trump and defended him from media criticism following an off-air meeting between Scarborough, Brzezinski, and Trump in September to “rekindle their relationship.” Since that meeting, Scarborough has lashed out at journalists who expressed concern over Trump’s refusal to say if would accept election results, refused to accept that a Trump television ad featured anti-Semitic themes, and denied the assertion that the press carried Trump through his campaign.
Other media figures have criticized the program’s cozy relationship with Trump throughout the election. Conservative radio host Steve Deace told MSNBC that Scarborough had turned his show into “a Trump super PAC for six months,” and Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik called Scarborough’s relationship with Trump “inappropriate.” And an NBC pollster cited Morning Joe’s Trump coverage as an example of how the media have bolstered, and to an extent, even “created” Trump.
Trump has also sought advice from other conservative media figures like Fox News’ Sean Hannity. In August, The New York Times reported Hannity had expanded beyond his role as “Trump’s biggest media booster” and “veer[ed] into the role of adviser,“ where he “peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging.” Like Scarborough, Hannity has repeatedly defended Trump from criticism and been accused of acting as an “arm of the Trump campaign.”
At the risk of compromising the network’s journalistic integrity, MSNBC must address reports that Scarborough is advising Trump, since Scarborough has shown he will not address them on his own. If reports are accurate, Scarborough should fully disclose his advising role to Trump. To do otherwise would be journalistic malpractice.