Joe Scarborough Played Us All

It was tough staying up sometimes, hardly anything to watch between midnight and 2:30 am, but I did it for Joe.

MSNBC can be a lot of fun to watch as a conservative — their blind spots are a mile wide and the schadenfreude when their candidates lose can taste downright delicious.

But Morning Joe was different.

Between CNN’s New Day, the network shows such as Good Morning America and Today, which aired even later, and especially the unwatchable Fox and Friends, Morning Joe was the place a political junkie could go to watch real issues discussed among knowledgeable folks. Sure, there were some wackier personalities and every show started with flirty banter about baseball, outfits, and breakfast but somewhere around the fifteen minute mark would be the segment on ISIS, a rundown of campaign trail remarks, an interview with Paul Ryan, or a discussion of a poignant opinion piece or a big news item. Here I could hear from Matt Lewis or even the great Jim Geraghty at one point, Hugh Hewitt, and countless politicians. Joe would bark up too, citing his short time in Congress as an authority on debts and deficits, insider knowledge of leadership fights, and experience campaigning.

They brought in Mark Halperin and John Heilmann, junkie-extraordinaires, and even journalists, White House aides, Chuck Todd and his passion for covering politics with substance and intrigue. I remember when Todd put NBC’s entertainment division on blast for shortchanging the news division with shows that could hardly stay on the air. Here were people who cared about the news, the substance behind the slogans, the real work beyond the talking points.

I thought that was ’cause of Joe. Mika? never really thought she cared, when not hawking her book, it was always more like Mika had to be there to offer the perspective of something like a bored housewife just discovering an interest in this politics thing everyone is raving about. I know she’s a smart, complicated woman, but it hardly ever seemed she was drawing on knowledge gained for input in the discussion.

No, it had to be Joe. Joe cared about his show. He was in it for the right reasons…

“When I was in Congress, there were about 10 or 11 of us who were holdouts, who didn’t want to send troops to Bosnia. We were in this room with the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of you name it. I sat there and could not have cared less. It just wasn’t what I valued.”

There it is in a Vanity Fair piece, naturally, Joe didn’t care about any of it.

He just wanted to rock, man!

He just wanted to be an entertainer.

All of it — it was all about entertainment.

I shouldn’t be surprised, and I’m sure Joe really did care somewhat about some of what he was forced to talk about, often scream about, that would be posted with glee by people like me.

Perhaps it’s this presidential campaign — some of us are tuning out of politics. Maybe Joe discovered his passion when he realized just how insipid politics has gotten. I mean, we have the two most dishonest, unfit candidates of all time, and one of them is going to actually be President! In 2016! After eight years of the least qualified person to ever hold the office! It’s enough to make one mad, mad enough to quit and pursue dreams of being a middle-aged rock star? Well, whatever moves you, Morning Joe.

But it sure is enlightening. No wonder the show gave Mike Bloomberg a soapbox to spew forth ignorance about firearms. No wonder they spent a whole week on green energy (though, that probably was GE’s call).

And no wonder they became a home for Donald J. Trump.

Oh, Joe says he was merely commenting on Trump’s political appeal to Republican voters. Joe points to his “strong rebukes” of Trump now that he has won the nomination and continues to prove just how unstable he is. But Joe Scarborough was one of Trump’s biggest enablers. It was Joe’s show where Trump was caught on a hot mic negotiating with co-host Mike Brzezinski for “easier” questions, and it was Joe’s show that let Donald call in whenever he wanted, giving him an outlet to air his vacuous non-knowledge. I always wondered why. I figured a show of substance like this couldn’t possibly think they need to bring Donald Trump’s opinion to viewers. That was reserved for “Mornings with the Donald”, an actual call-in segment that aired regularly on Fox and Friends.

But now it all makes sense. Joe relished the entertainment factor. He regularly attacked Trump’s rivals, including “friend of the show” Chris Christie and “the guy I’m voting for” Jeb Bush. He had an almost comical obsession with his home-state Senator, and my candidate of choice, Marco Rubio. He claimed to like Paul Ryan, but rest assured had Rep. Ryan challenged Trump for the nomination, the winsome Wisconsin would have felt Joe’s wrath. And it’s not much wrath. They were the highest-rated morning news show on cable television, which is like being the number one-rated choice of gum to get stuck on the bottom of your shoe. But I couldn’t care less if they were the least-watched show on television of all time; they were the one place of substance in the morass of early morning TV. I stayed up for Joe.

I learned things from Joe Scarborough. He brought the issues I cared about into people’s purview and insisted they mattered. It was maddening to hear him talk about Trump’s polling when he had insisted, as I had, that polls aren’t policy and poll-chasing diminishes the value of politics and public service. It was as if he truly cared, that the media played an enormous role in the sorry state of politics by focusing on everything that didn’t matter, turning every story into a tawdry piece of infotainment and stealing from the electorate a broader focus on the issues that mattered.

But he didn’t care. He never cared. He just wanted to be an entertainer, and there is plenty of entertainment to glean from using a perch like Morning Joe to play the audience for fools.

Brian Williams never got shot down, Ann Coulter became the subject of her own book on mob rule, and Joe Scarborough only cared about the music. 2016, you can stop, like, whenever you want…

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