Morning Joe won't stop talking about discredited Kagan rumors

Joe Scarborough and MSNBC's Morning Joe cast devoted nearly half an hour today to discussing discredited rumors that Elena Kagan is gay -- even while noting that the White House says she isn't gay and repeatedly acknowledging that most Americans probably don't “care.”

The discussion occupied much of the first 15 minutes of the show. Despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that Kagan is gay and that the White House and Kagan's friends have unequivocally said that she isn't gay, Scarborough portrayed the issue as a “bigger question.” Scarborough and Pat Buchanan repeatedly tied the discredited rumors to false claims that Kagan banned military recruiters from Harvard's campus.

The purported hook for Scarborough's discussion was the controversy over whether The Wall Street Journal's use of a 17-year-old photo of Kagan playing softball was intended to be a reference to the rumors.

Leading off the show, Scarborough said, “Apparently, I didn't know this, but softball bat symbolizes a certain lifestyle.”

After co-host Mika Brzezinski dismissed the notion that the Journal photo was a reference to the rumors, guest John Ridley said, “One picture of that, one picture at a Melissa Etheridge concert -- all the sudden, these rumors start flying around.”

Scarborough responded: “I'm not going to say anything, but if you go into her office, the solicitor general, there are posters of the Indigo Girls everywhere. ... I like them, too. You ever hear ” Ghost"? ... It's a great song."

Moments later, Scarborough said, “But apparently, the bigger question is, is she gay? Does it matter? Do we care? And of course, John Ridley, since we're in Los Angeles, of course we don't care. Live and let live.”

But Scarborough is wrong. It isn't a “bigger question.” There is simply no evidence that Kagan is gay, and just last night, Politico's Ben Smith reported the following:

Elena Kagan is not a lesbian, one of her best friends told POLITICO Tuesday night, responding to persistent rumors and innuendo about the Supreme Court nominee's personal life.

“I've known her for most of her adult life and I know she's straight,” said Sarah Walzer, Kagan's roommate in law school and a close friend since then. “She dated men when we were in law school, we talked about men -- who in our class was cute, who she would like to date, all of those things. She definitely dated when she was in D.C. after law school, when she was in Chicago - and she just didn't find the right person.”

Walzer, half amused and half appalled to be discussing her friend's sexual orientation, agreed to be interviewed after Kagan's supporters decided they should tactfully put an end to the rumor, which White House officials had already tried to squelch in background interviews with reporters. She said she decided to talk to POLITICO because the discussion of Kagan's personal life has become a “distraction.”

“It's taking away from substantive discussion of the issues from a really substantive person who deserves to be given the opportunity to address the substantive issues,” she said.

Another friend, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a member of Kagan's social circle at Princeton University, wanted to make the same point as Walzer. “I did not go out with her, but other guys did,” he said in an email Tuesday night. “I don't think it is my place to say more.”

But that didn't stop the Morning Joe crew from discussing the discredited rumors throughout the rest of the show.

Moments after saying that “apparently, the bigger question is, is she gay? Does it matter? Do we care?,” Scarborough said the following:

A couple weeks ago, and we're going to get the quote, someone suggested when Elena Kagan's name came up that she was gay. And the White House responded by saying this is a smear, the attacks, which made a bunch of gay groups come out and say, wait a second, is it a smear? Do you accept gays and lesbians as equals, or do you consider it a smear? So this softball bat-gate is actually opening up a much bigger question. Not about whether she's gay, but how the White House has responded to it and whether Americans are going to want to know whether she is or not.

Several minutes later, Morning Joe returned to the issue, with Scarborough asking, "[W]hat about her being a lesbian, if she is a lesbian, does that matter?"

SCARBOROUGH: OK, but what about her being a lesbian, if she is a lesbian, does that matter?

BRZEZINSKI: No.

SCARBOROUGH: Willie Geist?

WILLIE GEIST (co-host): It doesn't matter to me, but I have to say, I agree with Pat a little bit. The photograph there has undercurrents, implications.

SCARBOROUGH: About the sunbathing?

GEIST: Yes, about the sunbathing.

BRZEZINSKI: What?

GEIST: I want to go sunbathing with Pat. But there are implications of an old photograph of her playing softball. There's -- I believe there's a little bit of a message being sent there. I hate to contradict you.

BRZEZINSKI: No. No. No.

SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, you've talked about a generational divide on gay marriage, on gays, lesbians. Do you think, just politically, put on your political hat here, that if she were a lesbian, that Americans would care? That the majority of americans would care?

BUCHANAN: I think some Americans, certainly, would care about that.

Buchanan then said that the rumors about Kagan “tend to reinforce the fact she kept the military -- or sent the recruiters off of campus” -- a reference to the false claim that Kagan banned military recruiters from Harvard:

BUCHANAN: I think some Americans, certainly, would care about that. But I think her problem is this, it's not so much what her orientation is, and it does tend to reinforce the fact she kept the military -- or sent the recruiters off of campus over the fact that they are allegedly discriminating against gays, even though the policy was imposed by Clinton. So it underscores that, but I can tell you -- look, it would be one thing -- I mean, if you've got a picture of Barack Obama shooting hoops in the White House now, fine, nobody's going to say anything about it. But they went back apparently 16 years to get this photograph. And there is a suggestion -- there's always been that connection, Joe. So I think it -- I think it was conscious.

Still later in the show, Scarborough again referenced the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell issue,” saying to Buchanan: “Her sexual orientation may be irrelevant to the majority of Americans. But when you attach it to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and the letter she wrote as dean of the law school, then suddenly conservatives have a reason to go that direction, right?”

Buchanan responded, “I think the military thing is the big issue. The military off campus, the allegation that she is anti-military.” (The allegation that Kagan is “anti-military” is also false.)

Buchanan then explained: “The very fact we're discussing this right now, indicates to me that that photograph worked. Now, I don't think I've got a bad mind, but when I saw that photograph, I said to myself, they are trying to introduce the idea of her orientation, about which we've read way down in columns, for a good while. And I think they succeeded.”

Brzezinski soon added: “We are deciding to make this a conversation, by the way, so let's just make that clear and be transparent.”

Indeed.