Mika Brzezinski | Media Matters for America

Mika Brzezinski

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  • Pundits can’t quit their lazy, evidence-free talking points about Democrats and elections

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lazy conventional wisdom is running abound in horse race coverage of the upcoming midterm elections.

    The October 22 broadcast of MSNBC’s Morning Joe devoted a lengthy segment to claims that the Democratic Party has no messaging or, if it does, the message is packaged incorrectly. This evaluation of Democratic Party election efforts is evidence-free -- Democrats have largely coalesced around the issue of health care -- and it is also a gift to the Republican Party, as it plays into the argument that Democrats have no principles or plan for governance.

    Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski opened the discussion by saying, “Donald Trump is talking about trade, crime, immigration, and judges. What are the Democratic issues that pack the same kind of inspiring emotional punch? Democrats can still win these midterms, but with time running out, the message and the momentum appears to be on Donald Trump’s side.”

    Brzezinski's claim that Democrats have no response to Trump’s midterm rhetoric probably says more about the beltway press -- which tends to cover Trump's every move, at the expense of other topics -- than about reality.

    What is happening on the ground tells a different story. Although it is important to note that the idea that a party needs a singular national message to be successful in elections is itself largely empty conventional wisdom, Democrats have unified to a great extent around the issue of health care in their messaging. Wesleyan Media Project -- an initiative that tracks and analyzes all broadcast election ads -- found in a September analysis that “Pro-Democratic messaging in federal races is concentrated primarily on healthcare, with 44 percent of airings in U.S. House races and 50 percent of airings in U.S. Senate races featuring the topic.” An October 18 report from the project stated, “It’s official: the 2018 midterms are about health care.” The “typical” message, according to an analysis by Vox, is that “the Republicans voted to take away people’s health care and end Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

    The media, however, have largely not been interested in covering health care policy, which could explain the perception that Democrats have no message on the issue. An October 19 Media Matters analysis found that broadcast nightly news shows did not air a single substantive segment about health care policy between January 1 and October 18

    Despite Brzezinski's suggestion that Democrat messaging is inept, polling suggests that what the Democrats are doing is working. According to Morning Consult, a survey research company, the “strategy” to focus on health care “is paying off” because it is a high priority issue for voters and “voters who say health care is their top priority favor Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 28 points.”

    Republicans have also been clearly put on the defensive by this messaging strategy. As The New York Times reported on October 16, “For months, Democratic candidates have been running hard on health care, while Republicans have said little about it. In a sign of the issue’s potency, Republicans are now playing defense, releasing a wave of ads promising they will preserve protections for Americans with pre-existing health conditions.” (It should be noted that these ads include false claims -- many of the Republicans running them have clear voting records of supporting legislation that would threaten mandatory coverage of pre-existing conditions.)

    After Brzezinski’s opening, co-host Joe Scarborough and frequent show panelist Mike Barnicle offered a factually incorrect analysis of Democrats’ communication strategy around health care. They both essentially attacked Democrats for not effectively messaging on the issue, even though Democrats are actually messaging in the ways that Scarborough and Barincle said they should be.

    Scarborough said, “So, if the Republican issue that they’re going to lean on is immigration, the Democratic issue is health care. I haven’t heard a compelling argument about health care.” He then claimed, “All they would have to say is the same exact thing that [then-President] Bill Clinton said [in 1996] for the next two weeks and they’d win a landslide and it’s this: Republicans are coming for your Medicare to pay for their tax cuts for the rich. … All they have to say is Republicans are coming after your Social Security and your Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Boom. They can’t put a sentence together like that. They are incapable.”

    But that is largely what Democrats are saying. According to the Wesleyan analysis, ads supporting Democrats running for House seats are mentioning health care 44 percent of the time, Medicare 18 percent of the time, Social Security 17 percent of the time, and taxes 14 percent of the time. So what Scarborough says Democrats are incapable of talking about are actually the four top issues that they are messaging on:

    And in the Senate, Democrats are mentioning health care in 50 percent of ads and prescription drugs in 16 percent of ads.


    Barnicle went a step further, saying of Democrats running for House seats: “All they talk about is impeaching the president, when all they would have to do, as Joe just referenced, is go to the country and say, ‘If you have a child who is sick, you better pray that the Republicans don’t take control again because your child will be in severe danger of losing health care.’” But as the Weslayan analysis showed, in the House, Democrats are running on health care, not impeachment.

    Another example of lazy horse race coverage occurred during the October 22 broadcast of CNN’s New Day when David Gregory said: “It’s also disturbing -- I mean, if you look at both parties, what they are really selling their supporters is anger and fear. That’s the vision for the country, which is pretty ugly during an ugly time following an ugly political episode with the confirmation of Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh.”

    There is really no comparison between Republicans and Democrats engaging in fearmongering as an election tactic. For weeks, Trump, the GOP, and its conservative media allies have argued without evidence that the Republican supporters are in danger of being killed by angry mobs of Democrats. And now Trump and his allies are coalescing on racist messaging that a caravan of migrants from Central America is poised to invade the U.S. While examples of divisive Democratic messaging can certainly be found, two of the party’s most high-profile candidates -- Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum -- have made aspirational messaging about healing political divides in the U.S. a primary argument of their candidacies.

    Horse race punditry is often shallow on election coverage, but analysis should not be so poor that it is clearly at odds with reality.

  • An MSNBC segment on Serena Williams included only one Black commentator -- he was the only person to defend her 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe covering Serena Williams’ loss in the U.S. Open final included commentary by three white pundits, who all criticized Williams, and a sole Black commentator, who defended her actions and argued that she set a good example for young women. The segment was a stark example of why newsroom diversity matters, and what happens when the dominant voices in the media are white ones.

    During the match, chair umpire Carlos Ramos repeatedly penalized Williams. Many in the media and on social media platforms have noted the gendered and racist nature of the violations against Williams. Some pointed out that male players have rarely been penalized for similar actions or for showing emotion on the court.

    The three white commentators on Morning Joe seemed largely unmoved by these arguments. Mike Lupica, a sports journalist, argued that Williams was “was out of line” and claimed that she had “priors at this event,” referring to past instances where Williams reacted strongly at the tournament. He also attempted to disconnect the umpire’s decisions from Williams’ race, suggesting that the violations could not have been rooted in racism because Williams’ opponent Naomi Osaka is of Japanese and Haitian descent. Co-host Joe Scarborough attempted to dismiss arguments of sexism, denying that the extreme, and often unpenalized, rants of former men's tennis player John McEnroe demonstrate that Williams was treated differently because of her gender. Instead he claimed that Williams was penalized because “the codes, a lot of the standards were changed to stop the sort of verbal abuse that John McEnroe heaped on umps.” His co-host Mika Brzezinski claimed that Williams’ behavior is not “becoming whether a man does it or a woman does it.”

    The only commentator who defended Williams’ actions was Princeton professor Eddie Glaude, who also happened to be the only Black person included in the segment. Glaude noted that the umpire’s decision was akin to “throwing Lebron James out in Game 7.” He said he understood “exactly her emotion, her anger” and argued that Williams was “absolutely justified in standing up for herself” and “point[ing] out the very gendered way in which she was responded to.” He also suggested that, “every young girl in this country who saw it should look up to her in that moment and stand up for themselves and not be disciplined by how they're supposed to behave in those moments.”

    From the September 10 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

    Glaude’s empathy for Williams, as compared to Lupica, Scarborough, and Brzezinski’s apathy, is evidence of the importance of cable programs having diverse voices, especially while discussing issues of race and gender. But, while the systemic racism and overwhelming whiteness of media is a problem for many reasons, it's also an accuracy problem:

    The absence of people of color in newsrooms and on television allows the biases of white journalists and commentators to go unchecked, resulting in reporting that often overlooks important angles, privileges one side of a story, and fails to provide necessary context to understand news events.  

    Media diversity isn't a luxury good that can be jettisoned for the sake of convenience. White newsrooms are broken newsrooms.

    Unfortunately, cable news channels have often failed to seek out diverse perspectives, and their coverage has suffered as a result.   

  • NRATV’s resident sexist attacks “sexy” female MSNBC host on International Women’s Day

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    NRATV commentator Colion Noir added to his history of misogynistic comments when he criticized “sexy” MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski for being part of the “largest gun conversation this country has ever had.”

    The National Rifle Association media platform’s newest commentator video comes amid repeated calls for stronger gun safety regulation after a February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead.

    In the video posted on International Women’s Day, Noir claimed Brzezinski’s “entire knowledge on guns is based on the … Google search she did while standing in a Starbucks line.” Noir went on to say that despite this supposed lack of knowledge, Brzezinski “gets to be part of the conversation” while he “can’t be.” From the March 8 edition of NRATV’s Commentators:

    COLION NOIR (NRATV HOST): Right now America is having the largest gun conversation this country has ever had, and no one bothered to actually invite the gun owners. Sure, they talk about gun owners, but they don't actually want them part of the conversation. Unless they need a bad guy to verbally accost, that is. They treat the conversation on guns like a line outside of a night club. And the asshole bouncer is our mainstream media. Sexy cable news anchor whose entire knowledge on guns is based on the "what is an assault weapons" Google search she did while standing in a Starbucks line this morning before work -- she gets to be part of the conversation. Sycophantic Democratic politician who believes we lose 93 million Americans a day to gun violence -- he gets to be part of the conversation. Anti-gun groups financed by anti-gun megalomaniac billionaire, outed for lying and falsifying stats on guns -- they get to be part of the conversation. Journalist who, in an attempt to prove how easy it is to buy a gun in America, tries to buy a gun only to fail the background check because of his history with alcohol abuse and domestic battery charge -- he gets to be part of the conversation. But 34-year-old attorney with 11 years of gun advocacy documented online, in print, and video, who is also an NRA commentator, gets invited to ask the current president a Second Amendment question only to have the White House say sorry, we're going to focus on other topics and are going to find another participant in place of the gun topic. And then watch in confusion as they talk about guns. No, he can't be a part of the conversation. That's a true story, by the way, circa 2013, but I digress.

    The NRATV commentator’s latest video adds to a long list of sexist comments he’s made, including referring to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as “THOT” (which means “that ho over there”) in a tweet because of her support for stronger gun laws and comparing paying taxes on a firearm purchase to rape in another tweet. (He later apologized for the latter claim.)

    During previous NRA videos, Noir also often intertwined his commentary on guns with commentary on women. In one instance, the video opened with a scene of a stylishly dressed woman standing in an alley. Doing a voice-over, Noir appeared to describe the woman, ranging from her clothing ("Her Jimmy Choos can't be comfortable, but you'd never know it"), to her intellect ("Chess, yeah it's a men's game, but when she plays, men pay"), to her actions ("Flirts more than you can handle, too. She's the kind to tell the bartender how to make her drink"). But in the final shot, the woman was seen holding a Heckler & Koch MR556 assault weapon and Noir revealed he was talking about the firearm the whole time (however nonsensically).

  • "Late-term" abortion is made up and so is Doug Jones' so-called abortion "extremism"

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.

  • Morning Joe hosts: Trump team blackmailed us with a National Enquirer story

    Trump has a close relationship with the Enquirer, which has smeared his opponents and killed negative stories about him

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough described President Donald Trump’s “unmoored behavior” in a Washington Post column where they alleged that “this year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked.” Brzezinski and Scarborough wrote they ignored the “desperate pleas” from the White House.

    The Enquirer, which endorsed Trump during the presidential election, frequently smeared his opponents during the presidential campaign with anonymously sourced stories and disreputable claims from Trump confidant Roger Stone.  

    The Washington Post column came in response to personal attacks made against the duo by Trump, who wrote yesterday on Twitter: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..” “...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

    Scarborough discussed the Enquirer incident on the June 30 broadcast of Morning Joe, describing a bizarre blackmail scheme orchestrated by Trump and senior White House officials: “They said if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike this story. I had, I will just say, three people at the very top of the administration calling me, and the response was like, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Brzezinski said the calls occurred during the same time period when the Enquirer was harassing her teenage children.

    Trump reacted to the Enquirer allegation on Twitter, calling it “FAKE NEWS” and claiming Scarborough called him in an attempt to stop a story from running. Scarborough responded by writing, “Yet another lie. I have texts from your top aides and phone records. Also, those records show I haven't spoken with you in many months.”

    In March 2016, the Post reported that Trump has a “very cozy relationship” with the Enquirer and quoted the New York Daily News’ comment that he is “very close” to the tabloid’s chief executive, David Pecker. A business associate of Pecker’s told The New Yorker that Pecker told him “very bluntly that he had killed all sorts of stories for Trump,” and Pecker himself acknowledged that he views potential stories "bashing Trump" as "bashing American Media" -- the Enquirer's parent company -- because Trump is "a personal friend." The profile also reported that Trump has personally provided Pecker with stories.   

    Scarborough referenced the friendship between Trump and Pecker on Morning Joe, saying, “What makes it even worse for them is Donald Trump called me during the campaign and bragged about his friend who ran the National Enquirer. He would always say, ‘Have you seen the Ben Carson story? Have you seen the Ben Carson story? Have you seen that story in the Enquirer?’ And then he would talk about it.”

    Scarborough added, “There were all these stories that were planted in the National Enquirer for people that Donald Trump wanted to attack and then he would talk about on the campaign trail.”

    In one infamous case, the Enquirer published a baseless cover story alleging that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Trump subsequently promoted the bogus story about his then-primary opponent during a Fox News appearance where he said, “I mean, what was he doing -- what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?” He also complained that not enough people were reporting on the conspiracy theory.

    Under fire for advancing the baseless claim, Trump responded by defending the Enquirer’s reputation, saying, “This was a magazine that frankly, in many respects, should be very respected.”

    Pecker is reportedly considering a bid to take over Time Inc., which owns Time magazine, Fortune, and other media properties. The move would surely please Trump, who in 2013 repeatedly used social media to boost the idea that Pecker should run the company.

    Update:

    New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman reports that according to "three sources familiar with the private conversations," Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner was in contact with Scarborough about a then-upcoming Enquirer story about Scarborough's not-yet-public relationship with Brzezinski. Kushner reportedly "told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story":

    According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.

    In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment). Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”