A “News” Kind of Love? Why They Really Hate Donald Trump

“Morning Joe” is like an ex who loved Trump, then loathed him — now suddenly revealing far more

Joseph Serwach
Nov 30, 2020 · 7 min read
Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, the stars of “Morning Joe'' perhaps better than anyone, explain the media's love/hate relationship with Donald Trump. By Bogdan Migulski Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Love and hate aren’t opposites: Both are degrees of intense emotional caring.

The ever-emotional “Morning Joe’’ went from “beloved must-see TV’’ to the awkward resentment of an “ex’’ (who still feels used). Suddenly, the MSNBC show is beating “Fox and Friends’’ for the first time.

The real reason so many people — especially TV journalists — really hate Donald J. Trump? Intense emotion. Words said and unspoken.

“The most important rule of journalism?’’ the late newspaper giant Bill Giles taught: “Don’t get used.’’

Giles, a Pulitzer-winning Wall Street Journal veteran, was the founding editor of America’s first attempt at a general interest nationwide newspaper, The National Observer. Giles gave journalism a list of rules and boundaries now (unfortunately) routinely ignored in media.

Each was a subset of his “don’t get used” mantra:

  • Be fair. Objectivity was the goal, so that meant avoiding emotional entanglements that could sway the search for truth.
  • Don’t fall in love with your sources. The Trump/Morning Joe relationship and the recent record loss of trust in media explain this rule’s reason.
  • Don’t fall in love with your co-workers. Every time he saw an office hook-up, Giles warned, everything eventually blew up for all involved. This is especially true at the crossroads of journalism and politics.
  • It’s not about you. Journalists are supposed to serve their audience and tell the story (not become part of it).
  • “The wall’’ of journalism (like the old Berlin Wall) meant a wall of “work boundaries” few could cross. We recently learned Jon Meacham, a historian, and M.J. contributor, wrote a speech for Joe Biden — then praised his own work on-air (without mentioning he wrote it for Biden).
  • No revolving door between journalism, government, and public relations were allowed (now they are common). For the few allowed to cross to “the other side,’’ there was no going back. Not any more.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe’’ stars former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough and his wife, Mika Brzezinski, daughter of the late National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. They met at work.

Mika’s father, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski (right) in 2010 at the White House with Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of former top national security officials. White House photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Scarborough, in some ways, was a smaller scale political version of “Trump before Trump,’’ elected to Congress in 1994, a foot soldier in the Republican Revolution.

The wave that swept Scarborough into office was inspired by the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns of Ross Perot, the last billionaire to call for cleaning up Washington corruption.

Scarborough was a foot soldier of Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich then joined the counter-revolution against Gingrich, becoming a bit of a star on MSNBC, which then offered him his own show (first at night).

In 2007, he moved to the mornings, succeeding former shock jock Don Imus. Scarborough tried to create a similar blend of morning talk radio (on TV) that would be equally fun and informative — a bit like Howard Stern without the sex talk. It was a joy to watch for years.

Scarborough (the Republican politician) knew he needed a true journalist on the team. Hence, he picked Mika, a far more experienced true journalist (and the daughter of a D.C. Establishment intellectual heavyweight), as his co-host. At first, it was as fun and satisfying as peanut butter and jelly.

In 2015–16 and earlier, when “the love” was strongest between Mika/Joe and Donald Trump. They traveled in some of the made New York City media establishment circles. All worked for the NBC family, and the above image shows the clear love and joy expressed on-air together.

Over the years, the two always welcomed Trump (who starred on NBC’s “The Apprentice’’ from 2004 to 2015 and flirted with presidential runs in 1988, 2000, and 2012). There followed many adoring comments, including the famous “hair pat’’ from Mika.

After the breakup: since mid-2016, the eye rolls have been constant.

The journalism tease: An old example of the love/hate of political coverage is the “tease,’’ lots of encouragement and love to encourage potential candidates to run: “come on in, the water is warm.”

Scarborough’s focus was incredibly similar to the “Trump way’’ of addressing politics from 1987 to 2015: writing books, sharing critical “fix the mess” commentary, being the experienced, knowledgable truth-teller, showing the people “what was broken and how to fix it.” So they got along well, like two of a kind.

MSNBC colleagues thought the duo was too close to Trump, that the relationship was too friendly, too cordial. In early 2016, Trump thanked Joe and Mika for being “believers’’ in his campaign and The New York Times even speculated that Scarborough might be Trump’s running mate.

While much of the media (even many on Fox News) laughed off Trump’s chances, M.J. regularly saw how it was working and explained it well because they knew him better than the others and seemed to “get’’ the appeal.

The breakup came soon after it was clear Trump would actually be the nominee (so much for that perennial “brokered convention” fantasy that never happens). Scarborough grew increasingly critical and more emotional (even calling on the GOP to remove Trump from the ticket in a Washington Post op-ed).

Trump being Trump (subtlety isn’t his thing) fired back with both barrels, including:

  • May 2016 Tweets, following his final appearance on the show, accusing M.J. of “becoming hostile’’ and misrepresenting his words.
  • A June 2016 Tweet accusing Brezinski of acting “wild with hate.’’
  • The turning point August 22, 2016, Trump tweet: “Someday, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story” of Scarborough and “his very insecure long-time girlfriend.’’ At the time, she was still married to someone else.
  • Scarborough divorced in 2013, Brezinski divorced in October 2016, and the two went public about their relationship after the Trump tweet. They married two years later on November 24, 2018.
  • Once he was president, the feud took on all the appearances of a recent, bitter divorce. Both sides questioned the other’s mental sanity, calling each other a host of names. Scarborough quit the GOP and still says he doubts he will ever return.
  • When Scarborough offered a rare compliment of Trump on November 25, Twitter blew up.

The Scarboroughs are a fascinating couple: Joe was the outsider who got into the club while Mika was a born-insider, always finding the outside appealing.

Trump’s media persona explains the emotional dynamic: Al Czervik, the Rodney Dangerfield character in the 1980 classic “Caddyshack.’’ The Trump/Czervik persona is blunt, colorful, street smart, the rare combination of blue-collar and new money billionaire.

Both Trump and Czervik are joyously jovial, storming into the elite Bushwood Country Club, ready to stir everything up: sometimes just for a laugh. The persona evokes love/hate and joy or contempt. But nothing in between and never any indifference.

Trump/Czervik were developers ready to buy, bulldoze and re-make “the club.” Trump called Washington “the Swamp’’ so 62 million backed him in 2016, and at least 73 million voted for him in 2020.

All parties realigned. As Newsweek recently reported: In 2012, Mitt Romney won voters making more than $100,000 a year by 10 percentage points, but that upper class flipped to Joe Biden by four percentage points. Simultaneously, voters making less than $50,000 moved from Barack Obama to Trump, who won them by 14 percentage points.

You saw this same dynamic in “Caddyshack.” Many staffers and rebels totally “got’’ and loved Czervik. The old guard establishment of Bushwood and DC loathed these new money developers.

The most common question: “Who did this man think he was?” They’d ask this question even when the words were left unspoken. And while M.J. enjoyed and “got’’ the Trump revolution in 2015–16, love transformed to hate when they saw their club and their role in it were under fire.

For the last couple of years, we could only listen to “Morning Joe’’ in short bursts before the rage storms got too intense. Journalists were as embarrassed as anyone.

Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic recently lamented: “We have to at least pretend slightly that every single major news network is not Leftist. I was just trying to watch the returns. Everyone was crying.’’ She added:

“You go to MSNBC: they’re crying too. If we’re crying about the returns from Allegheny County and we’re completely showing our newscasters are so completely biased, of course, the Right’s going to go somewhere else… Newsgathering sources need to grow up.’’

But back on “Morning Joe,’’ after a few kind words about Trump and his supporters, the eyes were rolling again.

Imagine any club, tradition, movement, religion, or organization you’ve ever been a part of radically changing its rules to admit a totally new type of member to take over for four years.

The old guard would forever prefer “the way it used to be’’ but even if they change leadership, those “new members’’ are still there. The culture has been changed.

The love/hate (intense emotion) remains unless and until time allows love/hate to become someday the true opposite of love/hate: indifference.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference,’’ Elie Wiesel, the Romanian-American writer and Auschwitz survivor explained.The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe’’ with Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett in April 2012. Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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Story + Identity = Mission. Author, Writer: Journalism, Leadership Culture, Communications, Religion, Education, History. Inspiration: Catholic, Polish.

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Story + Identity = Mission. Author, Writer: Journalism, Leadership Culture, Communications, Religion, Education, History. Inspiration: Catholic, Polish.

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