Morning Joe Hosts Criticized For Soft Interview Of Donald Trump During Primetime Town Hall

Media outlets called out MSNBC's Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski for their performance moderating a town hall with Donald Trump, stating the hosts “went easy on the frontrunner” and calling the event “disgraceful,” and a “big fat waste.”

MSNBC Hosts Trump In A Town Hall

Joe Scarborough And Mika Brzezinski Moderated MSNBC Town Hall With Trump. Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski served as moderators at a town hall with Donald Trump that aired February 17 on MSNBC. The event competed directly with a CNN town hall featuring several Republican presidential candidates. [The Hill, 2/16/16]

Media Criticize Scarborough And Brzezinski For Going “Easy On The Frontrunner”

Washington Post's Wemple: The Town Hall Was A “Journalistic Shortfall.” In a February 17 piece, Washington Post's Erik Wemple asserted that the town hall was a “journalistic shortfall” in part because Scarborough and Brzezinski did not ask about “Trump's shameful record of racism, bigotry and rampant disrespect.” Wemple lamented the fact that the two moderators “let Trump skate” on his inflammatory rhetoric writing, “Any hourlong session with Donald Trump that doesn't ask him about those obscenities is a puff session”:

At the conclusion of Thursday night's town hall with Donald Trump on MSNBC, the featured guest made pains to assert that he'd been through the wringer with “Morning Joe” duo Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “It's not easy,” said Trump. “It's a lot of work. I mean, I'm here. I could be someplace else, to be honest with you. Okay, I'm being grilled by the two of you; I could be someplace else.”

“Grilled,” here, means a few signs of skepticism from the hosts plus several reasonably demanding questions. Like: “Will you make upholding the [Supreme Court's] Heller decision a litmus test in Supreme Court nominees?” Like: “What do you replace [Obamacare] with?” The Republican frontrunner also faced questioning about his claims about ringing early alarm bells over the Iraq war and about how he'd manage the federal government's dispute with Apple over accessing the iPhone of a deceased terrorist.


The other reason for the journalistic shortfall in the Scarborough-Brzezinski town hall is Trump's shameful record of racism, bigotry and rampant disrespect.


Any hourlong session with Donald Trump that doesn't ask him about those obscenities is a puff session. Allowing this fellow to pronounce on entitlement reform, strategies on ISIS, campaign tactics, Iraq, Jeb Bush, healthcare reform, gun rights, Supreme Court nominations and other such topics without grinding through an extensive accounting of his racism and bigotry is an outrage only slightly less egregious than the candidate's own. [The Washington Post, 2/17/16]

Slate: MSNBC's Town Hall Was “Disgraceful.” In a February 17 article, Slate criticized Brzezinski and Scarborough for “what appeared to be a rehearsed and 'safe' town hall,” calling the event “disgraceful.” The piece went on to condemn it as “a rigged entertainment program” with “mild” questions and “nonexistent” follow-ups, adding that the sole benefit of the town hall was that it “highlighted the many ways in which the media's coverage of Trump has been soft, insufficient, and without substance”:

Instead, Scarborough and Brzezinski hosted what appeared to be a rehearsed and “safe” town hall, in which American voters asked the candidate such hard-hitting questions as “Why did you decide to run for president?” and “how will you set yourself apart” from other Republicans? It was completely worthless television, except in one sense: The program highlighted the many ways in which the media's coverage of Trump has been soft, insufficient, and without substance.

Scarborough began the evening by noting that he and his co-host were prepared to debrief Trump and ask him important questions; instead, the questions were mild, and the follow-ups nonexistent. It remains shocking that after months of bigoted comments and almost pathological dishonesty, Trump still lands these types of interviews. Wednesday night, there was no mention of his racist comments toward Mexicans; his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin; or his stigmatization of Muslims. He wasn't pressed hard for any policy details, nor challenged about his well-catalogued dislike of the truth.


If the softball questions weren't enough to make you feel like you were watching a rigged entertainment program, everything else about Wednesday night's event also had a ring of cynicism to it. CNN was hosting a “town hall” in South Carolina with several of the other candidates, and MSNBC clearly wanted to compete. They did so by managing to get the biggest ratings draw in the race to appear with his favorite hosts. (Trump often appears on Morning Joe.) It's true that there have been moments when Trump and Scarborough have gotten tense with each other, but it has always been papered over, presumably because it's in both of their interests. [Slate, 2/17/16]

Mashable: Scarborough And Brzezinski “Went Easy On The Frontrunner.” In a February 17 article, Mashable wrote that while co-moderators Brzezinski and Scarborough “occasionally put some pressure on Trump,” they “for the most part ... went easy on the frontrunner.” The article also noted that important topics like immigration and terrorism were not mentioned at all during the debate and “Ronald Reagan got more mentions than either Mexico or ISIS”:

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's Morning Joe hosted Donald Trump for an hour-long interview in Charleston, South Carolina, where they peppered the GOP presidential candidate with questions and fielded a few queries from the audience.


Throughout the night, the co-hosts occasionally put some pressure on Trump -- Scarborough tripped him up a little bit on his thoughts on the war in Iraq -- but, for the most part, they went easy on the frontrunner.

So what, exactly, did they talk about? Well, maybe it's easier to approach from the angle of what they didn't talk about.

Christian, Muslim, immigration, and terrorism go completely unmentioned while war, money, health care, and China all got more than 10 mentions. Gay marriage and abortion -- two major social issues for Conservative voters -- were never brought up either.

And Ronald Reagan got more mentions than either Mexico or ISIS. [Mashable, 2/17/16]

The Daily Beast: Moderators Only “Asked A Quarrelsome Question Or Two Among The Fuzzy Softballs.” In a February 18 article, The Daily Beast editor-at-large Lloyd Grave criticized Brzezinski and Scarborough for their performance in the town hall, noting that their attempt to “get tough” with Trump “didn't work.” Grave stated that there were “a quarrelsome question or two among the fuzzy softballs lobbed” at Trump:

It's hard to see how Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the interrogators in Wednesday's night's “MSNBC Exclusive”--namely, a hastily scheduled town hall in Charleston, South Carolina, featuring the Republican frontrunner and counterprogrammed against CNN's non-Trump town hall--could have contained the sheer relentlessness of Hurricane Trump as it spouted slogans and sentence fragments from the tape loop whirling wildly inside its fevered eye.

They tried. Brzezinski even called him “Mr. Trump,” a touch of stern formality, while Scarborough stuck with “Donald.” They even asked a quarrelsome question or two among the fuzzy softballs lobbed at the dark-suited, red-tied reality show billionaire by a dozen amazingly polite audience members rounded up for the occasion, in advance of the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary.


Try as they might--and Brzezinski and Scarborough did demand some policy specifics concerning Trump's plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, cut taxes without blowing holes in the deficit, and other such staples of presidential campaigning--it was well nigh impossible to knock Trump off his talking points. [The Daily Beast, 2/18/16]

Mother Jones: Scarborough And Brzezinski Left Trump Unchallenged In The Same Way “We Don't Challenge Our Drunk Uncle At Thanksgiving.” In a February 17 article, Mother Jones called out Scarborough and Brzezinski for failing to press Trump on his comments, calling it reminiscent of “the way we don't challenge our drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.” Calling the event a “big fat waste” of time, the article pointed out that despite the fact Trump “has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, has retweeted posts from white supremacists, and has remarked that Mexican immigrants are 'rapists,'” he “wasn't asked about any of these assertions”:

Tonight's Trump Town Hall, hosted by MSNBC, may indicate that Trump has finally stunned the nation into silence. Or at least mild tolerance, like the way we don't challenge our drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

Trump--who has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, has retweeted posts from white supremacists, and has remarked that Mexican immigrants are “rapists”--wasn't asked about any of these assertions. He was asked about poll numbers, if Apple is wrong for refusing to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernadino shooters, and if he can play nice with Congress if elected to office. In an hour-long question-and-answer session in Charleston, S.C., moderators Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough occasionally pushed Trump on specificity, but couldn't garner substantial answers. [Mother Jones, 2/17/16]

Fiscal Times: “Trump Gets A Freebie From MSNBC's Morning Joe.” In a February 18 column, Rob Garver, a national correspondent for The Fiscal Times, called the town hall event “a freebie” for Trump. highlighting how “there wasn't the slightest pushback” when Trump erred while responding to a question about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' college affordability plan:

In the end, Trump was asked a grand total of eight questions from the audience, three of which were crammed into the final four minutes of the event. And his interrogators weren't exactly budding Torquemadas.

One, identifying herself as a college student concerned about tuition costs, said, “I was just wondering, since there's so much going on in the rest of the campaign, umm, I was just wondering how you are going are your thoughts on Bernie's higher education plan and how he's going to reduce the cost?”

“Thank you, it's a very good question,” Trump said, before saying that “the problem” with the plan put forward by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the second-place candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination, “is that everyone is going to pay 95 percent taxes.”

Of course, nobody in US history has paid an effective tax rate of 95 percent, and Sanders - though his proposal are, arguably, ruinously expensive - has proposed no such thing. Yet there wasn't the slightest pushback, and Scarborough guided Trump onto the much safer ground of college tuition costs which (shocker!) Trump said he would reduce. [The Fiscal Times, 2/18/16]